Why Designers make the best brand strategists.

brand designed
by Thomson Dawson
in Brand Experience,Design Trends

If you’re inventing or transforming a brand, somewhere in the process you’ll be working with a Designer or Design Firm who will be tasked with bringing your “brand strategy” to life. Brand design is not decorated brand strategy.

Brand Design is a highly specialized expertise. I prefer to think of brand design as the equivalent of a musical score around a film. One’s no good without the other.

Brand Design still struggles to break free from its down stream “implementer” role in strategic brand development. Brand Designers are not typically seated at the strategy table early in the brand development process. Many marketers view brand design as the fun and gooey, superficial decoration part of the brand development process – something next on the to-do list after the research and positioning work is complete, the tagline has been written and now the logo needs a “treatment”.

Marketers (and those who cling to big data) are prone to view brand design more narrowly than they should. I would like to suggest the lens be opened to a much broader view of the significance of brand design to marketplace success.

For enlightened, savvy marketers of emerging, next generation brands this is not the case. There have been too many success stories in the marketplace to ignore the fact design is the last great differentiator, and brand design has contributed billions of dollars of market capitalization to those brand owners that “get it”.

Of all the various professional disciplines involved in strategic brand development, brand designers usually make the best brand strategists. Here’s why:

Great brands are about ideas and meanings not just products.
No one understands the power of ideas to transform perception and behaviors better than brand designers. Brand designers create the entire emotional relationship customers have with a brand. They are the choreographers of customer experience. If you want your brand to matter, you’ll have to design the customer experience accordingly at every touch point. It’s not marketing and it’s not decoration, design is the difference between market leaders and market followers.

Brand Designers link diverse constituents around the brand.
Understanding user behavior, cultural trends, ethnography, organizational behavior and brand storytelling, brand designers are fluid in their unique ability to work with and through all of these processes. Like a needle and thread, brand designers stitch together the very fabric of highly values brand experiences. They create engagement across all the required touchpoints in the both the physical and digital worlds. Brand designers are skilled at organizing complex systems that provide function and utility and telling simple stories that connect with people on deep emotional levels.

Well designed products + a well design brand = a high margin business.
This is the simple equation for marketplace success. However, you can design a beautiful product and all you will have in the end is a beautiful object. It doesn’t mean you’ll have a successful business. What’s critical is how well people connect with a compelling idea that grows in their minds–one they will become forever emotionally bonded to. A smart phone is a functional idea, but what enables people to choose their brand of smart phone embodies much more. Unless there is a compelling idea that goes beyond the way it looks, feels, operates, and how well its value is communicated to the right tribe who share the same values behind the idea, it’s just another thing. Ask RIMM.

Brand designers think holistically far outside operational silos.
Brand designers create the relationship between companies and customers. Brand design is a discipline that integrates the experience of a brand into a single concept. Beginning with how a product operates, feels, how you became aware of it, how you buy it, what you experience when you open the box, what the interaction must be with company leaders, employees and customer service. All of these diverse experiences can be designed to create brand insistence. In effect creating a brand where there are no perceived substitutes.

The slush pile of irrelevance.
Design matters. In fact it’s design or die. Brand owners must focus on the experience of value they bring to customers. Customer’s care about their experience, not your manufacturing and analytics or go-to-market process. These are important, but none of that will matter unless the design of the entire experience is right. It’s the difference between Apple and Dell, BMW and Cadillac, Herman Miller and HON.

For enlightened and successful marketers in all product and service categories, Brand Design is not an after thought in the process– it is the central thought.

Brand designers are strategists not decorators. Their value to your business and the strategic brand development process is the direct thoughtful development and design of every interaction point between the business and the customer. This is stuff you really can’t uncover in focus groups or with online surveys. Functionally, most people can’t tell you why they love their iPhone more than a Blackberry. They just know they do.

At the end of the day, your business, your brand must matter to people. Design is a powerful and effective tool for creating relevant differentiation, brand innovation and marketing success. Indeed design matters.


Brand = Culture: How Culture can Help Your Brand Win

12 January 2013
Beloved Brands
Graham Robertson

Most people think that that Brand is what the Marketers do. And Culture should be left to the Human Resources department. But in reality, everyone is responsible for both Brand and Culture. Creating a Branded Culture might be a great chance for Marketing and HR to be working together, and find ways to involve everyone from the Brand. The new Brand Leader has to understand that marketing is more than just TV ads and more than just Facebook likes. Brand is about the experience consumers walk away with. If I am going through the drive-through at 4am or on the phone with customer service or getting an email with a Visa “special offer” from the Bank where I have my Visa, I am in constant judgement of your brand.
5 Ways that Brands Connect

Brands are able to generate love for their brand when the consumer does connect with the brand. I wish everyone would stop debating what makes a great brand and realize that all five connectors matter: promise, strategy, story, innovation and experience. The first connector is the Brand Promise, which connects when the brand’s main Benefit matches up to the needs of consumers. Once knowing that promise, everything else feeds off that Promise. For Volvo the promise is Safety, for Apple it is Simplicity and FedEx it might be Reliability. It’s important to align your Strategy and Brand Story pick the best ways to communicate the promise, and then aligning your Innovation and the Experience so that you deliver to the promise. To ensure the Innovation is aligned, everyone in R&D must be working towards delivering the brand promise. You don’t create a new brand promise based on what you invent. If someone at Volvo were to invent the fastest car on the planet, should they market it as the safe-fast car or should they just sell the technology to Ferrari. Arguably, Volvo could make more money by selling it to a brand where it fits, rather than trying to change people’s minds. As for the experience, EVERYONE in the company has to buy into and live up to the Brand Promise. As you can start to see, embedding the Brand Promise right into the culture is essential to the brand’s success.

It starts with the Brand DNA

Everything in the company should feed off the Brand DNA. The Brand DNA (some call it the Brand Essence) is the most succinct definition of the Brand. For Volvo, it’s “Safety”, while BMW might be “Performance” and Mercedes is “Luxury”. The Tool I use to determine a Brand’s DNA revolves around the Brand’s personality, the products and services the brand provides, the internal beacons that people internally rally around when thinking about the brand and consumer views of the Brand. What we normally do is brainstorm 3-4 words in each section and then looking collectively begin to frame the Brand’s DNA with a few words or a phrase to which the brand can stand behind.
The DNA helps Guide the Brand’s Management

The Brand DNA should help frame 1) Brand Plan that drives the business for the upcoming year or the next 5 years 2) Brand Positioning that connects to the consumer through marketing communications 3) Customer Value Proposition that links the consumer needs to the benefits of the brand 4) Go-To-Market strategy that frames the distribution and the selling process 5) Cultural Beacons that help define the brand internally through values, inspiration and challenge and finally 6) Business Results, with each brand offering a unique way that it makes money. Each of these six needs feed off the Brand DNA, look to the definition as a guideline for how to align to the brand.

When you begin to blow this out one step further, you can start to see where the complexity comes into play with each of the six areas have their own needs that should still feed off that Brand DNA.

The DNA sets up the Brand Values

Great Brand Leaders should be looking at the culture as an opportunity to win in the market place. No matter how good your promise is, if you’re company is not set up to deliver that promise, everything comes crashing down. The brand story told within the company is even more important than what you might tell the market through your advertising.

Managing organizational culture is very challenging. The DNA should provide an internal beacon for all the People in the organization to follow and deliver the brand promise. As you move along the Brand Love Curve from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and on to Beloved status, you need to make sure the culture keeps pace with where the brand is.

While the DNA can provide the internal beacon, it might not be enough to capture all the behaviors. Brand Values should come from the DNA, and act as guideposts to ensure that the behavior of everyone in the organization is set to deliver upon the Brand’s promise. How do you want your people to show up? What type of service do you want? How much emphasis on innovation? What type of people do you want to hire? What behavior should be rewarded and what behavior is off-side. Having the right Brand Values will help you answer these questions. The Brand Values become an extension of what the Brand Leader wants the brand to stand for.

A great example of Brand Values is the Virgin Group of Companies defines what each value is, but also what it shouldn’t be. I love that Fun means enjoyment but not incompetent and Value means simple but not cheap.

The Right People Leadership Matters

Having values is one thing, but the other component of Culture is the right people leadership. Use the values to help people deliver upon the right behaviors, skills and experiences. Leaders must embody the Brand’s DNA and live by the values. Employees will be watching the Leaders to ensure they are living up to the words on the wall. Leaders need to believe that by investing in their people, the business results will come. Better people produce better work and that drives better results. Talent management means hiring the right people and providing the right training. Too many companies are skimping on training and development, which is equivalent to cutting back on your R&D.

Every communication to employees, whether in a speech or memo, should touch upon the Brand Values, by highlighting great examples of when employees have delivered upon a Brand Value. Leverage values, with inspirational touch points and processes to inspire and challenge them on achieving greatness. The culture will only change when everyone makes the decision to make the change.
Brand Leaders should look to Culture as an Asset that can make your Brand Experience even more powerful.

To read more on this subject, read the following presentation:

I run Brand Leader Training programs on this very subject as well as a variety of others that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders. Click on any of the topics below:

How to Write an Effective Brand Positioning Statement
How to Write a Creative Brief
How to Write a Brand Plan
How to Think Strategically
How to Drive Profits from Your Brand
How to Run a Brand
How to Write a Monthly Report

To see the training presentations, visit the Beloved Brands Slideshare site at: http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamRobertson/presentations

If you or team has any interest in a training program, please contact me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand. I only do two things: 1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better. I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth. And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. To read more about Beloved Brands Inc., visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/ or visit my Slideshare site at http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamRobertson/presentations where you can find numerous presentations on How to be a Great Brand Leader. Feel free to add me on Linked In at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 or on follow me on Twitter at @GrayRobertson1