Branding Hearts and Minds

By Mandana Samii, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – February 21, 2003

The word brand originally means "a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In today's world, where numerous companies offer similar products and services, putting a mark on the product itself is not enough. To survive and succeed, a company must manage to brand a positive, trustworthy image into people's memories. A company's branding translates its vision, values and character into something people can see, touch, hear, imagine. For virtual or abstract products and services like software programs or insurance, branding is even more crucial.

If branding is to turn an abstract identity into a face that people can like and trust, then brand design is the art of finding the right mixture of abstraction and emotion.

 

Emotion

Branding elements must not only be easy to recognize, they must be designed to appeal, inspire and motivate their targeted audiences. Especially when people have a choice among different candidates, winning their sympathy is important. If knowledge and reason alone were enough to decide and act, there would be no such thing as impulse buying. It takes emotion to get us from knowing and wanting to actually doing something. Emotion is the motivator which makes us prefer one product to another without having any objective reasons.

Once the brand values and brand personality of an organization have been defined, it is time to give those abstract terms (seriousness, clarity, friendliness, openness etc.) a likable face. This is achieved through suitable shapes, colors, typefaces, sounds, textures and so on. Recognition will be achieved through their repetition and careful variation. (See also Visual Branding in this Edition and Branding Methods)

For example, there is a substantial character difference between the stock exchange and a company producing children's and family nutrition products. So the two organizations' usage of shapes, colors and typeface in their visual branding will naturally be very different.

NYSE logo      Kellogg's logo

Figure 1a-b: The NYSE and Kellogg's logos address different audiences
(Images from www.nyse.com and www.kelloggs.com)

Both brands must present a reliable, likable image to their respective target groups. However, according to the preferences of their respective audiences, one of them requires a serious, neutral and unemotional appearance, while the other one's goal is to create a more entertaining, joyous atmosphere.

The figure below shows how minimal graphic changes can enhance the esthetic quality of a branding element and emphasize the brand's values in a much more expressive way.

Previous and current SAP logo

Figure 2: The logo or corporate signature was a prominent part of SAP's experience with "putting emotions into the abstract". The increased presence of the SAP logotype inside the blue square implied increased stature of the brand. The new design also added a "smile" to the logo, through a new curved crossbar in the letter "A," reinforcing the friendly, approachable personality of SAP. (See also Reinvigorating the SAP Brand on the SAP Design Guild)

 

Abstraction

Though visual branding replaces the abstract terms which would describe the company's values with a face and a voice, another type of abstraction should by all means be preserved: Abstraction also means that branding should never adhere too close to specific products or services offered by a company at a certain point in time. This is especially important when a new brand is being created. Companies grow and change over time, although they start up with a distinct product line or branch in mind, they may widen their product palette later on, and even abandon their initial offerings totally, due to market changes or technological developments.

For example, hardly anyone uses a typewriter nowadays, but some of the companies which were once famous producers of those devices are still around as major market players. Olivetti's first typewriter was introduced in 1911. Even though they also developed the world's first manual desk calculator 1948, the public still associated the name Olivetti mainly with well-designed typewriters well into the 1980's. Typewriters were present on Olivetti's promotional posters, which were graphic-design classics in their own right, but the company wisely refrained from including anything referring to office devices in their corporate logo. The Olivetti brand now stands for telecommunications services and offers solutions for the information and communications technology industry.

Vatentine typewriter        Olivetti logo

Figure 3a-b: Valentine, portable typewriter – design: Ettore Sottsass, 1969. Item in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Olivetti (Logo and image from www.olivetti.com)

 

Delivering and Maintaining Values

What makes a corporate image worth remembering in the long run is people's memory of good experiences made with that company. Over time, having a corporate design that "looks" serious and appealing will not be enough. The promises made through appearance must be fulfilled in practice, across all dimensions of client-organization interaction, especially in critical situations like service and support. Once that memory is firmly associated with a company's public appearance, a brand has been established.

But that's not the end of the story.

A living brand keeps on developing to meet changing requirements. At the same time, it remains true to itself and its commitment to its target groups. (See Visual Branding in this Edition)

 

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