(Branding for Impact by the IDEO Bay Area Communication Design group)
The 2011 Brand New Conference brought together designers from across the world, for a full day of inspiration and storytelling in San Francisco. The conference embodied all the virtues and qualities of a stimulating blog: humor, surprise, carefully executed aesthetics and an air of ‘connectedness.’ The speaker lineup represented the true diversity of our industry, and the work illustrated the many dimensions of a contemporary brand agency. We saw sheer variety (Frost*), depth (Mine™), alluring expressiveness (Wolff Olins), semantics of branding (Bruce Mau Design), playful remixing (Brand New School), authenticity (Infinito), experimentation (Facebook), and brutal honesty (Mucca). If there was a central theme running through each of the presentations, it was the importance of storytelling as a cornerstone of strong brands.
Marina Willer of Wolff Olins London declared, “It’s not about consistency, it’s about creating stories that make sense.” Stories are the way we connect with people and create relationships. If we think of brands as people or personalities, they need to be magical storytellers. As humans, we thrive on all of the emotional connections we have. We get passionate about them. It’s the stories we tell and hear that trigger those connections.
When brands fail to relate to consumers that’s when we [brand strategists] are called in, to take on the challenge of connecting real human needs to authentic business values. This is a dimension of the Human-Centered Design process, which is a shift in the conversation from ‘our’ needs to theirs. Vince Frost retold a valuable lesson from Alan Fletcher, saying, “The solution is in the brief; you just have to find it.” If we start to think about consumers as our creative briefs, then yes, we completely agree.
It is time, well past time in fact, that we start to recognize people’s needs in the world as the key to any successful brand. We can paint a nice picture for our clients to help them steer the ship, but the consumers are the people that really decide the fate and future of a brand. Ultimately it’s for them, so shouldn’t it also adapt to them?
Brands are becoming increasingly more open-ended, flexible, and scalable then ever before. Take, for example, Wolff Olins work with RED, Aol, Tate Modern, or Bruce Mau Design’s solution for OCAD. Building flexibility into the expression of a brand permits participation from the most important stakeholders in a brand existence: the consumer. The result is a more active, inspired and serendipitous brand experience.
From the smallest details of a Vietnamese sandwich shop in San Francisco, to the vast considerations of the world’s social network, branding is all about building experiences. And no matter the audience, we’re all in the business of branding for the same reason, to translate the message of our clients to consumers. If we start to think of the real value of our craft as communicating stories, it’s far easier to draw a connection between what inspires us as designers with what resonates with people, and ultimately creates impact in the world.