There was joy and pain reading Marketing magazine's recent supplement on "Brands by Design". This featured 1-pagers from leading agencies, with each writing about their view on design.
One article stood out a mile amongst the buzzword-laden agency pitches. Rather than trying to sell his agency, which most of the others did, Nicolas Mamier of Elmwood told a great story about telling stories through design. Some key points:
Selling through storytelling
What was great about Nicolas' piece was didn't just talk about telling a story, he told one of his own. And this story is why I remember his piece and not the other seven. Elmwood had the idea for a brand of tea that would be good, simple and down-to-earth. This would be differentiated at a time when tea is getting all fancy-pants with exotic blends and herbal versions. In the UK we call this "builders' tea", as its the stuff that builders drink (which is what they spend a lot of time doing instead of, well, building).
So, Elmwood got together some expert tasters and a blender and made their own tea. They wrote the story of the brand and then designed the pack, and "Make Mine a Builders" is now sold in Asda and Tesco!
Build on a brand truth
Bang in line with what we believe about successful branding Nicolas talked about building on an authentic truth about a brand. I love the way he describes the role of an agency or consultancy in helping brands do this:
"All (brands) harbour such treasure. Our role is to seek it out and give it cut-through. We must find a voice that will be listened to, remembered...and acted on. We call this 'giving it an attitude'."
The power of visual "essence"
Nicolas makes a great point about designers being masters at the "shortest story form of all". Whereas TV advertising has 30, 60 or even 90 seconds to tell a story, packaging design and brand identity are much more constrained. Great designers have a talent for distilling the essence of a brand story down into a powerful visual symbol. Seeing such a symbol, like the bitten apple or a 'swoosh", unlocks meaning. Design can also tell more detail about the story, as is the case with innocent smoothies or Ben & Jerry's.
Now, contrast Nicolas' piece with the stream of buzzwords from the bloke from Interbrand. This would have made Hugo Gaines from Where's the Sausage? proud. This is a single paragraph:
"The true value of a brand is derived from key criteria defined in the brand-value chain. This means there is a consistent link between what a brand stands for and the value it contributes to the overall business. A brand idea is brought to life through everything you do that connects the brands to its stakeholders through its key touchpoints. These create perceptions that influence the overall appraisal of a brand in the market across generic drivers of demand. Improving brand perception, or equity, influences stakeholder behaviour, and therefore the economic value of a brand"
Translating this Hugo-speak into English: "For a brand to add value to a business it must drive differentiation across the whole customer experience". No wonder we get a reputation for talking brand bollocks with blokes like this about...
So, time get you started on your brand's story? "Once upon a time...."