Designers and brand development
Designers possess unique ways of thinking, and they have unique problem solving skills that are decidedly different than their more linear, analytical coworkers. This thinking style—sometimes referred to as “design thinking”—includes processes that consider business and audience needs, and allows for iteration and rapid development. Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business, feels so strongly about the power of design thinking, that he has recalibrated the MBA program at Rotman to be based on it. Similarly, other companies and organizations are embracing design as a strategic asset. In a competitive business environment people are discovering the value of design in spurring innovation.
This is good news for designers, who have traditionally been relegated to the end of the strategic process, often being given the role of “making it pretty.” As a profession, we’ve always known that design contributions were important to design outcomes, but it was hard to articulate why, and since design was so foreign to the analytical types that often run businesses, designers were often only seen as a support service—but no more.
The door is open for designers to take a seat at the decision-making table, particularly in the area of brand development. Branding is the convergence of strategy and design, and is a natural place for designers to assume a leadership position. With a thorough understanding of the strategic brand process, designers move from the makers of things to strategic thinkers, and become important contributors to the direction and articulation of their organizations strategy.
Why we brand
Successful organizations like Coca-Cola, Nokia or Starbucks invest a great deal of time and effort into managing and maintaining their brands. What’s interesting about these leading companies is that what they provide are simple commodities—soda, cell phones and coffee. On their own these items are ubiquitous and cheap, but when wrapped in well-crafted, well-maintained brand strategy, these everyday objects become desired by audiences and profitable for their respective organizations.
Branding provides organizations several key benefits:
- Branding provides a competitive advantage
Whether you’re a non-profit or a for-profit, your organization needs to compete for resources, funding and talent, and audience attention. To win your category, organizations plan and implement strategy—a roadmap that outlines specific actions and measures for reaching their goals and out maneuvering their peers for needed resources. When done correctly the organization’s brand mirrors their strategic plan, and helps promote strategic areas and initiatives that will move the organization forward.
- Brands provide a stable asset
Products might fail, companies are bought and sold, technologies change on a daily basis, but strong brands carry on through all these changes. Brands are the most sustainable asset of any organization, and when aligned with the overall strategy of the organization they can function as the central organizing principle for the organization’s decision making. Consider that the Coca-Cola brand has been around for more than 120 years, while most of the world’s other valued brands have existed for just 50 years, and most corporations only last 25 years.
- Brands provide economic value
The value of organizations is divided into two areas: intangible and tangible assets—brands being intangible assets. A study of organizations in the S&P 500 index showed that over a 30-year period between 1975 and 2003 the overall corporate value of intangible assets increased from 17% to 80%. The magazine
Businessweek has concluded that brands account for more than one-third of shareholder value. This leaves us with the conclusion that the value of most businesses comes from intangible assets, brands being the most prominent of these assets. Consider that the Coca-Cola brand name alone is worth $67million and accounts for over 54% of the stock market value of the organization. Or consider the value of brand to a non-profit like the Red Cross and the importance of their brand in attracting donations and volunteers. Because of their financial impact, brands are a unique organizational asset. Brands play a key role in attracting employees, partners and most importantly audiences to an organization. Brands help cut through the clutter of the marketplace, creating awareness for organizations and helping them attract and develop the mutually beneficial relationships with customers, suppliers and the public that they need to reach their goals.
- Brands set expectations
We live in a world based on promises. The airline mechanic promises to do a thorough job, checking and rechecking the aircraft to make sure it’s safe. Restaurants promise to provide fresh food made in clean environments. Our teachers promise to educate and protect our children during the school day. Often there are legal repercussions that bind people to fulfill these promises, but more often than not promises and vows are maintained based on the individual’s own moral and ethical code. We have an unspoken contract with the people we live and work with, that they will do what they say they’ll do. We have similar agreements with companies, products and services.
At the heart of branding is the promise that is made by the organization to the audience. The brand promise tells the audiences who you are, what you believe in, and what unique value you provide. The ability to fulfill your promises at every stage of the relationship is the defining factor for most organizations success or failure. When promises are broken the reputation of the organization is called into question, and the brand suffers. When brand promises are kept, audiences respond with loyalty and affection.
We encounter brand promises on a daily basis. The simple act of getting a soda out of a vending machine is an exercise in brand promise. The vending machine offers many drink options to choose from, but more than likely our drink selection will be based on prior experiences with a specific product. We have an expectation of an experience when we make our selection, much of which has been established through the decision-making steps of awareness, interest, desire, and satisfaction.
Interestingly, the things that influence our decision-making process have little to do with the product or service. Much of our experience with a product or service is created through the associations that we’ve made with the product through advertising, brand identity and the environment in which the product is experienced.