Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where do we go from here?

No brand can rest on its laurels. Ask 3M, IKEA®, American Express®. They know the importance of repetition, consistency and authenticity. They understand the importance of style manuals and strict trademark observance.

At the same time, no brand can simply tread water. It must evolve and grow to live.

A good example: Target®, a company that never forgets its promise: “Expect More. Pay Less.” Target continuously reinvents its brand with additions like affordable designer lines, easy gift registry, unique gift cards, even groceries–all to stay current with customer needs.

The work of branding never stops for anyone.

A brand rebirth.
A&W food service of Canada Inc. has taken their restaurants back to their 1950s roots with the original orange and brown color scheme, the original root beer, burgers and onion rings that made A&W a hit with baby boomers who now flock back for special classic car nostalgia nights.

Maybe you’re not a Target. Or an Apple. Or the U.S. Marines. Doesn’t mean you can’t have the same power behind your brand.

All you need is the right design team. Some input. And the courage to believe whole-heartedly in your vision.

What’s this brand worth anyway?

As early as 1914, people were attaching dollar valuations on brands. Today CEOs, CFOs, employees and investors all want to know exactly how much their brand is worth in cold, hard cash. Any CPA can tally the value of the company’s tangible assets (buildings, plants, machinery, vehicles). But a brand’s real worth is deep and intangible. It’s the reputation, trust, good will and emotional attachment customers feel toward the brand, multiplied by the predicted length of the brand’s future. (That last calculation is the tricky part).

That Ham Ain’t Just a Ham.
The value of a pre-cooked ham changed when a BBDO copywriter came up with a strategy to brand the ham as so consistently tender and delicious that each one would be numbered and certified. That’s how Cure 81® Ham from Hormel® was born. A brand so successful it changed the way Americans thought about ham–and how the Hormel employees and investors felt about their company.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT! In 1988 Grand Metropolitian PLC poured a bit of money into an under-rated vodka. It’s paid off. By 2003 the worth of the Smirnoff® brand had swollen to $2.72 billion.

Does your brand have stretch marks?

You see it every day. Another company risks its perceived value, its customer and channel relationships to extend the brand. The goal may be to crowd out a competitor. To capture fringe prospects. To gain a few more shelf slots.

Extensions can work when it makes sense. Pirates of the Caribbean® was originally a Disneyland® attraction. It grew into an Oscar®-winning movie, a fast food tie-in and a splashy video game.

But the brand extension dangers can be greater than possible gains. As you read this, hundreds of “low carb” food products are biting the dust as fast as the diet craze itself.

A few years ago Green Giant® thought their brand could be a garden fresh store chain. Wrong.
Bic® Pens thought they could be perfume. Wrong.
AOL thought their brand would fit over Time Warner®. Wrong.
Donald Trump was sure his brand would make his casinos sure winners (you’re fired).

When is a Honda® More than a Honda?
When Honda decided they wanted to compete in the luxury imported car market, they didn’t risk losing their Accord customers. Or confusing their Civic fans. They created a whole new brand with its own dealers: Acura.

Bytes that pay off big.

Sound has a subtle, yet undeniable power to alter behavior. Witness how easily Dr. Pavlov taught dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. How moms use a water tap to aid in potty training. Clearly there must be a way to use sound in branding.

Ironically, though sonic branding is ubiquitous on radio, TV and the web, it’s impossible to describe verbally because we’re not aware of it rationally, but on a more subliminal, emotional level. Take Intel® for instance. You may not be able to recreate the sound in your head as easily as a pop song. Yet, the nanosecond your ears pick up Intel’s 4-note logo, you’re reminded of all the brand attributes.

Obviously the most memorable sonic brands are the most harmonious with the original brand such as the legendary roaring engine and a Harley-Davidson® motorcycle. Once you harness the power of sound to your brand, you have made it one dimension deeper, stronger and easier to remember.

The familiar fizzz as the bottle caps opens, the clink of ice cubes in a glass, then the gush of liquid. Your tounge anticipates the rush of sweet dark cola. The audio message transcends language. A toddler understands as well as a senior citizen. That’s the power of sonic branding.

In search of the font of knowledge.

Type is as essential to brand as a score is to music. It’s the voice you hire to pronounce your name in print, to convey the mood, personality, and approachability of the brand.

For centuries custom fonts had to be painstakingly created letter by letter. Then came Adobe’s PostScript. For the first time, everyone with a computer and access to the Internet has a world of font choices from thousands of sources.

Now anyone can create a totally new letterform as formal as the most prestitious law firm or as free form as a surfer. Turn an ordinary old font into a proprietary logotype. Condense that type, expand it, kern it, shadow it, make it multi-color or gloriously multi-dimensional for print, the web or TV.

And wouldn’t you know it, with countless new font choices, there’s a new found appreciation for readability and for the classic fonts re-interpreted for specific clients, projects and media.

The trick is to find the visual poet who can choose the right font for the brand.

“The difference between regulated architects and unregulated designers is, unlike buildings, letters don’t fall down and kill people.”

“Bring home my favorite...You know, the one with the black label.”

Color often reaches deeper than words. It’s an immediate emotional pull.

I want the film in the yellow box. The perfume in the purple bottle. The cake mix with the red spoon. The diamonds in the pretty blue box. The beer in the red can.

Just how important is color in branding? Ask British Petroleum. They spent millions converting old red and blue Amoco gas stations to fresh, earth-friendly green and yellow “bp” fuel stops. Why? They wanted to send a message. It’s time to move “beyond petroleum.”

Employ color boldly and intelligently in your branding program and you harness one of the strongest memory-joggers around.

Powerful brand = Instant recognition.

When a brand is first introduced, it helps to have a full compliment of descriptors, taglines and other amplifiers. If the company carefully excercises the brand name with its logo or service mark at every appropriate opportunity, and if the usage is clear and consistent—eventually a power brand can be instantly recognized without its name.

Apple®, for example, has allowed their brand to evolve. Beginning very colorfully, the first Apple logo contained a rainbow. Then the Apple took on the single bright colors of the highly successful iMac®. Lately the brand has relinquished all color. Instead, the logo has become simply transparent, translucent or smartly metallic on the new Apple products.

In other words, great brands don’t have to shout. To identify Coca-Cola, all a consumer needs if the bottle shape, or just a fragment of the logotype. With Nike® all you need is “the swoosh” to be reminded of the entire brand.

Doing a clever logo on a piece of paper has nothing to do with designing a corporate identity. You are picking the clothing for someone else and they have to wear it. You have to get inside that company. If you don’t do that, you’re irresponsible.