How to connect with your audience (while staying true to your brand)

Making people listen to your brand is arguably harder than ever. People are overwhelmed with a cascade of content via social media, which means that well-meaning messages can sometimes get muscled out by companies with more budget and clout. However, with craft and careful consideration of what your brand means, there are still lots of ways to get your point across without compromising your integrity.

We’ve seen creators from all corners of the design universe share their advice at this week’s D&AD Festival. They had plenty to say about how they connected with their audiences with both straightforward and experimental designs in a way that stayed true to their brand. Here’s what we learnt...

01. Don't be afraid to be human

If you’re locked away in a studio or office all day, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that your brand is talking to people, not online algorithms. So it makes sense that a brand should communicate in a human way. For Susan Hoffman, the executive creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, forgetting this is a fatal error, “without humanity, our creative voices are drowning".

Of course, what being 'human' means is a huge topic. But in terms of branding, the team at Wieden+Kennedy have cracked it because, as Hoffman puts it, "they let weirdos do their job". This off-the-wall approach has resulted in some fantastically bizarre campaigns, such as the smooth-talking goofiness of the Old Spice ads (above), and an overhaul of the KFC identity that saw Colonel Sanders crowned the 'world’s sexiest chicken salesman' by People magazine.

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This isn’t weirdness for weirdness sake though, and Wieden+Kennedy keeps the important things in its cross hairs at all times. “The work comes first,” adds Hoffman. "We like to make people feel something." After all, if all you’re focused on is the hard-sell, how do you forge a human connection? When it comes to the balance of profit and creativity, Hoffman reveals that, "you can be driven by one or the other, but not both".

02. Respect the needs of your audience

It might sound obvious, but knowing the needs of your audience will direct the tone of your brand’s voice. What isn’t so straightforward though is the way that their needs will translate to your communications. For Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, AKA plant-based cooking duo Bosh!, a certain word at the heart of their whole operation was off the table when it came to setting up the voice for their recipe videos and online content.

"We didn’t shout about veganism", says Firth, having found out the hard way that it could irk potential customers, including family and friends. In fact they steered clear of the word vegan entirely to begin with, and relied on the fact that their recipes just happened to not include animal products.

The reason behind this, Theasby argues, was that: "people going vegan didn’t want to change who they are". By showing good food instead of telling people about its vegan credentials, the brand could tap into the market of 23 million flexitarians in the UK in a welcoming way.

03. Focus on good design, not profit

Okay, this is always going to be a hard one to sell to cash-conscious clients. However the benefits of good design have a direct impact on your brand, and therefore its revenue. For Mark Adams, the managing director at furniture company Vitsœ, good design also generates a brand’s most valuable asset: trust.

At the core of Vitsœ’s work are Dieter Ram’s 10 principles of good design. The renowned and forthright German designer created furniture for the company in the '60s, and his approach is still felt today. During his talk on the importance of good design, Adams highlighted that between 50 and 60 per cent of Vitsœ’s customers are returning clients, purely because its products are so well made that they have embodied trust.

Not only that, but according to Adams, Vitsœ undersells to its customers. You won’t see any seasonal or Black Friday displays in the Vitsœ shop window. The effect of this is that it reinforces the honesty present in the brand. Shoppers understand that they’re getting the best and fairest price possible all year round for a product that is built to last.

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Dom Carter

Dom Carter is a freelance writer who specialises in art and design. Formerly a staff writer for Creative Bloq, his work has also appeared on Creative Boom and in the pages of ImagineFX, Computer Arts, 3D World, and .net. He has been a D&AD New Blood judge, and has a particular interest in picture books.