Strong Identities Are Authentic

Adapted from Logo Savvy: Top Brand Design Firms Share their Naming and Identity Strategies (Rockport)

By WOW Branding

Dateline: June 12, 2007
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The “sliders” in the WOW Attribute Spectrum™ play an important role in establishing the brand’s personality and character traits.

Who Are You?

Before we design a logo or corporate identity, there are a few things we need to know about the brand’s personality. Defining a personality is the first step to creating a strong and meaningful brand identity.

To do this, we look at things such as the company’s vision and values and where they fit into customers’ perspective and the competitive landscape. Your brand identity can be defined as the expression of who you really are and how you’re strategically positioned in the marketplace. We highlight three important steps in our comprehensive naming and brand identity process.

WOW If You Were A...™
The “WOW If you were a…™” exercise uses social, visual, and nonvisual cues to help defi ne the brand. Assigning personality characteristics to your brand will help you and your consumers establish emotional and cultural references for it. We’ve found that when we ask ourselves to choose a vehicle or celebrity to represent a brand, it begins to develop a very specific, distinct personality. Meryl Streep driving a yellow Beetle convertible through dusty country roads in the south of France paints a vivid picture—a great springboard for the designer’s creative process. We can examine the reasons why Meryl Streep was chosen; established, mature, and respected come to mind. The yellow Beetle was selected because of its quirky, free-spirited qualities; the fact that it’s a convertible means fun. By combining these descriptive words together, we now have some key attributes of the brand.

WOW Attribute Spectrum™
Like the previous exercise, the “WOW Attribute Spectrum™” helps us define some key visual and character traits to express the brand. If we ask ourselves what the identity should look like, we can use the Attribute Spectrum to help us determine its personality. For example, we would discuss and agree upon whether the brand is timeless vs. modern, discreet vs. aggressive, subdued vs. colorful, etc. How do we want the brand to come across? What tone do we want the brand to have? What do we want to convey to the target audience?

By applying the WOW Identity Funnel™ way of thinking, designers avoid developing identity systems around a logo. Instead, they focus on the brand touch points that matter most, to create memorable experiences at every level.

WOW Identity Funnel™
When we approach ideas for brand identity, we start by looking at the big picture. Some companies may start the project by incorporating design elements into a logo and then later applying them across the entire identity system. We prefer to approach it the other way—to explore ideas and concepts around color stories, photography/illustration style, business card materials and shapes, brochure cover textures, brand behavior, etc. We ask ourselves, “What does it feel like to interact with the brand, from each touch point? What is the desired response when someone receives a business card?” As we continue to explore and push the limits of concept development, we eventually arrive at the logical and natural answer for what the logo should be. For example, a brand identity with a bright, energetic color story and bold photography might warrant an elegant “wordmark” as its logo. (A wordmark is a standardized graphic representation of the name of a company or product that is easily identifiable.) After all, a logo is simply the punctuation to a brand.

Before Pencil Hits Paper

We must determine what the creative team needs to know before we begin the design process. After the first two “gates” (defining who you are and how you are positioned) have been successfully completed, the rest of the creative brief will practically write itself. In the positioning gate, we create something called a brand wall, which essentially provides us with the competitive landscape. We want to see what the customer sees. What are they looking at when they are faced with a decision? As brand designers, we have the ability to influence this decision through the power of a well-articulated messaging and design system. In assembling the brand wall, we try to gather as much relevant information as we can. From website home pages to literally “buying the shelf” at the supermarket, we can analyze the category by observing color dominance, graphical style, and positioning lines.

Resisting Temptation

Just as the world had decided to accept personal computers as boring beige boxes whose primary role was to perform mundane tasks, Apple surprised us with the iMac, a revolutionary machine bursting with personality. It was available in an assortment of funky colors (or fruit flavors, as they named them) to match its equally funky product design. Innovative design has always been a core value for the Apple team, and this key differentiation is evident in its positioning strategy.

Branding is about creating focus and clarity. Learn from Apple: take a risk, bite off more than you can chew, but resist the temptation of trying to be all things to all people.

The WOW 20/20s™ short duration exercise challenges each person to produce twenty ideas in twenty minutes, forcing the mind to generate ideas rapidly, with little or no thought as to how foolish something might seem.

Polish the Idea, Then the Work

Be sure to post your ten-point creative brief—your brand’s key attributes—prominently in every brainstorming session. For the most effective brainstorming environment, we’ve created the “WOW 20/20™”, where each person is charged with producing 20 different ideas in 20 minutes.

During the WOW 20/20™, team members are encouraged to push ideas beyond logo concepts, exploring elements of typographic style, photography/color relationship, textures, and three-dimensional forms. But the real beauty of this exercise lies within the twenty minute limit. The short duration forces the mind to generate ideas rapidly, with little or no time to edit thoughts for appropriateness. It also creates an environment without fear of uttering something that may be deemed ridiculous by others. Great ideas emerge from unexpected places. The best ones are built upon the single most outrageous thought that’s so far out of left field it’s not even in the ballpark—all because someone was brave enough to shout it out in front of everyone else.

Evaluating the Ideas

As sketches are spread on the table, the group discusses the strengths and merits of each concept. The focus is always on the potential of the idea rather than its weakness. At this stage, it’s important to remember that the goal of the 20/20™ is to generate as many ideas as possible. We’re not only interested in the ideas but also where these ideas may take us—sometimes a friendly argument over the value of an idea may be the best way to test its validity or its ability to translate across a variety of media.

The best ideas should be chosen for their innovation, relevance, and pure passion. But keep in mind that the most innovative ideas might not be accepted right away. If it has never been seen or done before, it might make you feel uncomfortable—which is good! If your new identity doesn’t make you nervous, even in the slightest, it’s probably not creating the differentiation you need.

Creative vision is a subjective thing. What seems ridiculous to one designer may seem like the perfect solution to another. Designers should fight tirelessly for their concepts, refusing the alternatives, despite strong concerns from others in the group. We welcome and encourage an environment where such interaction can take place. Ultimately, it’s the visionary’s duty to express how the best idea fits the thought process and sell the idea to everyone else.

Capturing the Essence

A great deal of time should be dedicated to developing the one idea that captures the essence of the brand. We may go through dozens of WOW 20/20s™ until we feel we have gathered enough ideas in as many different directions as possible. As we move into brand implementation, this central concept, along with the ten-point creative brief, acts as a checkpoint throughout the entire creative process for how the brand should look, feel, and behave.

Creating a successful brand identity doesn’t have to be complicated—stay focused, have fun along the way, and keep your process simple. Create an authentic and compelling promise and make sure your company is structured to consistently deliver on that promise.

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Excerpted with permission from Logo Savvy: Top Brand Design Firms Share their Naming and Identity Strategies (Rockport) by WOW Branding. Copyright © 2007 Rockport.