Why is branding important? Because people often choose products based on their perceived value rather than their actual value.
Think about the celebrity who drives an Aston Martin instead of, say, a Skoda, which is continually ranked “car of the year” in many European countries, and delivers much better mileage at one-tenth of the price. Sure, Skoda is the logical choice, but it’s Aston Martin’s identity that conjures images of luxury and status, and that usually clinches the sale.
With the right branding, businesses can increase their product’s perceived value, establish relationships with their customers that span ages and borders, and nurture those relationships into a lifelong bond.
Of course, it always helps to have a good story to tell. Your job as a designer is to find that story, and tell it well.
The rest of this chapter shares a few examples of designers who hit the mark.
Will Keith (W.K.) Kellogg invented wheat flakes and then corn flakes, spawning a breakfast cereal revolution and helping to develop an industry that has since become one of the most successful on the planet. But we might never have been familiar with the Kellogg name if W.K. hadn’t also been such a smart business strategist.
Kellogg developed marketing campaigns that were years ahead of the competition. He used modern, four-color print advertising in magazines and on billboards at a time when other companies were still thinking in black and white. And to distinguish Kellogg’s Corn Flakes from those manufactured by other cereal companies, he made sure all of his boxes bore the legend “Beware of Imitations. None Genuine Without This Signature, W.K. Kellogg.”
Kellogg still uses the same trademark signature that it’s been using since 1906 on the front of every cereal pack, but these days the signature is a red, stylized version.
This consistency built a level of trust and repeat business with consumers through the years, helping to establish Kellogg as the world’s leading cereal manufacturer.
For thousands of years, humans have needed and desired social identification. Think of the farmer who brands his cattle to mark his ownership, or the stonemason who chisels his trademark.
When you close your eyes and picture McDonald’s, what do you see? Golden arches? For those products and services that have a strong brand identity, it’s the identity that people often think of first rather than the product itself. Think of Microsoft, Apple, Ford, and Target. Chances are high that without even showing you the logos, you’d have a fairly good picture of how they look. Granted, a huge marketing budget is necessary to achieve the recognition rates of these organizations, but it’s still always important to “put on your best face.”
Iconic designer and Pentagram partner Paula Scher has been producing well-known design work for decades, including logos and identities for the likes of Citi, Microsoft Windows, The Public Theater, and the New York Philharmonic. You’re probably just as familiar, if not more familiar, with the corresponding logos as you are with the products or services themselves.
Pentagram was approached by Citigroup in spring of 1998 when the bank first announced its combination with insurance giant Travelers, then the largest merger in the world. Working with consultant Michael Wolff, Pentagram’s recommendation was to unify the merged entity under a single, four-letter name—Citi—and to adopt a logo that would transform the Travelers’ red umbrella into an arc over the letter “t.” (Not only is that letter Travelers’ initial, but it also is one of the few letters that looks like an umbrella handle.)
The recommendation was initially met with resistance as a corporate-wide solution, but five years after the launch, consultants Landor Associates conducted a brand identity analysis and concluded that the Citi logo had achieved such a level of awareness that it was, ultimately, the appropriate face of all its operations.
Seen by millions
By summer 2008, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series had sold more than 400 million copies and was translated into 67 languages. So when New York design and creative firm id29 was chosen to create the campaign and associated identity elements for the seventh book, it was clear that its work would be seen by millions (or even billions).
“We came up with a distinctive campaign aesthetic based on a central typographic element that we could use across all different media, from printed posters and bookmarks to rich media and online applications,” said Doug Bartow, design director and principal at id29.
Makes sense. Think about the traffic passing through Times Square. Most people don’t have time to be reading from billboards, so a symbol is much more fitting. Using a simple mark to identify the campaign allowed those taking even the briefest of glimpses to recognize news of the book release.
The results were phenomenal, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows selling 8.3 million copies in the United States within the first 24 hours of its release, said Doug.
Moon Brand, a branding and communications consultancy based in London, needed final approval from the Queen of England on this design for The Royal Parks.
“The leaves we chose to use in this logo are from indigenous British trees found in The Royal Parks,” said Moon Brand director Richard Moon.
The logo tells the story of the parks using their own language—leaves—and deftly portrays the relationship between the park system and the British crown with one clever picture. This clarity helped the yearlong project through to completion, with deliverables including a new identity, as well as concepts for park maps, map casings, and wayfinding to be placed throughout each Royal Park.
Moon Brand was told that approval from the Queen can take months, but it came back within 24 hours.
To sell products internationally, your brand has to speak a lot of different languages. Fortunately, easy-to-identify symbols need no translation. Recognizable regardless of culture or language, symbols enable companies to cross language barriers, compete globally, and maintain brand consistency across a wide range of media.
Take, for example, international branding and design studio Bunch. Its designers used an eight-pointed star inspired by the Star of Bethlehem to identify a new two-story club, Star of Bethnal Green (SoBG), which opened in the heart of Bethnal Green in London in 2008. The hardworking star symbol—a play on the name of the club and its owner, Rob Star—was used on everything from note cards to pint glasses.
The symbol had to be a star in some guise, said Bunch creative director Denis Kovac, so the design team began playing around with the traditional five-pointed star. All too soon they realized that it was too commonplace.
“We figured a five-pointed star would always be reminiscent of national flags, communism, and pagan rituals,” said Denis. “Rob Star already had a large following through a popular club night, which brought to mind the expression ‘follow the star.’ He wanted the pub to be a shining beacon in Bethnal Green, attracting people from far and wide. The Star of Bethlehem with eight points and a long tail presented itself as a way forward.”
While Denis and his team produced a lot of possible variations, it was a simple thick-outlined star that was chosen, not only because it was a great design, but also because it could be used as a template and altered to suit any application or theme.
Bunch used the versatile star symbol on bottles, food, DJ paraphernalia, and stationery. Inside the pub, pint glasses are etched with the simplest form of the star, and screen-printed wallpaper features the same design drawn by hand.
Bunch’s project is a good lesson in versatility. When designing a brand identity, always ask yourself whether your logo can adapt to different media.
The long-tailed star was illustrated to create artwork that represented the corresponding month. This was applied for about a year with all of the illustration done in-house by Bunch.
Believe in, a design studio in Exeter, England, created a wordmark and custom typeface for Amanda Marsden, a lifestyle salon and spa based in Devon, England. The designers extrapolated the first two letters from the design, which represent the client’s initials and form the word “am,” to create a contemporary monogram.
The word was then integrated into the various phrases used to promote Marsden’s service, such as “am: beautiful,” “am: relaxed,” and the “am: gifted” card.
Along similar linguistic lines, in 2012 London-based johnson banks began working on an “active” identity for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. “We suggested the charity should activate the ‘is’ in their name with a series of statements, effectively forcing it to always explain what it is, does, and why they are here,” said johnson banks.
Not every brand name will suit the same language-centric idea, but keep it in mind, because it’s one more tool to use when the time is right.
Whether it’s fair or not, we often do judge books by their covers. And that’s why the perceived value of a service or product is usually greater than the actual one. The same visual identity seen time and again builds trust, and trust keeps customers coming back for more. It’s kind of like putting a face to a name—logos help people remember their experiences with companies.
Try pointing this out during initial discussions with your clients, as a way of driving home the importance of choosing you as their designer.