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Big ideas that shaped branding | Slangbusters Blog
Jan 9, '20

Big ideas that shaped branding

…in the last decade.

Branding. It started with marking cattle on their bums with red hot iron and today, buildings are literally branded with marks and brand colors. Needless to say, the branding industry has evolved since its inception, much like everything else. But, as Ludwig Wittgenstein has rightly pointed out, "The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity."

If branding is just pointing out the simple and familiar, why do we need experts for that? Before the advent of the concept of branding, we actually did not need it at all. The market was the most ideal place for trade, with an (almost) perfect balance between demand and supply, skills and areas, the money rotated just fine. After aspects like globalization, the explosion of the number of businesses, the internet, and the ever-changing characteristics of how everything functions sped up multifold. So much so that today, we have branding studios and agencies that undergo the branding process to differentiate themselves from other service providers.

The decade of 2000–2019 was not like any other decade that humanity has experienced. Presumably, it could be the most dynamic set of ten years that experienced the most change in the way humanity functions.

No exaggeration. By the year 2000, mobile phones had become a common phenomenon. But, between the start and the end of this decade, when we were content with mobile data worth 1 GB a month, today, 1 GB a day even seems less; from having to untangle earphones every time we had to use them to complain about lost AirPods™; from buying television channel subscriptions to only buying Netflix and Prime subscriptions, The last decade has had not only plenty but drastic changes in the way we live. So much so, that even the culture is updating at a similar pace.

As a branding studio, we not only use the best brands of stationery, technology, but also wall clocks. This made sure we were surrounded by the best brand design inspiring us to always strive for better. Not only that, outside the studio, we (try to) practice mindful consumption of everything around us. At the end of the decade, we look back and try to compile our insights.

The economic and political system called capitalism has given us humans a money-making machine and since then, efforts have been made of installing buttons on it, control it, milking it to its maximum capacity and making the most out of it.

The proactive members of the capitalist ecosystem have pushed the buttons of advertising, pulled the levers of marketing, expecting a jackpot. While some focus on upgrading the machine, constantly improving it, leading to better sales and enhancement of how the world and such systems function. The rest, the passive ones, are slapping the machine which we can compare with non-sustainable SEO marketing and black hat practices to churn out the residual of what the previous members have strategically and ethically tried to achieve.

This piece is an attempt, our attempt to think out loud while analyzing such practices to summarize how branding became what it is today. This piece aims to serve as a yardstick for all those who are trying to make it big in or via branding. To all those who are trying to follow branding trends, learn that this statement in itself is against the core idea of what branding is. In a market full of brown cows, be a purple cow. We will let Seth Godin give you context.

"The hard work and big money you used to spend on frequent purchases of print and TV advertising now move to repeated engineering expenses and product failures. If anything, marketing is more time-consuming and expensive than it used to be. You're just spending the money earlier in the process (and repeating the process more often). This is worth highlighting: The Purple Cow is not a cheap shortcut. It is, however, your best (perhaps only) strategy for growth."

"The more crowded the marketplace, the busier your customers, the more you need the Purple Cow. Half-measures will fail. Overhauling the product with dramatic improvements in things that the right customers care about, on the other hand, can have a huge payoff."

― Seth Godin in Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

How are we different you ask?

It's our process. Instead of a formulaic approach, we believe in a more of reinventive approach with the obvious backing of the fundamental lighthouses that guide us. With each and every project, our process undergoes enhancements through a constant loop of feedback and learning from experiences that could be merely a week old. Through our iterative process, we have come across multiple practices and techniques that have been adopted to associate feelings with organizations and hence, making brands out of them.

From studying the methods of Al and Laura Reis to the whiteboard overview of Marty Neumeier. This includes gems like Debbie Millman podcast, 'Design Matters' and academic sources like Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler among many others. We have put their ideas through a litmus test of our own, selected and discarded certain methods and formed our own systems and models of branding philosophy.

Studying philosophy forewarns us about the pitfalls and potential booby traps while it acts as a map by providing stories from around the globe that we have localized for our favor. In a similar manner, we studied not only the successes, but spectacular failures of brands, re-brands, and even NOBRAND®.

We studied practices and outcomes of the most impactful brands that were idealized and launched in the past decade. We looked at rebrands that shaped the industry and strategic experiments that showed results in these 10 years. We went behind the face value of these brands, we read and listened to the branding experts, the creative directors and the folk who made these brands happen. Let us now dive into the insights.

There is no scientific way of studying this, behind how we chose what we studied, We just kept an open eye and consumed whatever came our way, in the form of news, updates, or experiences. We believe only the best and the very worst will soar and make it to the news. That is an ingredient enough for this study.

Idea 1: The substance behind the symbol soars.

("This is not a brand" - An excerpt from The Brand Gap)

Branding used to be considered as something limited to the identity (read: logo). People, especially branding agencies put their efforts into changing this common misconception that plagues business owners that having a logo is branding. The importance of research, taking the customer into account, positioning, developing brand guidelines, and many other elements of good branding were given due importance and the successful brands proved it by showing results of branding reflecting in their sales, customer perception, and through brand loyalty.

As quoted by one of the experts featured in brand thinking, "Logos are static, two-dimensional vehicles. The substance behind the symbol is branding."

(Via pantspants on Instagram)

Of course, there are many businesses that ignored the importance of the branding process and there are ample that continue to do so. But there are also many that have realized how important it is to invest in what leads to the identity that is the face of the brand.

Idea 2: It's a matter of heart, the brand.

The key is finding the right blend.  —Christoph Niemann (From Netflix docuseries "Abstract")

It has been known and we will scream it aloud, again for the ones in the back. The heart rules in matters of branding. Films, psychology and the brands that are constantly working towards tapping the heart of the customer have proven that while making a decision, the one that is made with heart brings more happiness and satisfaction than a choice made with logic.

The proof? Let's take the case study of Dove. With aggressive marketing that is backed with the brand that is not about better hair or better skin, but about 'real beauty', has more market than Kesh Kanti which promises long hair.

A product with better packaging, a message that emotes, and slightly higher price will still sell more than a cheaper alternative that stands for nothing but the function of the product/service.

We saw that many brands took this too seriously and added a little too much heart, and quite literally so, in their brand.

But hey, sometimes, it works too.

The problem with how branding is done by many, even today, is that it is carried out with a manufacturer, factory-made approach.

True brands are heart-made.

Idea 3: Minimalism is a trend that is not overrated, it was due.

We have talked about saturation before. It is so meta that the word itself is saturated today. Brands were saturated with pompous identities, the market was saturated with saturated identities and then, someone finally said, let's make it simpler. Simple stood out. In the noise of so many brands, simple grabbed the eye.

There is so much to consume, people do not want to make efforts in digesting what does not delight.

There is way too much that the eye has to consume in a blink and make an impact that favors the purchase decision of the buyer. When you have a complex identity system which takes a moment for the viewer to digest, let alone register, they are more likely to ignore it. The simpler it is, the more chances that their subconscious will come to your rescue, convincing them to make the decision in your favor.

It is not just about visual aesthetics, minimal effort is celebrated.

It went south when it was adopted because everyone was doing it.

But it worked where it was needed.

Idea 4: Rebranding can be refreshment, it doesn't have to be renovation.

First drafts are called first drafts for a reason. And the rule applies to brands too. No brand is timeless up to the extent of never having to undergo change. Change is the only constant. But then again, everything is good only in moderation.

Confused? The balance lies at rebranding with a strategy that is relevant for a long time. But the time is not infinite. When a brand undergoes renewal, a lot of resources are spent in making sure that the new brand doesn't have to start from scratch.

Some rebrands without a change in vision and an aesthetic identity have failed miserably, while some slightly refreshed identity with strong revisioning has been welcomed like a breath of fresh air.

Perfect case studies for all cases would be the New York Public Theatre which underwent the branding process lead by Paula Scher. In an episode of Abstract: The Art of Design, she revealed that the popular wordmark reading 'PUBLIC' has undergone many iterations after launch even without the audience noticing it. Whereas in the case of Uber, it used to be Uber Cabs and underwent at least 4 rebrands before it went on to be called Uber and expanded market in multiple countries in the world. The Gap rebrand was not welcomed, and underwent losses in rebranding expenses before they went for the old identity system again.

(Paula Scher rebrands the identity she created for the Public Theater in 1994.)

It cannot be said without enough assertion and intensity; we speak for the entire branding industry, there is a special place in hell reserved for firms that use rebrand as a marketing tactic. Both- branding and rebranding, without vision, are like bodies without the soul.

Idea 5: Iconography hits where it hangs.

Icons are everywhere. Communication started with icons and even after developing such complex systems of communication, in the most complicated pieces of technology like rocket ships, red means danger, and green means go.

There is a reason iconography on roads is not something that you have to teach. Icons are so obvious, they are culturally ingrained. You will not drive fast in an area where you saw this sign. No one looks like a smiley face. Still, the image rendered in our brains on seeing a colon and parentheses is a smiling face :)

Such icons, they help brands trigger a message in the tenth of a second as it crosses your vision. That's how fast communication has to happen, and that can happen either through icons, or emotions.

Humans today are information-rich and time-poor. Now, we judge products based not on features, but on symbolic attributes.

Idea 6: Alignment, not consistency is the basis of a living brand.

(A fine line between consistency and alignment. Via Tim Lahan on Instagram)

You know, there exist a few businesses, who make the mistake of undergoing a branding service, but later practice lax behavior when it comes to following equally important steps; marketing and advertising the vision. If the brand is not aligned, the brand book becomes a proof of wasted time and resources invested by the branding studio in the creation of a custom Bible, if you may, that the brand must live by. This will make sure that the brand remains cohesive, not limited by the variety of platforms, modes of communication, media, and even geographical boundaries.

Brand alignment by basically crafting communication aligned with the brand book ensures that the brand becomes universal, and hence, timeless in true sense.

Idea 7: Brand managers and marketers need to meet more often.

No, the solution is not hiring a 360° solutions agency because most of the claimers banked on it for the keyword. A branding studio cannot have multiple provisions. That itself is against the fundamentals of branding in itself.

It is ironic that there are branding agencies that do not have a vision.
Not only creation, but brand management is of essence. Managing a brand is managing of difference; how you are different from the competition.

When marketers follow the brand book for communication, they become the drivers of the brand. The more cohesion they show in the communication, the stronger the perception will be, in the consumer's mind. The marketer becomes the bridge between the brand and the perception.

Idea 8: Marketing, rebranded.

Marketing is not "we sell this, so buy it" anymore. Consumers now want to know why are you selling it. There are many who are selling, trying to create a need for the product. What works is positioning it differently. There are 7.8 billion people in this world. There is a market for everything. You no longer have to instill the thought that the audience needs it. You just need to convey why you are dealing in what you are, and the market will follow. That is the essence of branding.

Today, the most powerful brands create communities with their customers based on shared values, culture and sense of identity. You will find it similar to how tribes function.

Marketers (at least quite a few of them) have understood the essence of the brand. They always knew emotions worked. They were using it in a misdirected manner. Branding gives a direction to market and conveys the brand vision through creatives that boost traction. The potential consumer that finds it fitting their need, will show brand loyalty as long as the message is aligned with the brand and they get exactly what they were promised- both functionality and satisfaction.

There are a few amendments in the book of marketing:

• Mindless promoting does not work anymore.

• Mindful promotion is strategic.

• People are deaf to those who shout.

• They are great listeners, provided you are one yourself.

• Having a presence is not a license to steal their attention.

• Spamming is uncool.

• One cannot sit on the fence creating average communication for generic purposes. You have to stand for something for people to resonate with.

• The needs have become specific and the communication needs to follow.

• Shortcuts are shortcuts to failure.

• Exhibit the value for the valuable customer that you can't stop talking about.

Do not beg for a consumer. Communicate who you are and why are you. Let them find you. Create your own value and the consumer will pay for it.

(Via "Dude with a sign" on Instagram)

Stop targeting keywords to lure people. Go for the heart and invite them.

Idea 9: Communication is no longer linear. It is circular.

Since the internet took over the world, nothing remained the same. Something that has been going on since the age of cavemen changed too. The way we communicate changed. It is no longer linear. It is circular.

Mass communication has upgraded to its maximum capacity, has reached full-circle, and quite literally so. People will no longer consume what is served in a platter. Globalization made the world smaller and it sped up, full-throttle with the advent of the web that connects everybody with each other. This did not only mean a bigger market, but also gave a platform to the market to give feedback that would reach the messenger within seconds. People not only collectively resonated, but also rejected collectively.

Idea 10: Clarity, transparency, and communication is the only tactic you need.

In fact, calling it a tactic would not be enough for this basic strategy that could help you stand out in a sea of soulless brands that plague the market today. Communication is not only a basic need, but true art.

Everyone needs to communicate, but only a few know how to communicate effectively.

To not complicate it even further, and to follow the clear, concise and consistent communication is key to penetrate it deep enough in the mind of the audience. You can only take the horse to the water, you cannot make it drink. In the same way, You cannot create a perception. One thing that is not in your control is thought. The opportunity for control and manipulation may have existed in the 1950s, but it certainly doesn't exist now.

"The art of prophecy is very difficult, especially with respect to the future."
- Mark Twain

Propaganda will no longer be effective. Otherwise, we would not have the entire world, from the USA to Hong Kong, From Kashmir to Kanyakumari protesting against propagation of rigid ideologies. What you can control is how you position yourself.

To have clarity of thought,

Transparency with the consumer,

And constant but measured communication

…is raw material adequate for your brand to be a market leader.

Idea 11: You do not need branding. Answer three questions and you have your brand.

These three questions, if answered, will prove to be the end of the branding industry as we know it:

1. Why are you doing it?

2. How will you do it?

3. What is your tangible offering?

In this exact order of priority.

A Ted talk made this duly popular when it was branded as the golden circle. The speaker went on to writing the bestselling book, Start with Why. The author Simon Sinek translated the visceral to visual with this diagram.

(The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek)

Honestly, we better let Simon explain this in a fairly Slangbusted manner.

Idea 12: When it comes to winning hearts…

Jargon has never worked, jargon never works and jargon never will.

These are some ideas that have shaped the branding industry, and as a result, Slangbusters. As a branding studio, the vision we have as a brand ourselves is to change the industry in a way that jargon is not used outside the walls of any studio, at least not with the purpose of deafening the client to what matters.

When we were branding our own branding studio, as a part of market research, we talked with various branding studios and agencies in India and around the globe to know where the world stands and how we want to position ourselves. To our wonder, we found that just like any other industry, the branding industry had also joined the rat race to become sales driven. Instead of people who branded, we talked with salespersons who did not know what they were selling. Everyone showered us with such corporate slang full of branding jargon that seemed crammed rather than understood. We saw this as an opportunity, not to rant, but create a dent in how the world functions, to provide a branding experience to business owners, but in the language that they can understand.

True brands reflect a vision. Vision is not found, it is not a coin from a lottery machine. Visions are developed. It is a game not based on assumptions, but strategic and conscious decisions that are based on researched hypotheses. True brands are the best reflection of what the business owner has in their hearts. And a heart connects with a heart.

Find and develop your brand at Slangbusters Branding Studio. Contact us to brand an idea or to dejargonize something you heard on the last call you had with a branding agency.

We're game; if you are.

— By Manas Daxini, Content Strategist, and Nihar Bhagat, Creative Director, Slangbusters Studio.

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