When I first started out in design (and sometimes even now), I get asked to make logos for start-ups or events. Most people are pretty flippant about it assuming that 1. it doesn’t take that much time and 2. it’s just a necessary thing to get their product / event / thing into the world and look a little more legit.
While there is some truth in the “legitness” of something with a logo, the role of branding is so much greater.
Having been part of some strategic discussions recently, I have realized I’ve started thinking of branding in a whole new light.
1. Brand recognition when switching contexts (internationally)
I was speaking to a co-worker that recently moved to the US and asked him what was the most startling thing within his culture shock. His response: brands. He explained that he was so used to doing his shopping according to the brands he knew and recognized, that coming to the US was totally disorienting. He didn’t know what brands were higher quality rather than lower quality or if brands stood for something other than what they outwardly advertised. From groceries to clothes to furniture, he said that him and his partner had a really hard time deciding what to buy, from where, and how because even the smallest decision brought on a lot of fatigue.
2. Your brand can only be X things
Every company wants a brand that appeals to “everyone”. From cosmetics creating drugstore branded names to designers selling clothes in Target, companies clearly want to increase their market share by appealing to largest number of people. However, by doing so, they may not actually be capturing any part of the market. For example, Apple is successful because it makes high-end consumer electronics. However, if Apple were to produce cheap speakers (with the assumption they were not well-manufactured because the cost of producing the product was low), they would lose quite a few customers. Especially in international markets, iPhones are a sign of prosperity and wealth.
3. Lean into your X things
Many companies try to diversify and do everything. How about just leaning into the things you do well and continue to do them better than the rest? With a lot of players in the mobility space now working on autonomous cars, do these companies really know how to build cars? We have software companies simulating cars, hardware companies outfitting cars, and then OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) actually building the cars. Apple, a traditionally a consumer-facing electronics company, believes it can build a mobility product. Similarly, Google, traditionally a data / search company, believes this with their creation of Waymo. While they may have the capabilities to actually take to market an amazing autonomous vehicle, what effect does this have on their brand? With deep knowledge on individual consumer behaviors (Google AND Apple), they actually need to figure out how their brand is extending (perhaps beyond itself).
4. FOMO is your friend who needs to stop drinking
FOMO is your friend in advertising. However, FOMO isn’t the healthiest behavior as we see studies coming out about cellphone use and tech fatigue. So is there a way branding can create FOMO in a healthier way to encourage healthier behavior? The analogous situation I think of in reference to this is actually urban planning. If urban planners create pedestrian-only plazas, citizens are FORCED to walk to where they need to go. By that same logic, can we create FOMO for healthier behaviors? Branding and capitalism are closely tied, no doubt, so how can we provoke our consciences while engaging in those behaviors?
5. Don’t scale and fail
How do you scale a brand? This is an age-old question for many a digital agency. Think about Amazon. The same company that delivers your packages also funds and produces movies. That’s insane. The proliferation of services over products (and the mental shift that comes with that) allows the market to function in this way. However, as mentioned in #3, how do you know what you do well and lean into it and then balance the outward expansion?
These thoughts are by no means conclusive, but are a capture of what I’ve been thinking about. These may not be new to most people, but they are constantly being reframed to exist and compete in our world.