As brands seek to stay in touch with consumers, some are saying the future of brands depends on them looking less manufactured. That feels like an overstatement.
There’s a tendency to see disruption and innovation as huge moments of significance that shake the status quo to its core. Ultimately though neither is about that at all. It’s often about having the courage, vision and confidence to (gently) do big things. And to do them when and where they were least expected.
The aspiration drive that has dominated how marketers think and what they strive to achieve in building a brand’s mythology is increasingly being seen by consumers as unattainable and fake. Buyers are drawing a line under what they perceive to be airbrushed brands. And the push-back is manifest in everything from the acceptance of imperfect food to the increased use of plus-size models on fashion house runways.
In a market filled with possibilities, there is power and focus in constraint. I pressed this point home recently in a discussion on why brands can’t just continue to add to their visual language. The argument I was getting – we need an extended palette to show the diversity of what we do and to prevent our brand looking monochromatic. My view – that adding layer upon layer of visual language to a brand doesn’t free up anything. On the contrary, it adds complexity that make no sense to buyers and that end up looking confused in the shopping aisle.
We often talk about “brand” as if it is one thing. It’s not of course – in fact, the meaning and the use of the term differs, quite markedly, depending on the context. By my reckoning, brand is categorised in more than 20 different ways. (So much for the single minded proposition!)
Pitch a new brand identity system to almost any large company with multiple divisions and inevitably someone will plead to be an exception to the new rules. This is particularly true where brands or divisions have had their own identity in the past. Attempts to consolidate a myriad of “brands” into a consistent brand identity system or to replace a whole portfolio of marques with a single power brand will be met with varying volumes of indignation.
The “Ice Bucket Challenge”, the viral awareness campaign to raise money for ALS, has swept the world in the past month or so, raising over $100 million for a cause that was previously under-profiled, and flooding social media, so to speak, with videos of people from all walks of life pouring ice-cold water over themselves.
Brad VanAuken made this excellent observation about rebrands. “Identity systems are designed to encode and decode brand information to and from people’s brains,” he said. “If you change the system, the associations may be lost and will take a long time to rebuild.”
Just been re-reading parts of Matt Haig’s Brand Failures. While the edition I’m looking at is now close to ten years old, its ideas are a timely reminder that though the purpose of brands is to generate goodwill and margin, failure to deliver on expectations and the subsequent “badwill” that engenders is never far away.