Posts Tagged ‘corporate branding’
At some point in the course of product development, the task of applying your brand to the hardware or software comes into play. Too often, it boils down to a late-addition exercise in labeling — where and how to place the logo and color. What this seems to imply is that branding from a product standpoint is only skin deep, and the real burden of branding is the responsibility of marketing. This is misleading. Marketing has the role of promoting the brand. But it is the product that defines the brand more than marketing efforts ever could.
Brands are built to attract consumers. And consumers fall into two categories: prospects and users. Prospects are introduced to a product through various marketing efforts (e.g. website, ads, trade show exhibits, commercials, etc.). Some people mistakenly assume that all of these efforts constitute the brand. Not so. These efforts introduce the brand promise — a set of expectations for a product. But a brand is more than what is promised — it’s also about what is delivered. Because once prospects become users, the brand promise will either be fulfilled or not, depending on their experience, and this will ultimately form their perception of the brand. Additionally, there will be some users of a product whose perception of a brand will be based solely on their use of it and not by any exposure to marketing efforts.
What this should make clear to anyone responsible for developing a product is this: think beyond the product logo, colors, graphic elements, type, etc. to build the brand. The visual and user experience needs to come together into one seamless, consistent presentation of the product in order to convey the true meaning and value of the brand.
If you’re developing a software product, there are a number of things to consider to create a better user experience:
• The application needs to be intuitive and easy to use
• The navigation, icons and language should follow common practice
• Prompts, instructions, commands, etc., should be clear and concise
• Icons need to be understandable and distinct from one another
As communicators, designers can serve as a link between software engineers and users to help make the presentation of information and instructions simple and clear. This is particularly helpful when time or resources don’t allow for testing with user groups.
One of our clients recently asked us to develop the icons for the software interface of a new product they were developing for cell metabolism research. Icons are a visual language that serve as a shorthand for words, requiring less space on a screen. Some of the functions that we had to create icons for are common to all applications (e.g. save, delete, rotate), and so the icons we developed were universal as well. For all the icons that needed to be create that were unique to this product, we took great care to make sure each conveyed an intended action or element, and — this is most important — each was distinct enough not to be confused with any other icon. (Icon design will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming blog.) Clear communication enhances the user experience, which enhances the brand. We also designed the launch icon and elements for each interface to pick up the brand design we developed. This helped to reinforce the brand identity and give a consistent impression across the brand experience.
There are a number of considerations for hardware development as well. As with software, the quality of the product, engineering, and ease-of-use will shape the user’s opinion of the product. There are ways to integrate the brand into the look of the product apart from the logo and colors. The shape of the product is one way. For example, one of our clients was developing a navigation and robotic targeting system for interventional oncologists. As we were in the process of developing the overall brand, we received some CAD drawings of the new system from the industrial designer. While our brand designs were evolving toward soft curves and archs, the system was more hard-edged. Since the system design was still at a point where changes could be made, we worked together to round the edges of the system and introduce subtle arched lines. We also introduced an abstract graphic that we had developed for multiple uses to create a visual to link throughout the brand.
Regardless of what else you do, at some point you still need to include the basic branding elements — logo, color, graphic elements — that identify your company or product. Careful consideration should be given when applying these elements. Should the company logo, product logo, or both be used? Where and how large should they appear? If both logos are to be used, which should be prominent? Should they be in color? Black and white? Embossed? Each decision needs to be made in relation to the overall brand strategy. If color is used, it should look as consistent a possible between RGB and CMYK color modes (RGB is what you see on a computer display; CMYK is for printing).
In conclusion, introducing the brand design into the software and hardware development sooner will helps achieve the main point of this article: In order to convey the true meaning and value of the brand, the visual brand design and user experience needs to come together into one seamless presentation of the product.
Corporate and product guidelines have been in place for a long time. But guidelines can be used for other purposes as well. Take the case of one of our clients — Z Corporation (now part of 3D Systems).
Z Corporation produces 3D printers that build three-dimensional models. These models are incredibly precise, allowing architects, engineers, designers, and other professionals to develop more ideas and innovation, and to communicate it better and faster. Recently, the marketing department created a slogan — Create more™ — to promote the power and benefits of their products. By adding words after Create more, this dynamic slogan becomes even more powerful: Create more innovation; Create more communication; Create more ideas. And so on.
The Create more slogan uses a specifc font colors. The marketing department took great care to consistently apply the slogan to a range of marketing materials. Employees outside the marketing department also began adding the slogan to materials, including PowerPoint presentations and emails. But without clear directions to guide them, the slogan was sometimes misapplied. The result was an inconsistent use of the slogan, which threatened to undermine the overall effectiveness of the campaign.
Before things got out of control, Z Corporation asked for our help. We developed a set of guidelines to:
• explain why the slogan was developed and how it ties into the company’s broader goals.
• provide a set of rules on how to correctly create the slogan and apply it to materials.
• provide examples of the slogan being used in a range of applications, from PowerPoint presentations to coffee mugs.
The final guidelines were created as an easy-to-distribute PDF in a horizontal, 8.5 x 11 inch format so it could be easily viewed on screen or printed if needed.
When creating guidelines, four important rules are:
• Explain the reasons behind the guidelines. Instead of simply giving people a set of rules to blindly follow, take the time to explain the rationale behind the guidelines. People are more willing to comply with rules if they understand the reasons behind them. In this case, we explained how the Create more slogan fits into the overall Z Corporation brand, how the slogan would be used, and why it was important to use it correctly.
• Make it easy to understand and use. The harder guidelines are to read, the less likely people will be inclined to use them. For Z Corporation, making it easy to understand and use as a quick reference tool was particularly important because unlike most sets of guidelines that are designed for use only by marketing and design professionals, these guidelines are intended to be used by all employees, most of who are unfamiliar with standards guides.
• Provide lots of samples. Samples help people visualize what they need to do to conform to standards. We included samples of the logo in PowerPoint slides, ads, and coffee mugs. We even included a sample of how it would appear at the end of an email and included specs so emails would look consistent throughout the company.
• Make it easy to implement. In addition to guidelines, provide tools that make it easier for people to implement whatever it is you want them to do. These tools can include logo files, templates (e.g. PowerPoint, Word, InDesign), and specific graphics or images. In
Z Corporation’s case, electronic files of the Create more logo in different formats were made accessible.
Building a brand from scratch takes considerable time and attention. But too often, in an effort to launch a new company or product, branding hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves. The reasons are understandable: There are so many things needed to be done. Resources are limited. There is an urgency to get to market and start generating revenue.
Maintaining and growing an established brand is an ongoing process that requires a lot of work. And it’s only getting harder and more complicated today, as more and more, external factors are beginning to have an influence over a company’s brand. A recent article by AMA Access cited a study of senior executives in both marketing and general management which stated that while overall, 66 percent of respondents believe that their company owns their brand today, the dynamics of a shifting marketing landscape will mean less control of their brand over the next 3-5 years. Interestingly, marketing people in both B2C and B2B environments felt that their company already had less control over their brand than their non-marketing counterparts.
From this, three conclusions can be drawn. First, more than ever, it is critical that the proper amount of time and resources be allocated to build and grow your brand. Second, what constitutes your brand needs to be thought of in the broadest terms possible. And third, in a world where people outside your organization are increasingly gaining control over some portion of your brand — it’s critical to control those aspects of your brand you can control, as tightly as possible.
Building the Brand
All too often, development of the brand is initiated toward the end of product development, when it should be started much sooner. Doing it sooner can help ensure that the brand strategy is thoroughly developed and tested, and that the brand design is complete and support materials ready for launch. Brand design, if developed soon enough, can also have an impact on the final product design. For example, one of our clients is developing a new product for interventional oncology. We began working on their brand early on, so when the time came to develop the look of the product itself, they were able to integrate the brand design into it.
Think of Your Brand in the Broadest Terms
When we start working with a company and ask them about their brand, it’s not unusual to be shown their logo, fonts, color palette and a few examples (e.g. their website, PowerPoints and some printed material). All these things play a part. But there is much more to it. Every touch point your company has with the world reflects on your brand. From the most obvious (e.g. website, packaging, signage, collateral) to the less (call center, delivery trucks, emails — even the words, actions, and attitudes of your employees), they all play a part.
Establish Control of Your Brand
As mentioned, it’s impossible to totally control your brand today. But you can control much of what is communicated externally. One way to do this is by imposing clear rules for all the people responsible for communicating your brand to the outside world to follow. Guidelines and templates are an indispensable way to get everyone on the same page and speaking the same language. Besides ensuring correct and consistent use of the brand, they can help improve productivity and lower costs.
Guidelines can be broad in scope, with topics ranging from how corporate materials should look to how employees should answer a phone and engage with customers. Guidelines should be simple enough for everyone to understand, and detailed enough to support those responsible for developing whatever materials they need. Guidelines present the rudimentary elements of a brand and show how specific materials should look, and provide enough information and samples to guide in the development of new and unique materials. Templates are often developed in conjunction with guidelines to offer even more consistent and efficient application of the brand. Templates can be created in a number of applications (e.g. InDesign, Quark, PowerPoint, Word) for a number of different purposes (e.g. brochures, data sheets, presentations).
While visiting family recently, I brought up the story about the new Gap logo debacle. (In case you haven’t heard, the Gap recently presented a new logo on their website that was, to be kind, very poorly received. In a failed attempt to recover from this, Gap then announced a contest to design a new logo. It was open to all, and didn’t offer any monetary compensation. During our conversation, I was taken aback by one comment in particular — Why do they need a new logo, we all know who they are and what they’re about anyway? I responded as best I could at the time, but for some reason, the question kept gnawing at me.
The Gap may have had a perfectly good reason. I don’t know the specifics. But its decision raises a very good question. Why should a company — particularly one that is well-known, enjoys a good reputation, and continues to offer the same kinds of goods or services — look to change their logo or even their entire brand, even if the logo is not outdated and is still representative of the company’s direction?
There are several good reasons why would a company might change its logo, even if things seem to be moving along nicely. On a practical level, the logo may not work well across mediums. This can be particularly true if the logo was developed before the advent of the web and mobile applications.
Internally, a new logo and brand can reinvigorate and add cohesion to a company’s workforce that has grown complacent. It can also reinforce the principal that everyone is working for the betterment of the company — not their department or group.
Externally, a new logo can reintroduce a company to its customer base. It can announce to the world that it is not standing still, but rather, it is a vital, forward-looking organization.
Companies with ideas of being acquired may want to polish up their look to be more attractive to investors, since a brand says a lot about what an organization is, what it stands for, and how professional and organized it is.
The ramifications of changing a logo should be considered long and hard before any decision is made. It doesn’t seem that the Gap did that, because if they had, I don’t think they would have changed course and ultimately reversed their decision as quickly as they did.
Amazon has stirred up quite the controversy. Some is the result of the world we live in. But much of it is its own doing. Amazon’s online bookstore was selling copies of the book “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure”. When someone posted a blog asking how they could do such a thing, their response was:
“Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”
Let’s admit that it is seems harder today than it has ever been to determine morals and right from wrong. And it must be harder still for to determine what pieces of literature are acceptable and which should be censored. After all, some of the greatest literature ever written has been banned at one time or another.
But let’s also admit that certain things smell, well, let’s say odious enough to know that they aren’t acceptable. Period.
And speaking of smelling bad, Amazon’s stated high principles smell to high heaven. After all, Amazon was accused last year of removing books with gay and lesbian themes. They didn’t seem to have a problem then of censoring materials. That is, until boycotts were threatened. It didn’t take long for the books to reappear. Amazon blamed a cataloging error for that one.
Second, it’s funny how their belief in the right of people making their own purchasing decisions vanished when it became apparent that those purchasing decisions weren’t going to include Amazon.
Let’s not be fooled — principles were never involved in either of these cases. Money was. And we understand that because Amazon is a business. And in a business like Amazon’s, this can be hard to do when you’re bound to make some group unhappy depending on what you do or don’t do.
But a business, and a brand, needs to be built on a set of principles and actions that people can believe and trust. Anything less makes you look like a greedy liar.
So how Amazon get out of its mess? It doesn’t. It would have been smarter to avoid it by learning their lesson last year and establishing a policy on what books it will or won’t include on its shelves, and how those decisions are made. And then posting it clearly on their site. I checked out their site today, and there wasn’t a hint of it on their home page.
As for me, at the very least, my Kindle is going to be placed on a shelf for a good, long while. I might even exercise my right to make my own purchasing decisions — elsewhere.