By Frances Collins
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The dualism of branding

I talk about branding a lot. Often, I hear myself saying - and believing - contradictory things. I speak about persuading (you could read manipulating) audiences with authentic messages. And, I speak about really understanding your audience whilst stereotyping them into personas.

But what I don’t always labour is the distinction between brand process and business development.

Designing a brand is hard. Using the tools of typography, colour, scale and placement, as designers we need to develop brands that tread the lines between ‘the right side of fashionable’ or the ‘perfect balance of heritage and modern’. To do this we make generalisations. We learn as much as we can about a company, and then go through the mental gymnastics of trying to forget half of it. To forget the rules, in order to exercise our creativity and produce something original.

Whilst the maxim ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is often true. Words are powerful. I could describe a company ethos in 3 words, and my guess is you would come close to understanding its tone. Using an icon to do the same job requires the viewer to have the same visual language as the communicator.

Branding is about stereotypes

When making decisions about your audience, it’s a good idea to get to know them! Having a real-time image of your audience can only be good for business. You need to know what influences them, their long term dreams and short term decisions. Which TV programmes are they enjoying? What is the current favourite read? And which other brands are they happy to part with their money come payday? Collecting data – whether thats through your digital presence, or market research – means that as a company you can make some wiser decisions.

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However, it is near impossible to design a brand that resonates with 10,000 different individuals. Should you care that Sid’s favourite colour is pink? That Linda didn’t like the latest article in the Sun about the Royal wedding?

Whilst gathering data, and developing marketing plans is ideal for business development, it isn’t always the ideal place to start with brand process. Branding isn’t reactive. Branding is about long term perceptions, and long term thinking.

So, we stereotype! We put people in boxes. Behind closed doors we talk of ‘yummy mummies’ and ‘trump supporters’ and they become easier to design for. We pick apart their visual languages and understand how to build brands that speak to them as a group. It may feel clunky, perhaps even morally dubious, and it definitely reduces people to their surface decisions. However, a brand designed on stereotypes will have a greater clarity than one that isn’t. Personas are a very useful tool that allow designers to exercise more creativity and originality. The foundations of a brand become sturdier as a result.

Branding is about authenticity

A wedding invitation lands through your door. As a guest you need to know the general details; time, date, who it is getting married. But it’s also useful to glean the tone. What are you expected to wear? Whilst the biggest clue is knowing the couples themselves, the design of the invitation is a useful measure. A cursive font, plenty of swirls and a splash of gold would indicate a more formal wedding. But, perhaps you ought to pack your wellies if your invitation is in fabric form!

Wedding stationery - authentic design and branding
Wedding stationery - authentic design and branding

The same is true in branding. Your customers perception of your business need to match how you talk about yourself. As designers we look to build upon how you are currently judged – its about the tweaks and changes we can build into your brand. If a budget cosmetic brand wanted to appeal to luxury travellers, the leap would be too high. Current customers would be confused, and rightly so.

Brands instead need to be build over time, but more importantly the owners of brands need to fully embrace how customers currently see them. Feeding business goals into a brand led approach that takes small steps over time to ensure a sturdy brand that resonates to the right people – your persona.



Photographs by Holly Booth

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