Marketing & advertising campaigns start with this question: What do we want the consumer to think, feel or do as a result of the work? The proposed outcome to which will be based on the current perception of the audience – ambivalent, engaged or otherwise – and the business’ commercial targets.
Digital projects, sponsored by objective analytics, start and subsist on the conversion of targeted user behaviour; the drive to increase clicks & scrolls, spend & return.
So why isn’t this approach commonplace in branding?
Great branding should make you feel something. It should direct and lead application (including the aforementioned marketing & advertising campaigns and digital projects). And it should promote behaviour amongst the current and prospective audiences in concert with a wider, vital goal.
Branding suffers from one great hindrance that marketing, advertising & digital often do not: vested interest.
Who knew the founder had such strong opinions on line weight and kerning?
Our identities are so intertwined with our careers that we find it difficult to extract ourselves from the vain pit of individual aspiration when thinking about our company. We want to work for a business that represents our personal needs & goals as much as our professional equivalents.
And while there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach – after all, its people that define any corporate entity – branding is a shared ideal, amongst teams, customers and any other stakeholder.
When Uber rebranded in 2018, they did so to change how they were perceived and drive behaviour. Gone are the hard edges, capitalised type, confusing app icon and stench of bro culture; In come the welcoming, inclusive notes of a company trying to regain trust, promote safety and gain a few billion in their IPO.
Few businesses have such grand objectives when rebranding, however. More often than not, it’s a case of retaining or returning relevancy by updating the look & feel – Paypal, for example – or expanding the brand toolkit and optimising the aesthetic for new platforms.
Google, Spotify, Pinterest and numerous others have simplified their wordmarks in recent years in order to comply with the extensive requirements of disparate digital devices. These brands have also taken steps to round off any edges that the pre-enterprise version of the business savoured.
Goodbye kinks. Hello generic, acceptable normalcy.
MailChimp represents the alternative to this refrain; branding to differentiate. In a flat, masculine, tech-y space devoid of personality and humanity, they’ve always found ways to appear approachable. As the tool for start-ups & SMEs and with zero launch cost, this matches the ‘just give it a try’ attitude they demand from their audience.
I’m sure there are members of the Mailchimp leadership team that don’t like yellow or find Freddie a tiresome talisman, but it’s the right look & feel for a brand in that space, considering their competition and target market.
If you want a kid to behave, don’t take them to a bright, blaring supermarket. Take them – serious disclaimer alert – to a calm, lavish high-end hotel reception, surrounded by people the serene & peaceful steps of people with far too much time on their hands.
Our shared setting – and how it makes us feel – dictates how we react as much as any other stimuli. Time is often better spent considering the visual world target consumers spend their time in and what makes them feel comfortable, rather than leaning on even the most aspirational brands within the business’ sector.
At the very least, this helps to separate from the ‘I saw this’ and ‘why don’t we do that?’s of this world, enemies of distinct work as they are.
Branding for behaviour is a strategic exercise as much as a visual one.
This might seem like a slight against designers; not at all. This is a criticism of businesses, too often unable to unwilling to define their market, determine a plan and stay in their lane.
Designers can be guilty of venturing only into safe spaces for application – business cards, letterheads and the like – rather than considering the formats that most engage the customer. But, again, more often than not the blame lies more in limited or opaque briefs and the lack of strategic direction.
If a business relies on a call centre for inbound leads, then sonic branding is probably worth exploring alongside anything visual. For a business that only interacts with users online, photography, illustration and animation should be explored to lend a dose of humanity and to help bridge the gap between the brand and the consumer.
Here are a couple of questions to kick off with:
– What’s the biggest gap between you and the person trialling your product?
– What would be the one-step your customer could take that would most likely convert a prospect?