This is what brands do…they bridge. They create the connective muscle between the functional and the emotional aspects of a product, service, or experience and work to meet the various benchmarks brand managers and clients seek—whether the goals are termed "differentiation," "pull," "loyalty," or "culture." When dealing with a new product or a niche brand this process of building strong connective tissue is even more critical for a brand's survival. So, when this work is being executed, how does one assure the best results?
With so much written on the business-face of branding, there is very little reference material for clients on managing the creative team. What insights can guide a client or brand manager working with a creative team to optimize this very critical aspect of a product launch?
Typically, it is the design team who conjugates the desires of stakeholders with the needs of the consumer. Good design is never just the result of a series of tasteful aesthetic choices. It is inherently strategic. So the sooner the design and strategy teams are integrated, the more meaning this work will have.
Within our own studio, Miloby Ideasystem, we approach design as a strategic process driven by concepts. We consider what we do for our clients as creating ordering systems. The belief is that creative concepts should be considered in terms of narratives able to move across disciplines, scale, and media, which we refer to internally as "brand systems." Concepts must remain mutable to be able to move seamlessly across the various levels of communication, from brand function to brand benefit, and from brand experience to brand culture. Each of these are delivered by different means and using different sets of tools. Potent brands have varying messaging working harmonically, with all the white noise methodically removed.
What may appear at first glance as herding cats, arriving at the end goal happens progressively. Attributes, benefits, research, barriers, opportunities, value propositions, consumer trends, pricing strategies, and so much more all need translation and distillation. However, along with this rigor and theoretical modeling, great client involvement is an important factor to producing a great brand. And for this, we offer these four basic client touchstone factors—openness, narrative, clean, wow.
Are you open? Are new things allowed to happen? Open represents a willingness to reexamine and create opportunities for the unexpected. Remaining open under the influence of the world in which you are operating is what allows for invention and paradigm shifts within categories to happen.
To begin any design development or branding exercise "closed" leads to a limited internal looping of preexisting references and ideas. The trust this takes is daunting for many clients, and it can easily be short-circuited. However, this should also never be as an excuse for capriciousness. It is up to the client to define at the outset their tolerance for openness.
Does the brand idea have narrative integrity? Is the idea a complete thought? Just as objects require structural integrity, concepts require creative integrity to survive once they are sent out into the marketplace. Whether in terms of a brand or simply its package, a creative narrative indicates a story is to be told. And—most importantly—that this story is understood by those outside the project's information loop.
Clients must remember that the relationship between a new brand (or product) and the consumer is never the same 360° version they have. Therefore, everything must be understandable to a newly exposed, unfamiliar audience. It is typically difficult for the client to separate himself or herself from the obstacles and achievements associated with producing their product. But even the most complex product or brand—such as microchips or prescription drugs—can be, and must be, distilled into one clear narrative.
How clean is the brand? Getting clean means putting ideas through the conceptual car wash in order to wash away anything but the core iconography. When we clean, we wipe away the fingerprints of individuals, trendy fetishisms, and the rote actions that hinder a project from being its own.
The easiest question that can be asked during this process is: "What else can be removed?" A clean brand is one that can never be confused with any other. It will have its own voice, its own character. When the inverse is true, when there is more and more added in an attempt to "not leave anything on the table," the dirtier the brand becomes. Consumers are less likely to identify the iconography, and brand communication is muddied.
Once all of the creative heavy lifting is done, it is time to step back and evaluate the Wow! factor. Why? Because Wow! means the functional and the phenomenal aspects of a project are in balance. It means communication is happening. Without some Wow!, all you have is cold oatmeal.
This is not to suggest that novelty or surprise or shock is the goal. The Wow! factor is simply the acid test at the end, when you step back to evaluate the true impact of the work on a human level. Sometimes even the most well intentioned marketing and branding teams work diligently and fervently and yet the results are so overly considered that the passion of the human spirit has been overlooked or left behind.
Milana Kosovac is cofounder and principal of Miloby Ideasystem, a creative consultancy and design studio in New York City. The firm works intimately with brands and entrepreneurs to bring new ideas to market, working with longstanding CPG, film, real estate, and fashion brands. Contact her at 212-627-9510 or email email@example.com.