Brand identity. We've all heard the horror stories of companies spending sky-high budgets only to end up with a logo that's merely a capital letter with some arrows stuck on the side, or rebrands that cost the earth but change only one dark squiggle on a yellow background into a different dark squiggle on a red background. It's a bit of a con, right? Actually it would appear that it's not.
The right branding can be of the utmost importance to a company. A good logo can be a valuable asset, while the wrong look has damaged reputations. The best iconic brands convey messages either subtly or overtly. A great example of subtlety is the FedEx arrow. Similarly, Google uses colour and a simple typeface in a playful and soft way to connect with people online, in an environment which is often viewed as soulless.
"The overall identity needs to communicate what the brand stands for, to collectively tell the brand story," says Jane Walker, Senior Creative Director at Red Bee Media. "The logo is the tip of the iceberg - the logo can't and shouldn't do it all. It should be imbued with meaning over time through consistent use across all creative work."
Lars Hemming Jorgensen, Creative Director of Large Design, agrees that the brand identity or logo needs to convey a message in a creative way. "However, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't need to explain what the company does," he says. "In the case of a bank, you want to create a trustworthy and authoritative mark, but you don't need to have bills flying into a building. If you fail to convey the right messages, you'll get the wrong people coming to you. For example, if you have an expensive handbag company with a tacky logo, you're not appealing to your potential customers."
"A successful brand identity should encapsulate the traditions, the reality and the aspirations of any organisation," says Zoltan Csaki, Senior Designer at Tribal DDB London. "As the common glue between all forms of an organisation's communication, a brand identity should be iconic and memorable, independent of any specific campaign message."
Xavier Adam, MD of media company AMC Group, argues that a brand by its very existence will convey a message. "It is key to aim to control that message - that is, to put out the message you want," he says. "Rather that than allow public interpretation, which may not be an accurate view of your brand."
Companies need to hire a professional to control that message. So how do you go about justifying those high fees? "The most difficult part of a branding or rebranding exercise is managing the process," explains Large Design's Jorgensen. "Good understanding of the company and its products as well as momentum and buy-in are crucial to a smooth branding process. We as designers always argue that a company's branding and design are the most important factors when it comes to what they can charge and how much they sell. The art of branding is about getting under the skin of companies, finding out what makes them special and then to amplify these positives."
Jane Walker feels that in terms of creative elements that can establish a brand, simplicity and clarity of communication are key. "You need a great idea that cuts through the clutter and sets the brand apart," she explains. "A set of elements that have been developed from a strategic positioning that captures the spirit of the brand are also important."
"Focus is key to creating a successful brand," agrees Simon Croft, Design Director at Tonic. "You need a good understanding of who you're talking to, you need to clarify what the brand stands for, and its position in the marketplace and know how you can differentiate the brand from its competitors. And, lastly, brand essence - what's the central idea, the tone of voice?"
Zoltan Csaki also shares the belief that clarity of message is the most important element in any brand identity, so how do designers achieve this? "We have to ask what are the core values we're trying to communicate?" says Csaki. "Through colour, typography and graphic image, a visual mnemonic, or shorthand, values are created. However, the era of static identities is ending. It is no longer enough to design a logo with only the printer in mind. Flexibility is key. The most successful brand identities respond to their audience, give them feedback, and grow and change over time. A rigid set of guidelines is no longer the best way to communicate with an increasingly fragmented audience. The challenge for designers is how to embrace this flux yet retain a consistent message."
"On a purely practical level, designers need to know where and how the branding will be implemented and think five years ahead," says Jorgensen. "Additionally, you need to adhere to some pretty basic rules around usage. It's very impractical to have thin diagonal lines on a TV screen or website, for example, and gradients are often poorly reproduced on print, especially on faxes."
Don't follow fashion
In terms of logo design, Jane Walker advises that you don't follow fashion as it will burn out and become last year's model very quickly. "It also needs to work from TV to mobile - across every existing media platform, as well as new platforms not yet out there," she says. "All brand elements need to work together making the most of each medium and playing to the intrinsic strengths of each. Consistent doesn't mean the same."
Designers generally keep brands visible and interesting by ensuring that the brand maintains a constant dialogue with its consumers, according to Michael Berthon. "Good visual identities combine solid graphic foundations with a flow of fresh and unpredictable creative ideas," he explains. "Keeping a brand fresh is often about maintaining simplicity rather than adding additional elements - stripping away visual clutter and paring an identity back to its simplest, most potent expression."
"Be different, flexible and authentic to create a unique visual language that helps to tell an ongoing brand story," suggests Jane Walker. "It also needs to be entertaining, drawing people in with a human connection that captures the imagination."
Zoltan Csaki advocates creating systems as opposed to static logos, thus ensuring brands will remain interesting. He says this is already happening online in some places. "Online it is now possible for a brand to respond to each user independently," he says, pointing out examples like Rhizome. "In fact, there is no reason why brand identities will remain exempt from the remix/web 2.0/consumer- generated phenomenon. At which point, brand identity design will become very interesting indeed."
There are four key stages of creating a brand identity. The first is research and strategy, which involves a thorough review of the brand's positioning, marketing strategy and any existing design elements. This is where you have to understand the audience, and know the competition. "Examining the competitors' branding and communication strategies allows us to learn from their successes and failures," says Lars Hemming Jorgensen. "By examining the competition, we'll discover more about a company's competitive advantage."
Jorgensen also points to the importance of stakeholder input. "Nobody knows a business better than those involved in it day-to-day," he says. "For a brand to succeed, it's important that every employee is 'on board' and feels a sense of ownership over the brand. Brands can focus a business internally, especially if there is a change of focus, ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction and working towards the same goals."
Generating and developing ideas
Next up is ideas generation, exploring the brief from every angle through brainstorming, sketching and writing. A successful identity concept can usually be explained in a single phrase or sentence. Large Design generates the branding elements in a series of workshops with the client - for example, creating mood boards, graphic collages of images and ideas associated with the brand.
The third key stage is development of the creative concept. This is where you develop the creative idea that has longevity, tells the story, is entertaining and draws you in across all platforms. "Depending on the design solution, this can involve Mac artwork, typography, photography, illustration, live-action film shoots and animation," says Michael Berthon.
The final stage is implementation and delivery, where brand guidelines can be delivered statically or on CD-ROM as a definitive 'brand bible'. These are the final style guides that enable third-party creatives to work successfully with the identity.
"Alternatively, they can be released through a dedicated online brand manual," suggests Jorgensen. "This is a better option for many clients, as it is readily accessible and makes updates and additions much quicker and easier. The precise elements required will be up to the client, but most require a logo or logotype, colour palettes, typographic treatment and photography guidelines. Additional elements in a set of brand guidelines can include icon treatments and general Do's and Don'ts. It's useful to wrap up brand guidelines with a series of example implementations that demonstrate how a competent graphic designer or marketer can apply the guidelines across a wide range of communication materials."
Of course, that's only the beginning. Brands are extended everywhere - through internal communications, press, posters, online, mobile, events and exhibitions. "Everything you do, wherever you do it, combines to tell the brand story," says Jane Walker. However it's not just about slapping on a logo. You need to use the intrinsic value of each medium. Good identity is concerned with how you approach every piece of communication. Visually, it is everything from the negative space around a press ad, art direction of photography or moving image, online iterations, use of typography and colour palette - every single detail counts to build a strong identity."
"TV, mobile communications, the internet - branding is all around us," says Simon Croft. "From a club flyer to a label on the sole of your shoe, there's no escaping it. Examples of good branding are the brands that stick with us and inform our decision on what to buy, where to visit, what to drink, what to eat and so on. Where external communications, advertising and sponsorship are concerned, generally there are strict guidelines for usage in the style guide. The identity will be specially designed to work in an interior setting, such as for usage in point of sale, while usage at events and exhibitions will be more bespoke to the specific concept, but would still follow the overall essence of the brand."
"It's a case of optimising for the various media," says Jorgensen. "But it's important to do this in the creation phase, so you end up with a logo that can be applied well across the required media."
Each medium has its unique strengths. Designers advise that as long as the tone remains consistent across all forms of communication, these should be leveraged individually to best communicate with the audience. Good ideas can thus extend easily across different media and applications without resorting to repetition or logo-wallpaper.
"In cluttered sponsorship environments, with multiple sponsors the norm, wallpapering a client's logo over all available space is no longer effective," says Michael Berthon. "It only serves to associate the sponsor with other sponsors. Successful sponsor branding is about building a meaningful connection or 'fit' between the sponsor brand and the host event."
Give your brand wings
Xavier Adam points out that Red Bull has shown a good approach in sponsoring extreme sports. "This fits its brand well, and ties in with its fun advertising campaign," he says. "With adverts in themed video games, the Red Bull Air Race and snowboarding events, Red Bull really does carry the brand across products and marketing activity." The company also sponsors two Formula One racing teams, with a heavily branded presence at the power and speed-obsessed Grand Prix events.
So in the end what's the message here? Both good exhaustive research and looking at current trends can contribute to creating a visibly interesting brand, but, above all, knowledge of your target audience is the key. Communicate a clear and simple message to that audience and your brand identity will be a winner.
BRAND FOCUS: NOTORIOUS COCKUPS
Brands famous for not working out as planned
The notorious PriceWaterhouseCoopers Monday brand was a huge flop. The demerger and name change, overseen by branding consultants Wolf Olins in 2002, was estimated to have cost the company about $110m.
The short-lived new name for the Post Office that no one understood. Changed in March 2001 to emphasise the Post Office's rebirth as a semi-independent mail operator, it was ditched in June 2002 to become Royal Mail.
British Airways tailfins
Unfavourable 'ethnic' tail designs led to outrage in 1997. At the time, Bob Ayling, Chief Executive of British Airways, said: "British Airways is proud of its British origins, but we have to throw overboard the old-fashioned part of our British identity and instead take on the modern characteristics of our country." After the 'old-fashioned' businessmen who make BA's most profitable market objected strongly to the new designs, Ayling was ejected in 2000 and the fleet of planes were largely repainted to carry a fluttering Union flag.