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Written by Christopher King
California Polytechnic State University
June, 2005

Branding - A Creative Strategy

Overview

The purpose of this study was to prove that there is a definite need to link the creative process with the business planning in order to successfully develop a powerful brand strategy. Consumers today make purchasing decisions on much more than features and benefits. There is an emotional tie that takes place allowing the consumer to identify with what the brand stands for. More often than not, companies fail to unite design and business strategy when it comes to establishing a brand. As a result, the brand suffers by not being able to connect emotionally with consumers, and ultimately gets lost in the clutter of competing brands.

This study investigates the components of a cohesive brand strategy that is effective in reaching consumers. Several case studies of successful branding practices achieved by large reputable agencies around the globe were reviewed along with conducting interviews with branding professionals in the industry.

Results from this investigation indicates that a strong brand is defined by creating consistent positive emotional experiences for every instance the consumer comes in contact with a particular company. This idea is shared and agreed upon by branding experts and is evidenced by the case studies reviewed in this report. Although well-devised business and marketing plans are necessary in defining the message of a brand, integrating design as a means to communicate that message as well as the personality are key to reaching consumers and making the brand memorable.

Introduction

Consumers have different reasons for choosing one product or service over another. However, those reasons have changed over the years. Yesterday's consumer would most likely make a purchasing decisions based on product functionality or the service provided. An example of this would be purchasing a General Electric oven for its selfcleaning feature. As technology improves and quality becomes less of a concern, today's consumer behavior goes much deeper than the features and benefits of a product. It is based on an emotional level where consumers make a connection with the provider. An example of this would be purchasing an Apple iPod because it makes the consumer feel hip and a part of mainstream popular culture. This, in its most raw form, is branding.

Branding cannot be mistaken for merely a logo and a company name, or marketing strategy and research, because it is much more than that. It is a message that communicates personality, feeling, and quality of life to the consumer. Many companies have failed to communicate this message because they have segregated the creative aspect from the rest of the corporate planning, creating a void where the two should meet. This, I believe, is the root cause of ineffective branding. It leaves us asking, how does creative and corporate planning work together to create a successful brand image?

Using case studies from various brand agencies and design firms, this report will show how the integration of design and business planning is crucial to successful brand strategy. This study also identifies and investigates the role of the many components of branding; how they can innovate, collaborate, and differentiate a company from the competition.

The purpose of this study is to prove a need to connect the creative and strategic sides of a corporation to create a cohesive brand image. Doing so will provide insight as to why consumers behave in certain ways toward certain brands, and how brand loyalty among consumers is a major factor in gaining market share.

Literature Review

The result of the left and the right brain working together in branding is differentiation. There is an endless sea of brands for every industry in our society today. Among them, a handful stands out to the general public as being reputable, successful, and reliable. On the other hand, there are countless many that drowned in this sea of brands because they failed to differentiate themselves. This is partly due to consumer behavior shifting from mass-produced buying patterns to making purchasing decisions based on product customization. Brand expert, Marty Neumeier, states concisely that, "Selling has evolved from an emphasis on ‘what it has,' to ‘what it does,' ‘to what you'll feel,' to ‘who you are'" (38). According to Neumeier, features and benefits still play a role in consumer behavior, but are now being outweighed by personal identity (38). We purchase certain brands because they make us feel a sense of belonging. Because of this, the branding community often refers to brands as "tribes." Apple for example, has built an entire brand strategy for the iPod based primarily on this principle. It is a brand experience in the sense that you become part of the campaign; and become the silhouette of the youthful, hip dancer with the white ear buds in your ears. You feel alive and colorful; and when you pass another iPod owner, you feel a sense of camaraderie. This emotional connection between the consumer and the brand is intentional, and is what differentiates a brand. This element of brand strategy speaks to the consumer on a subconscious level, which works to process feelings that heavily influence our purchasing behaviors more rapidly than our conscious awareness allows (Stewart par 6). It would be nearly impossible to reach people on this level by relying solely on business planning or creative design alone. To develop a brand that does not just communicate to the consumer, but instead interacts with them, requires the participation of both right-brained and left-brained thinking.

Although branding goes far beyond the visual aesthetics, it plays a major role in the development of the brand's identity. This is the element of a brand that gives it its visual appeal and sense of personality. As Neumeier puts it, "It's design, not strategy, that ignites passion in people. And the magic behind better business is innovation." This is especially true when it comes to creating the brand-consumer interaction. For years, logic has reigned supreme in the world of business; yet, some of the most successful brands were developed from insight and creative thinking. Take FedEx for example. Prior to shortening its name from Federal Express, many people were unaware of the company's versatility. Most thought they shipped only small packages within the United States, while others thought they were associated with the government because of the word "Federal" in the name. The company looked to branding powerhouse, Landor Associates to come up with a creative solution to better communicate their position in the delivery market. Landor's immediate solution was a rebranding of the company as FedEx. The shortened name was now more memorable and shed any negative connotations of government affiliation. The corporate identity was also re-designed using their existing purple and orange colors set in a custom typeface. The tag line "The World On Time," was also created to communicate the company's capabilities as a global provider of on-time shipping. Over the next few years FedEx acquired several freight and transportation companies and needed a way to incorporate them into the existing FedEx brand identity. Because of the great success from the re-branding, they again turned to Landor Associates for creative insight. Landor's solution was to create a brand architecture that created an extension of the existing brand. The brand portrayed the company as a versatile and diverse service provider, while at the same time lending itself to the cohesiveness of the FedEx brand. To achieve this, Landor decided to simply apply a different color to each operating division. This is where the wide array of colors among the different FedEx logos came from, such as; the purple and blue for FedEx Critical, and the purple and green for FedEx Ground. A different color for each operation signified diversity of the company's capabilities and further strengthened the FedEx brand at the same time (Landor Associates). The solutions created by Landor Associates were a prime example of how business strategy and creativity worked cohesively to simplify the brand, and communicate more clearly what the company does and how it is able to differentiate itself from other competition.

Another good example of branding that takes a creative approach to business is UPS. Although it belongs to the same market as FedEx, it is a good example how branding is used to stay competitive. The goal of refreshing the UPS brand was to position them not just as a global leader in package delivery, but to define them as a global leader in synchronized commerce. The reason for this was that UPS had greatly widened its breadth of capabilities to include new innovative services that manage the flow of goods, funds, and information (FutureBrand). To accomplish this, UPS called on the experts at FutureBrand. During the initial stages, they defined the objectives, which included brand strategy development aimed at reflecting the new UPS capabilities in the visual identity system. FutureBrand's approach to this meant creating a single brand image that would communicate UPS as an integrated organization with a wealth of versatility in the global economy. Re-designing the visual identity of UPS to reflect its new position in the market meant making some minor yet powerful changes. This included displaying the traditional UPS shield in a three-dimensional fashion to signify a transformation. FutureBrand also replaced the package graphic in the shield with a simple dynamic curve used to symbolize the evolution of their capabilities. A custom typeface as well as a more defined color palette was developed to go along with the "brown" advertising campaign. The "brown" campaign was also integrated to boost the brand by playing off of the company's very recognizable signature color of almost 100 years. The branding approach taken by FutureBrand is very similar to that of FedEx, and shows how companies in the same market use branding to maintain a competitive edge and up-to-date look.

The brand refresh of the BBC also proves to be a good example for this report. This job was taken on by branding professionals, Lambie-Nairn. The objective was to move the BBC brand image from traditional broadcasting into the digital age (Lambie-Nairn). They also believed it was important to create a visual identity system that would work seamlessly across the entire organization as well as all media. Lambie-Nairn created a very simple graphic solution to achieve this. They used three squares aligned horizontally with each one of the company letters of BBC placed in each square. Using this approach provided a foundation in which Lambie-Nairn was able to base the entire brand architecture for all of the BBC entities such as: BBC One, BBC Two, and BBC World.

The examples given in this report show how using creative solutions and business tactics can successfully develop a brand. Creating visual elements of the identity to function as part of the overall marketing strategy allows the brand to clearly communicate its purpose in the market. This method will connect personally with the brand's customers, communities, and employees.

Research Methods and Procedures

A successful brand strategy must be effectively planned and implemented. The aspects of design and business remain in separate spheres as companies struggle to develop a solid brand image to reach consumers in a deeper, more intuitive fashion. Bringing the two separate areas together to form an all-encompassing strategy is a necessary step in building a brand. The following research methods will be used to establish the basis for this claim.

Using primarily case studies of successful branding solutions, this report shows how there is a need to connect the design with the business and how some companies have succeeded by doing so. The studies were taken from various credible advertising and branding agencies from around the globe where they can be looked at from the perspective of this research report. Case studies used in the report provide a trend analysis that provides a sense of how the brands themselves, as well as the different approaches to branding, have evolved over the years.

As well as case studies, elite and specialized interviewing was used to gain an inside perspective on the matter from branding professionals in the industry. Questions asked during the interviews were open-ended in nature to establish rapport, gather information, and increase understanding. See Appendix 1 for interview questions used.

Other sources of information for this research came from current articles and books published by brand experts in the industry. Some objectives used when looking for this information are: different models used in brand strategies, the various ways agencies were able to complement business with design, and how they were able evaluate whether or not it was a successful strategy.

The target audience for this report is graphic communication faculty, business and marketing professionals, branding and creative professionals, and companies experiencing difficulties in establishing and maintaining a solid brand image. Using descriptive research methods such as case studies and trend analysis, the audience will be able to comprehend the ideas and concepts presented in this report with very little prior knowledge on the subject. Once there was a pool of information, it was analyzed for critical items to support the claim made in the report, and to better illustrate key points presented to the reader. Extracted data from these outside sources were interpreted in such a way that the reader can understand it and be able to relate it to the main focus of this study.

Results

During the research phase of devising this report, numerous case studies of successful brand strategies were reviewed, articles and books on the subject were read, and interview questions were asked of branding professionals in the industry. This chapter will bring all of that information together to reveal the results and identify any common underlying ideas pertaining to the integration of design and business planning in developing a brand strategy.

As one component of the research method used in this report, professionals that work with developing brands were contacted and presented with questions focusing on branding strategies that incorporate business and design. The responses and discussions around the questions were very insightful and surprisingly similar in nature. The individuals contacted were Lynne Biddinger, Founder and Creative Director of 20/20 Design Group; and Amy Wellenkamp, Art Director for Parable Group, Inc. To view questions asked during these interviews, see Appendix 1.

When asked what the term "brand" meant to them, both individuals made the point that it has everything to do with the consumer's overall experience and perception of a company. Lynne Biddinger stated, "Brand represents the way I feel about a company in every way from its corporate graphics and marketing to the way its employees treat me, answer the phone, design their stores, the quality of merchandise or service they provide, etc, etc." These "touchpoints" or instances where a consumer makes contact with a particular company shapes their brand experience completely. They can mean the difference between acquiring loyal consumers or driving them to buy the competitor's product. As previously mentioned in this report, most purchasing decisions are based on emotion. According to Amy Wellenkamp, consistent positive experience with a brand will create loyalty among consumers; however, one bad experience has the power to stand out in the consumer's mind over any memories of prior positive experiences. This is why so many companies today strive to market their products and services around creating a positive experience for the consumer. Where this happens is where the magic between design and business strategy in branding can been witnessed.

Both Biddinger and Wellenkamp agree that in order for a brand to be a success, the creative teams and the marketing teams have to be in sync with one another. Both emphasized that design and business strategy work together in branding by communicating the same message to the consumer. This means that all components of the business and marketing plan must reflect the same message that is to be conveyed in the visual design aesthetics of the marketing collateral produced for the company. Wellenkamp, who refers to her job as being the "Brand Policeman" says, "There needs to be a type of brand roadmap and creative platform developed to establish rules to make sure the message and look is consistent. Biddinger's thoughts were similar in that she believes that some consumers may only come in contact with a company through their marketing efforts, and by communicating a consistent message through the design of such materials is key in creating a positive customer experience.

After reviewing the responses from Lynne Biddinger and Amy Wellenkamp, it is very clear that branding professionals share many of the same ideals regarding this topic. Although each source had their own unique way of approaching the questions, they all seemed to converge at one main point, that creating positive emotional experiences is absolutely necessary in gaining market share and brand loyalty among consumers.

Not unlike the interviews, the case studies that were reviewed also show that successful brand strategies consist of combining marketing and business plans with graphic design to communicate one clear message to the consumer. In the case of FedEx, design and marketing were used together in branding to change the general public's perception of the company in several ways such as its shift in position in the global delivery market. They were able to use simple yet clever design solutions to remedy major business issues such as operational expansions and acquisitions. UPS and BBC also made use of smart branding strategies in similar ways as discussed in chapter two of this report. BBC had a need to assimilate their brand and many new extensions of it into the digital era and was able to do so by creating a strategy that relied heavily on design as a tool to market them across all forms of media. Their new visual identities were given an updated feel to match the move to electronic forms of presenting the news. UPS established a more unified brand image simply by refreshing its visual identity to convey them as leaders in global commerce with a wide range of capabilities. All of the case studies described here show how design and business work seamlessly for the same cause.

During the early stages of the research phase, it seemed as if finding a common thread among the wealth of branding resources pertaining to this issue would be a difficult task. The results from these readings, case studies, and interviews taken from different sources, however, all appear to be in support with one another.

Conclusions

We all have needs that must be fulfilled, but why do we latch onto certain brands to provide us the solutions in order to fulfill those needs? Is it because other brands lack the capabilities to provide that same service or product at the same level of quality? The research shows that this is not the case at all.

As our society has shifted from a marketplace driven by product and service features to one that targets self identification, consumers find themselves as the loyal patrons of the brand that best provides a consistent positive emotional experience. This kind of experience is created intentionally and is the core of a brand. It is the end result of a successful branding strategy that pushes to interact with consumers through an emotional exchange created by the alliance of great marketing and powerful design.

Design and business can create synergy used to strengthen a brand image by conveying a consistent message to the consumer. They are two components that ultimately work as one. Business and marketing strategies provide a framework for the brand values and what it stands for. These are the ideals that differentiate them from others. Design and creative strategies are a part of this framework of brand image as well, but also act as the vehicle to carry those values and communicate them visually to the consumer while maintaining consistency in the message. In the case that these two forces work as separate entities the message becomes unclear and is not effectively delivered.

Branding truly is an emotional connection between the provider and the consumer. It is empowering in the sense that it allows the consumer to feel as if they belong to something larger. It is this feeling along with the consistency of positive touches with a company that keep customers returning to do business with a particular a brand. When it comes down to it, a brand is defined by individuals and their true feelings about a company, and depends on their very existence to survive.



Sources

Biddinger, Lynne. Personal Interview. 28 Apr. 2005

"Brand Architecture: FedEx." Landor Associates website.
      March 2005 http://landor.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cPortfolio.getCase&caseid=619.

"Brand Consultancy: BBC." Lambie-Nairn website.
      March 2005 http://www.lambie-nairn.com/client.asp?ContentId=2725.

"Case Studies: UPS." FutureBrand website.
      March 2005 http://landor.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cPortfolio.getCase&caseid=25.

"Corporate Identity and Strategy: FedEx." Landor Associates website.
      March 2005 http://landor.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cPortfolio.getCase&caseid=25.

Neumeier, Marty. The Brand Gap. Berkeley: New Riders, 2003.

Stewart, Paul. "Branding: A Way of Doing Business for Everyone." 2004.
      March 2005 http://allaboutbranding.com/index.lasso?article=381.

Wellenkamp, Amy. Personal Interview. 28 Apr. 2005


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