GRAPHIC DESIGN, BRANDS, & BRANDING

Graphic Design, Brands, and Branding 

by George Anastasiadis, Managing Partner, MILK Ltd., www.milk.com.gr 

The meaning of brand

Of all the legacies that were left to this world by the works of marketing, the concept of “˜the brand’ is probably the most well-known and easily recognisable, but at the same the most elusive by far. The thing is that in reality the concept of “˜brand’ is deceptively simple. Ask anyone, and they would come up on the spot with tens of good examples of a “˜typical’ brand. 

Ask however for a satisfying definition, and things begin to get really murky. It is not that people -professionals or not- cannot grasp what the whole issue of branding is all about, it is just that the very concept seems to have so many facets that it is hard for anyone to come down with a satisfactory definition that covers all the important stuff in one go. 

Some would prefer to talk about the market name by which a certain product is known, others would rather focus on imagery and emotional connections, others still on the potential of brands to add value and their differentiating capacity, while others, more blunt, would just talk about their increased capacity to create shareholder value.  In a sense, every definition is right in its own way. A brand is many things at the same time. There is no brand without a physical embodiment of some short (be that a tangible product, a space, an interaction or a person). There is no brand without an image, despite the fact that this in most of the cases differs quite substantially between the bold statements written in brand manuals and what is recorded in collective representation. Acting as a differentiating agent and adding value are some of the reasons that justify a brand’s existence, although some would argue that there are historically successful brands that lacked these and whose success was based on other factors, such as low cost. This may have a grain of truth in it, but in any case it is increasingly difficult in the world we live in. And finally, despite the facts that not all brands are out to make money (person-brands usually are not, and so aren’t institutional brands such as Greenpeace or Médecins Sans Frontières), one would argue that a good brand would make an effort that rides under its wings far more successful (be that money, fame, support by the people and so on) compared to an effort that is based on no branding at all.  

Trying hard to come up with a proper all-inclusive definition of branding, we cannot avoid to make it as lengthy as this:

A Brand is a collection of perceptions about an entity (a company, product or service - but also a cultural or education institution, not-for-profit organization or charity, political party, country, city or area, sports team, or even a person) that-builds consistent and lasting connections of the entity with people’s hearts and minds,
-creates trust that the entity will be true to the promises and the values it represents and-shapes the experiences of people when they come in contact with it, physically or mentally. 

And, at last, what is branding? 

Yes, a brand is all these and more - but what is branding? Is it just the creation and management of brands? 

Since there is no lack of definitions here - far from it- it would do no harm to add yet another one to the seemingly endless list: So Branding is (or should be)

“˜The purposeful, structured and holistic management of perceptions, expectations and experiences, on behalf of a marketable entity, based on a clear and compelling definition of the brand and its visual and verbal identity.’
 It has to be purposeful, because in order to achieve results it is essential to know were you want to go - to have a goal and a vision. Of course, this presupposes that you already know where you stand, but make no mistake; this is much harder than it sounds. In the marketing world it is not rare at all to meet brand custodians who are completely delusional about their brands. Is this a bad way to start? You bet it is.   

It has to be structured, because gut feel, creativity and enthusiasm are nice things to have, but getting were you want to go demands plans, processes, safeguards and contingencies. This seems quite obvious, but the glorification of the emotional aspects of brand management can lead things astray. On close view, the resentment of some for science (statistics, psychology, cultural studies and so on) and the ideas of plan and method can sometimes be quite appalling. Planning is not the nemesis of creativity - it is its facilitator, and the only way to make it realise its potential. 

It has to be holistic, because brands are so complex and ultimately fragile that they offer thousands of ways to go wrong with them. It’s easy to focus on “˜we-will-conquer-the universe’ master plans, while forgetting the details and losing the plot in the process. One cannot afford the luxury of not dealing with every single detail, no matter how mundane or even frustrating this may seem - because great buildings are built of humble, single bricks. 

And these bricks in our case are perceptions, expectations and experiences. Focus too much on one of them while ignoring the others, and the result can be really disappointing - and occasionally catastrophic. Focus on the creation of perceptions (imagery through communication or packaging for instance) without delivering on the actual experience, and you get disillusioned, frustrated or even angry consumers. Focus only on the actual experience (for example the taste of a product) without creating a given set of expectations (who is this product about? what should I expect to get out of it and why does it suit me in particular?) and you get misunderstandings and disappointments. These things go together, and importantly enough, they should go together in harmony and balance.  

These simple guidelines indeed apply to every marketable entity- from the obvious products and services, to the less obvious such as politicians, institutions, areas and holiday resorts, and even whole countries. Luckily enough for us marketers, human beings are reassuringly alike in many ways. We want from our brands what basically we want from people we interact with: an engaging, fruitful, rewarding give and take relationship. 

This does not necessarily mean something grandiose - it may well mean nothing more than exceptionally good value for money - but as time goes by, most brands have to do much better than that. Can our brands guarantee such a thing? Not every brand can, end even those that do today may lose this ability in the future. 

Our philosophy

 The way we view our job is to help brands achieve their maximum potential by making sure that things work the way they should - from start to finish. Branding for us is a process that combines planning and creation, left and right brain in equal measures. The process of defining the brand is key and, apart from strategic thinking, demands also high levels of creativity. The process of designing a compelling, suitable and differentiating verbal and visual identity is equally important and, apart from creativity, demands also high levels of strategic thinking.  

Those processes, require that each of us, marketing consultants or designers, act as strategists and creatives at the same time.  And more than that, think as brand developers, but also think as consumers, and be in the shoes of our customers. By realizing the complexity of the task, we respect its demands and focus our efforts on delivering seamless, working solutions that produces clear-cut, measurable results. milk connotes substance, freshness and care; we always try hard to ensure that we remain true to those promises.

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[tags]branding, brands, brand marketing, brand design, logo design, graphic design[/tags]

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One Comment

  1. jayleel
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    am in to graphics and i would like to know the latest info. abt mac and design trends

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