Although it has certainly not gone away the trend for customer collaboration and brand customisation does seem to have slowed down. As our opportunities for interaction (mainly due to the growth of technology) continue to advance, not only are consumers becoming overloaded but brands are guilty of diffusing—rather than strengthening their offer—by indulging in knee-jerk reactions and ‘me too’ initiatives. We all want to be connected, we live in a more connected world than ever before but, ironically, we are actually much less connected. And brands now need to address how they fill the emotive and experiential void that probably many believed they were already servicing. Brands need to find new ways to engage as the tide starts to turn and consumers seem to want increasingly limited— not more—interaction with brands and products.
Let’s turn our attention to the cult of Facebook, which has maybe already put this very theory to the test with its triumph over Myspace. Myspace gives us unlimited choice and freedom but maybe just too much pressure to be creative? Facebook, on the other hand, is a defined space, not over branded and somewhat regimented in its application—but it works. Myspace is about expression but Facebook has always been more about information and utility and acting as the facilitator or conductor. It basically comes down to being generic enough to allow people to join in rather than put them under too much pressure to understand, interact and join in as seemed to be the case—or the curse—of the much hyped Second Life phenomenon.
But this is not just an issue in the digital arena. As brand channels to market become ever more diverse, identification of brand proposition and linear thinking about how this can and should translate, both behaviourally and aesthetically, remains key—not just as a social media/marketing strategy but across any or all key retail and marketing mediums. It’s about recognising the brand limitations and limiting and refining the brand offer and experience for the consumer. So, is it right to now understate the brand offer? Can un-branding be made desirable?—and still strong and visible?
In a bold move Starbucks recently celebrated its 40th Birthday by removing its brand name and focusing instead on a pared down version of its trademark mermaid equity. The rebranding of Starbucks to a new level of simplicity comes down to having confidence in the strength of its key visual equities. Rather than relying on trends, Starbucks has flexed the pure strength and ownability of its branding to once again demonstrate the reason for its dominance and category leadership. But that is not to say that Starbucks is not fixed on the needs and wants of the zeitgeist. It is bolstering its position by understanding and tapping into the cultural shift where authenticity and simplicity play a big role. By de-cluttering and focusing on the logo, the logo has become the ‘hero’ of the packaging, reinforcing its authenticity and making it more modern, ownable and distinctive.
Brands must be careful to not just follow technology—because as technology progresses, there is a danger of the brand being taken away —and the realisation that we cannot keep up with the speed of change. Whilst it may be extreme to say that only the strongest brands will survive, it is probably more precise to say that only brands with this kind of clarity will prosper. Design is the ‘medium’ for the brand message and will take the brand from the physical and the passive to the social and the active to inspire a complete, future-facing and ultimately deeper connection.
About the Author
Jonathan Ford is a designer and co-founding partner of Pearlfisher. He oversees a portfolio of award-winning designs, including a high profile list of ethical, entrepreneurial and iconic brands. He is also a frequent speaker at high-profile international industry events and regular contributor and commentator in the design and brand press.
Jonathan can also be followed on Twitter—@Jforddesigns