The past year brought a flurry of high-profile rebrands like Uber, Oi Telecom, and of course, the Instagram redesign heard around the world. Why now?
The balance of power between brands and consumers has evolved, with the reigns shifting from the hands of companies who could tightly control their messaging to a much more democratic arrangement that gives consumers a voice and brands an opportunity to enter into conversation with them. No matter what you’re selling – whether it’s digital, fashion, or food- your brand now exists in a multitude of places. It’s on social media platforms and websites, mobile phones, in all the marketing materials you produce, and more importantly, in every mention of your company a consumer makes online or in real life.
Building a brand in today’s environment requires an entirely different process than it did even just a few years ago; and yet, we see many companies treating their brand as though it’s still just an idea to be crafted and controlled. It’s time for a new playbook that recognizes the realities of brand building in the digital era and calls for an iterative approach.
Here’s where to start:
Don’t let the brand book collect dust: Guidelines are crucial for brands to maintain consistency in how they sound and how they look. But, more than ever, new channels and formats can emerge overnight, so brands need to be ready to adapt and iterate. A “test and learn” mentality is important to consider. Just like digital products have many, many versions (1.0, 1.1, 1.2,…5.0), brand books should be living, breathing documents. The volume of formats and channels lead to more people within your company (and agency partners) speaking on a brand’s behalf in different ways and actually using your brand book as a guideline on a daily basis. Let’s create rules that can be tested (and improved) by allowing people to showcase their application of the brand and provide the brand guardians with feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
Make the brand flexible: The sheer number of platforms on which brands are expected to have a presence today means that branding systems must be more than just recognizable – they need to be layered and adaptable. Cohesive systems that evolve with the user through their entire journey are needed. For example, when the The Whitney Museum rebranded, they didn’t just create a new logo; rather, they expressed themselves through a responsive “W,” an adaptable symbol that would be malleable to any surrounding as well as the art it’s showcasing. The “W” is recognizable but floats seamlessly from one platform to the next, allowing the brand to be recognizable within any context. You have to think of your company as the sum of a lot of moving parts – a set of ownable puzzle pieces that are interchangeable and adjustable. Thinking of brand identity in this way will arm you with a toolbox of components to mix and match in any situation. Another brand that’s mastered this is Art UK. Pentagram constructed an interconnected network of images for them that can be easily swapped and rearranged. It’s a complete branding set that gives them the freedom to take their brand from brochures to digital experiences and everything in between.
Adjust how loud or soft your brand speaks: Each channel is unique and serves a different purpose in a brand’s overall ecosystem. It’s important to consider how far up or down to turn your brand dial based on the channel and format. On social posts or advertising, you’ll want to turn the dial up, so that when people engage with your brand, it’s clear who you are. Brands should consider prominently displaying their logo or placing the company name in an easily readable section. When it comes to your own website, you can turn the dial down, because the people visiting already know you; they are on your owned property. These subtle differences keep consumers from getting fatigued by branding inundations and show a level of consumer understanding that will be noticed and appreciated.
Embrace the culture of now: The cultural zeitgeist is more fleeting and urgent than it’s ever been. Understanding the cultural language that’s permeating at a given moment and building a brand that can adapt itself into those moments is critical. A great example is the power of emojis and how they have resonated globally across generations. Pepsi did an incredible job tapping into that zeitgeist with its emojis on bottles and cans. But it’s not just about slapping a cultural icon onto a piece of work. Pepsi’s brand toolkit was able to seamlessly integrate emojis into the design aesthetic of the brand – a win-win for both the consumer and the brand.
If brand builders can become comfortable with the fact that brands now have lives of their own and take these concrete steps to integrate them seamlessly into people’s daily living, they’ll be well-equipped to help these brands stand the test of time.