Responsive Branding can help you lead your category. After a year of research on her new book, Lynda Decker, President, Decker Design shares the best practices from some of the world’s leading brands. The webinar “Responsive Branding: The advantage of agility over repetition,” was given on February 10, 2016 by Lynda Decker.
The following is the transcript from “Responsive Branding: The advantage of agility over repetition,” given on February 10, 2016.
Good afternoon, I’m Lynda Decker, President and Creative Director of Decker Design.
I’ve worked in branding, advertising and design for over 20 years with some of the world’s biggest clients. And for the last year I have been interviewing a number of leading creative people and brand managers for a book—and based on my research I have put this webinar together. What my research has revealed is that many of the practices that have been in place for the last 20 years aren’t as effective as they use to be. We are going to discuss a different approach to brand development. My goal today is to share some of my findings and inspire your ongoing brand efforts and future success.
Here’s today’s agenda:
First, we are going to discuss how the traditional approaches to brand systems came about. And then we are going to look at why these approaches are out-moded. Then we are going to look at a totally different way to look at the brand system.
I call it Responsive Branding—
And we’ll talk about what it means, what the implications are and how it works
And then we’ll have some time for questions.
So Let’s get started!
Branding began as a discipline after WWII as prosperity created what we now call the American consumer. Consumerism led to the explosion of advertising and media.
And our culture reveled in it. Branding grew out of the discipline of consumer packaging. Brands adopted consistent packaging to help supermarket customers identify what they wanted to buy. As you can see, Repetition is a powerful visual device and it helped many brands succeed.
But despite the exuberance of mid-20th century America, the next 30 years were challenging for the US economy—Vietnam, Watergate, inflation. So by the time we got to the 1990s,
Business leaders were looking for solutions and sought out gurus like Tom Peters, Donald Trump (yes, he was around back then), Seth Godin and IBM’s Lou Gerstner.
Unnerved by globalization, technology and the speed of change, they wanted to know how to deal with chaos, how to get more; in short, they wanted answers.
So this set the stage for…
The supermarket enters the boardroom.
In the 1990’s brand consultants (and I might add, somewhat brilliantly) took the same principles that were so effective in selling consumer goods and applied them to corporate communications. While many of these same corporations were merging and acquiring, ironically, the communication departments were shrinking. So while there was prosperity, there was also an existential dread.
One answer to that dread was systemization. The 1990’s was an era that created many such systems. Measure, Analyze, Control, Improve and Define—kind of sounds like a brand consultant. And so you can see how systemization of a brand sounded like a good answer.
Systemization removed creativity and created certainty which was appealing in an era that thought Armageddon might occur at the turn of the century.
Systemization was process oriented. It united decentralized organizations who were facing competition on many fronts. It aligned well with the emergence of desktop publishing. And it emphasized the principle that repetition reinforced the brand.
As an added bonus, systemization also facilitated production.
Even today, marketers and corporate communicators are still pressured by many forces. Budgets keep getting smaller and there is constant stress to produce faster turnarounds.
But the world has changed and there are many different media channels and it is far more difficult to have your voice heard above the noise. Put simply a template won’t get you noticed.
So let’s talk about the paradox of consistency. Consistency is a double edge sword. Let’s face it; templates make it easier and faster to produce high volumes of communication. So while tight systems provide unity and speed there are hidden issues such as institutional boredom.
Everything looks the same. Maybe the program didn’t anticipate all of the robust challenges the staff has to meet. Or it isn’t legible on the new devices that are out there.
And this is when the work arounds start.
Why? Because people crave variety. The brand starts to feel stale because everything looks like something we’ve seen before. It’s old news. And if your brand is old news, it’s undifferentiated.
That is why in a multi-channel world, agility is far more important. Devices are everywhere. You know people are going to experience your brand when they are at the gym or on the subway. And they won’t be giving it their full attention.
Today, your brand is going to be experienced and perceived differently on mega screens to teeny tiny wearable screens—your brand needs fluidity.
Additionally your brand is going to be challenged by the largest generation in America. They value authenticity, customization and participation. This generation is more connected than others—over 5 hours a day. Within that day, they bombarded by more than 5000 marketing messages. Is yours going to engage them with something thought provoking and meaningful?
This is a great quote from Lee Clow, the creative director who made the Apple 1984 commercial. “Our job as marketers is to harness the power and the stories of brands. Too often marketers allow systems to dominate and these systems bury the message. If you are an effective marketer, you think outward…
Yet there is a danger that when a company gets “branded” they will think inward—they worry more about consistency and repetition than the customer.”
An ideal brand, a responsive brand, is focused on customers, creativity and values. It leverages more than standards and rules—it leverages creativity and storytelling.
So how does Responsive Branding work?
Responsive branding emphasizes coherence over lockstep consistency. It creates innovative experiences instead of common ones. And it makes customers feel like individuals instead of demographic segments.
I like to think of this analogy—everyone in your family probably doesn’t dress alike every day. You don’t all have a beard. And you probably aren’t all wearing a dress.
You are individuals but part of a family. But you don’t look exactly the same, you don’t act the same and you aren’t supposed to.
When you brand responsively you work within a common sense, familial framework.
With responsive branding you create with an objective in mind. Place the audience needs first—have empathy for them.
Your brand system gains its power through a framework that has a common voice. Some programs, for example, build a kit of parts that forms a shared but flexible visual vocabulary.
A great way to start is to think about your communication as active or passive –This is a useful way to determine where your brand needs flexibility and where it needs structure.
Active communication is communication that is looking to achieve a result. It wants the audience to do something—for example, make a purchase, or influence a decision. Rigid systems undermine the active communication objective because the first objective is not the communication objective but conformity to the brand rules.
Active communication has to be persuasive. Persuasion takes personalization. Customers have different needs — so prompting action means communicating to customers as individuals. Responsive Branding builds out a framework — voice, persona, values, look and feel — so there’s also lots of flexibility for targeting.
Passive communication is communication that does not have an active marketing goal—these, for example, could be white papers or research reports. Passive communication can benefit from formatting and templating.
Apple is a great example of a brand that most of us are familiar with. And many people would probably say the brand system is quite rigid. But in truth Apple has a lot of flexibility in its system.
So this is Apple’s consumer website. It’s very clean and white with the product as hero.
And you can see the consistent relationship from product to product.
But notice how it changes when you go to the site targeted to business—it’s quite different. And it signifies a different tone.
And look at the Apple Music site—it’s different as well—it’s a hipper, moodier, edgier experience.
Then in the ad campaign for the iPhone 6, the communication is similar to everything else in the Apple family, but it is different. The brilliant thing about this campaign is that Apple doesn’t talk about product features, but instead shows us. By showing us what others have done with the iPhone 6, it doesn’t try to convince us of anything— yet convinces us of everything at the same time.
That’s what you can do when you put the audience and your objective first.
And here at Decker Design, we believe very strongly in guiding our clients with these principles.
So let’s review, In traditional standards based branding, there are many restrictions. These restrictive systems often create unintended consequences. I remember once being told by a brand consultant that with his system, “I didn’t have to worry about anything, but could now focus all my creative energy on choosing an image for the cover of a publication.” Except there was a reality that was not accounted for. This client often did not have a budget for art. And in this system, creating something with the inexpensive graphic design tools of typography and color was not allowed. Do you know what happens in those situations? Someone finds an inexpensive image that is “good enough.” That’s a bad place for a brand to be.
In responsive branding there are common elements that create a vocabulary, or some would say a kit of parts. Responsive Branding gives the corporate communicator the tools to be more effective and the discretion on where and how to wield the tools.
Brands need to be viewed as dynamic and living instead of a static finite project.
If you build a high degree of flexibility, you will have greater longevity and compliance to your brand principals. The idea is to build relationships between the elements and selectively determine where and when consistency and formatting is practical.
A few words of advice as we wrap this up.
First, ask a lot of questions before embarking on a brand program. The most obvious is why does your brand need to change? Who is your audience? What are your objectives? How much of your communication must actively achieve a result? How much structure do you need? What are your organizational challenges?
After examining your organization’s motives, review its core values—because the unifying principles that lie at the heart of a corporation or institution are what the brand should be built on.
Then consider the outcome. Are you in a competitive market? What will success look like?
What is the action you want your audience to take?
Do you need to motivate want them to think differently—change their mind or opinion?
Sometimes if your branding program is undertaken to facilitate production—that path has its perils. The more restrictive the program you choose, or even the more complex, the faster people will seek to undermine it.
I would encourage you to think about your brand systems in terms of building agility over structure—while it is more effort, it will prove to be more useful and give you the tools to meet unforeseen challenges and create applications to media that is yet to be invented.
Responsive Branding will help you to lead your category.