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The business of branding

16th February 2017 by Josh Beadon

Earlier this week I gave a talk to a group of postgraduate students from Plymouth University would are studying for an MSc in Brand and Design Management.  They were a culturally diverse group, with individuals from China, Sri Lanka, North America, Canada, Denmark and the UK. Some lively discussions ensued around the importance of maintaining good levels of communication between the designer and client, and how the dynamics of these interplays are key to the success of any design project. It is fascinating to me, that despite the apparent differences between these various cultures, the key skills and atributes of 'understanding', 'emotional intelligence' and 'education' are valued and seen as uniformly important.

These conversations reminded me of a recent communication I had received from an Undergraduate student studying on the Graphic Communication programme, again at Plymouth University. The student was in the process of authoring his dissertation, and asked me a number of pertinent questions about branding. These questions, and my responses are detailed below....

1. What is it about Branding that interests you?
Many people confuse 'branding' with 'company identity' - typically saying 'we need a new brand', when actually they want a new logo - it's a common misunderstanding. I love branding because it involves working with people, it involves getting under their skin and looking objectively at their business and/or product/service. I've always believed that design is an intellectual exercise and that the best work is produced only after thorough research and evaluation has taken place. All good design is underpinned by solid thinking and problem solving. Branding allows us to do exactly that.

2. Why do you believe graphic design and branding can be so powerful?
If we didn't have branding, we wouldn't have any need to differentiate - we'd only need one make of car, one brand of toothpaste and we'd all shop in the same supermarket. Branding gives us (the consumers) choice. There has been a huge rise in the number of businesses looking to build their brands around 'authenticity' - they want their customers to 'believe in' their offering, to understand their values, and 'buy-in' to their 'story'. Done well, it's a powerful tool that connects brands with people at an emotional level and ultimately drives sales and raises profits.

3. How has the role of a brand or a graphic designer changed over the 20 years of being a professional designer?
The branding process actually hasn't changed that much in the last few years, what has changed is the number of communication streams through which a brand can be projected. Social media has democratised our society like never before and brands that aren't being seen to be 'truthful' or 'real' are being exposed. So in that sense, branding and brand equity has become more important now than ever before - and just as crucial for small businesses as well as the huge corporate multi-nationals.

4. Do you think the visual identity of a brand creates brand loyalty or is it the product or service they interact with/buy?
Probably a bit of both, but if the product or service isn't any good, then it doesn't matter how good the identity is, the business will probably fail because people will stop buying. I'm sure we've all bought something because it looks great (I'm a sucker for wine labels!) but have been disappointed by the actual product.

5. Is communicating authenticity, simplicity and honesty more important again to customers rather than having something that just looks nice? Could you call this a trend?
In short, yes. As I mentioned above, I think it's more than a trend. It's being driven by us, the consumer, and it's a good thing.

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