The surest way to "survive" in the business of building a brand is not achieved by "surviving" at all.
Survival: The Sure Road to Failure
In a business climate such as today’s, a lot of focus is on "surviving" which, good or bad, can distract companies from maintaining (or reinventing) their brands as something inspirational, something valuable and something worth acquiring or attaining.
In other words, things got very "safe" this past year, resulting in "keeping things going" rather than looking forward to what it will take to do something extraordinary that will result in extraordinary outcomes. The upshot is a lot of branding today has suffered and become immediately forgettable. Really. And only a few are truly standouts and great.
Great brands are designed to do what? To lead, inspire and motivate (weak or average brands do anything but. They not only fail to lead, inspire and motivate the consumer, they fail to the same for the culture of which that brand is cultivated.). If brands don’t lead, they follow other brands and trends, making them bottom feeders and nothing people clamor for.
Leading as a brand (or in any other facet of living for that matter) isn’t a "luxury" and "something nice to attain"—it is as vital and fundamental as breathing, answering the phone or treating customers (and anyone) with respect in order to help them be something better as a result of doing business with you.
So I looked at some of the things I used this year to keep me inspired and creating branding and messages that rose above the clutter.
The Quality of Greatness
Great brands have traits common to one another that allow them to rise above the mass crap that clogs the quantity of media channels.
What are some of these traits? The same traits that tend to make us stop and revere someone with awe, respect and a newfound view of "why didn’t I think of that?" In short, some of these are:
- To not settle for OK, to only settle for "remarkable" as the base for creating anything
- The willingness to think for oneself, embracing one’s own conviction and not succumbing to the mass hysteria of mediocrity
- To BE the revolution rather than merely follow one and private label it as your own. In other words, to challenge the mundane and to embrace the notion that things can be better, that the "obvious" that everyone seems to be missing is OK not only to point out but to fully embrace as something worth imbuing with life, purpose and a true sense of wild abandon.
Why do I mention these things? Because too many brands today are cautious exercises in futility waiting for the hammer to drop.
And that is waiting for death around the corner.
What About the Bottom Line?
I will tell you the brands that get noticed, just like the people that do, are filled with something unusual, not "more of the usual" which only adds to the noise and quantity of average messaging.
Want amazing results? Do something amazing that others will notice.
Want to make your mark? Do something worth remarking about.
Want to add to your bottom line? Do something in such a way that is can be observed as valuable (and getting noticed in the first place is a very worthwhile first step—especially if you have something of value).
The worst thing any brand could do in any economy is have a product or service that is different that yet uses a pitch that sounds that same as everyone else's.
Where 2010 Went Wrong
During this year—where a lot of cautiousness filled the air—too few business branding decisions were based on passion, courage and conviction.
Yet, in the wave of "blah," there were a few messages I came across that reminded me of why I got into this business in the first place. Some were branding and some were simply communications (3 of the 4 examples that follow use words and music, versus marketing to illustrate the point).
And for the record, I am a widely published designer, a rebranding specialist (by discipline and not just by "writing some cool shit"), a creative strategist and a breaker of rules for the benefit of my clients. And with that responsibility, I myself have to stay inspired.
So, here are some things I found brilliantly inspiring during this year that kept my fire lit in this windy storm of "frantic cautiousness."
View these when you feel cautious or feel "it’s all been done before. And fire anyone who tells you that nothing new can be done. People who say that are only advertising their own inability to invent something new or a new way to tell a story.
Inspiration can be done. Leadership can be achieved. New standards of excitement can be generated. And business and revenue will follow in the wake of such bold, committed steps.
Anyone who doesn’t believe so shouldn’t be anywhere near branding (and are not very fit for much living either).
Four examples of Greatness in Action
Imagery. Words. Sound. Everyday tools of our trade. But not everyday in approach and not predictably average as you'll see below.
The Power of Image: The first example is the epic, remarkable Sapporo Beer commercial (which dovetailed with an online hunt). But here’s the takeaway: If this level of elevation can be done for the commodity of beer, just imagine—what could be done for your product or business to make it bigger than life itself?
The Power of Language: Words are a remarkable tool. Piercing insight is a force unto itself that can take any message and make it life-altering and definitely a force that can alter ideas, opinions and viewpoints about what is otherwise taken for granted.
Taylor Mali, a passionate advocate of teaching and teachers, has taken the medium of "def jam poetry" and elevated it to a new level of mind-altering brilliance and insight. I watch these every now and again just to see what can be done when something is approached passionately and boldly. These two videos are simply put, amazing.
About language in today's culture:
The Power of Song: Finally, music is an art form that is ever-present. But what if you could convert the world of others around you into an orchestra of sound? In the hands of "the voice" himself—the brilliant voice, vision and spontaneity of Bobby McFerrin—displayed here live and up-close converting a "song" into a sonic tsunami. Notice the contagious quality of the singers around Bobby and the cheers from the live audience.
The common trait to each of these creators (and the resulting creations) is a total immersion into what’s being created. Not only immersing oneself in the creation but emanating an aura and energy that invites and engages others to become engaged with what’s being done.
I found these few examples helpful in keeping my fire lit when confronting any client’s moments of tentative cautiousness. Or enthusiastic mediocrity. Or exhilarated averageness.
So, I ask you: Does your brand invite, engage, inspire, challenge and stimulate others? Is your brand as compelling as what you just viewed above? I’d love to hear what you’ll be using to keep your brand alive and inspired in 2011.
Recipient of over 320 national and international design and branding recognitions and awards, David Brier is an award-winning brand identity designer, author, and branding expert. His firm's work has earned the respect and admiration of peers and organizations but has, more importantly, helped clients jump-start their brands in new and innovative ways, even (and especially) when they've failed in previous brand makeovers. David also started Brands That Defy Gravity, an open group on LinkedIn which you can join here. Most recently, David's celebrated work for Botanical Bakery was selected for the 2010 Communication Arts Design Annual and will be featured in "The Big Book of Packaging."
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