Having worked for two large ad agencies, I’ve heard an earful about branding. I’ve even read some books about it, and the only sure conclusion I can draw about what branding “is” is that everyone has his own opinion.
It’s a bit like asking someone to describe what salt tastes like. Everyone has an idea, but there isn’t really a common vocabulary that enables one person to verbally describe the taste. It usually comes out as “um, uh, blah blah, why don’t you just taste it…” So it seems to me with brands.
Branding vs. Identity
One book that I identified with is The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier. He skillfully points out that if a brand (as a thing) can exist, its very essence prevents it from being manufactured. Instead it’s something that exists in the mind of the consumer as a result of repeated experiences with the brand.
I suppose that advertising, with it’s high fidelity and HD delivery, can attempt to implant some of those experiences vicariously through the models it employs, such as in beer commercials, but most people still know that when they drink that same beer their world doesn’t magically turn rosy.
But let’s just keep going and suppose that we as consumers really do internalize or identify with those beautiful avatars and are really living our lives through them. Some of those experiences become our “own”, and as a result a “brand” begins to build in our mind. This brand, or we could call it reputation, isn’t entirely unlike a friend that we develop our own ideas about.
But with our friends, we can identify them in every situation because we they have a unique face, signature, voice, etc. So, from one commercial, billboard, radio ad, to the next, how can do we tie them all together? How do we know that they all correspond to the same brand?
I just love that question! I love it because the answer to it helped me perform my first surgical separation between the senses and the heart when it comes to advertising. My good friend and advertising genius, Shawn Perkins, explained to me the idea of identity in advertising.
It boils down to this: the Pantone colors, pigments, fonts, papers types, positioning and all the other stuff that fits into the style guide amounts to the signature for the brand. It’s how you or I can uniquely identify the brand when we encounter some advertising in the wild. All the style stuff is NOT THE BRAND though. I’m always a little bugged when I hear a “creative” person claim that he’s “doing the branding” when he’s really just making a logo and choosing fonts and colors.
This is a really important point. While it might be possible to convey a feeling with a logo and color choices, that doesn’t really amount to any real experience and provides me with only a signature. If it’s skillfully done I may project some of my own experience onto it, but the logo (et. al.) isn’t a brand. It’s a signature. The brand comes from experience.
Who ever heard of framing?
Now that I’ve announced my pet peeve for designers who claim that branding “IS” identity, I’ll get on to a point that I think fits into branding, but I’ve never heard anyone mention it directly. By the way if you have, please post a comment and link to the source…
The first time I really thought about framing was when I read an article about Joshua Bell hosting a subway concert during rush hour. There was an interesting comment made near the end of the article about Mark Leithauser. As a senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings.
He suggested that if you took one of his $5 million dollar paintings and hung it on the wall in a restaurant and put a price tag of $150 on it, no one would give it much more thought. However, when you take the same painting and frame it properly and place it on a climate controlled wall in a well secured museum, it’s value increases considerably.
Or at least our perception of it’s value increases.
One clever blogger used that article and a discussion of context to lead into her move from a generic blogging domain to her own domain name. I think I agree with her, that the extent to which you effectively frame (give context to) your content will influence how others receive that content.
The better framed the content, the more contextual credibility will be afforded to it, regardless of how credible it may actually be. Lesson: frame what you do well if you want people to take notice/action.
Framing and Branding in Internet Marketing
With more and more commerce moving online, there has been much discussion of how to move branding online. TV networks, radios and social sites are all scampering to find the most effective way to frame the ads that they deliver. But let’s not forget that the internet is supposed to be “FREE”. Right?
The techie geeks that pioneered the internet created ways to send email messages to millions of unsuspecting people, but then came along the spam laws. The pirates found ways to distribute copyrighted content for free, but then the courts shut most of them down. After some growing pains, the Internet is finding its place along side it’s predecessors; the newspaper, radio and TV. You get what you pay for.
So how do you frame a website to stand out? How can you give context to the content that you publish? How do you convey experience? Afterall, the images that are downloaded, the HTML that structures it and the servers that are delivering it are virtually identical for the multi-million dollar website and a free blog. What’s going to make one differ from another?
Is it just identity? Have I come full circle? I don’t think so…
The real point of this post
My point in writing this post was to announce my new theme. Enter my new woo theme that I got as a free download around the first of the year. It’s well done and has helped me think about the images that I can use to get maximum impact.
I hope you enjoy it. I also look forward to your comments about branding, framing and identity.