A client of mine once called after I had given a presentation to him about his company's brand. He was calling to say we needed to change the shade of taupe we had all agreed upon for the firm's logo.
I was surprised to hear this busy man talking taupe, convinced he had more important things to attend to. I found it particularly strange because just that day, he had approved the color scheme.
As the conversation progressed, he confessed that his wife didn't like the color. She had experimented with that very shade of taupe for their living room curtains and hated it. Ignoring our strong suggestion to the contrary, the color was changed.
What does this 20 year old story have to do with anything? Most people think of branding as a pretty logo. Instead, branding embodies the entire customer experience, with the logo merely acting as the visual mark.
The brand experience should reflect the soul of the company. More important than whether or not you “really like" everything about it, your brand should represent your company's “image attributes. "
Image attributes are adjectives and descriptive phrases that capture the essence of a company and their creative project. They describe the core values of an organization, the feeling that a brand should evoke or the essential goals of a Web site.
At the start of a project, I work with my clients to elucidate a set of brief terms to identify the basic precepts of their project. These image attributes become a list that we can all agree on, easy-to-remember reference points that help everyone on the team, both client and developer, stay on target throughout the process.
Developing them may be the most important exercise of the project, because it helps ensure that the final result—the brand identity or Web site—embodies those descriptors. For every project, I have many levels of goals, but as long as my work reflects the image attributes on presentation day, I have done my job.
So what do image attributes have to do with my client's wife who doesn't like taupe? One of the most common mistakes in purchasing creative services is that clients judge results based on personal likes and dislikes.
Unlike choosing a curtain color for your living room or buying artwork for the space over your fireplace, creative choices related to business have nothing to do with your (or your spouse’s!) personal preferences. They have everything to do with solving your business problems and improving your customers’ experience.
Many clients think they have to “like” the artwork that creative services firms produce for them. But what if those clients’ likes and dislikes don't line up with their corporate needs? What if they aren’t qualified to determine what works visually for their firm? By agreeing on image attributes that will guide and gauge the outcome of an assignment, we assure ourselves that the end result achieves the business goals that we set at the beginning.
Look at brands that work: Coke, Nike, Apple Computer; their brands on packaging and products, Web sites and brochures, carry a simple, compelling visual message that elicit very specific feelings in their audience. Whether or not people like the red used in the Coke lettering or the simple apple icon used by Apple Computer, they are compelling and significant icons that evoke strong recognition and often positive feeling.
That’s what a brand is about: embodying the attributes of your company or product. Everything else is window dressing.
Kara Brook is the founder and President of Brook Group, LTD, a Web design firm devoted to online branding and customer experience design. For more FREE branding resources, visit http://www.brookgroup.com/brand. To learn more about Brook Group’s branding services, visit http://www.brookgroup.com/branding.