Brand Design Takes More Than Style

Larry Light: Too Many Companies Get Stuck on the Superficial

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Marketing changed forever on May 13, 1931, when Neil McElroy wrote the classic memo at Procter & Gamble leading to the creation of the discipline of brand management. Through brand management, the features and benefits of every brand would be distinguished from those of every other.
Larry Light is chairman-CEO of Arcature, a management-consulting company that advises companies on how to create, build and manage brands. Recognized as one of the leading authorities on branding policy, he has taught at New York University, Wharton, Indiana University, and Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. After joining McDonald's as chief marketing officer in 2002, Mr. Light helped the company garner Advertising Age's Marketer of the Year title in 2004. In September 2005, Ad Age observed that 'Mr. Light is credited with reigniting the restaurant chain's sales and overhauling its marketing plan—which includes the 'I'm lovin' it' strategy and efforts to resonate with the youth market.'

'Experience economy'
Today, we recognize that brands are more than features and functional benefits. We live in what some call the "Experience Economy." When people ask me, "What is a brand?" My answer is: "A brand is a promise of a relevant and differentiated experience."

Since brands are promises of experiences, there is a logical conversion taking place between previously tangentially related disciplines. Brand management is converging with design management, resulting in a new concept, Brand Design. This idea of merging brand management and design management has been developing over the last decade.

Yet many marketing people still use "design" to merely describe the visual design elements of a brand, such as logo design and the other most salient, graphic facets of a brand, such as packaging.

Brand design
Brand Design is not the same as styling. Styling means "to give a particular style to" or "to give a particular tone and manner to." However, labeling something "kosher style" does not make it kosher.

Brand styling resulted in the development of undifferentiated automotive brands like the Ford Taurus and the Mercury Sable. Here, brand styling is a "style-attachment disorder"-the same basic vehicle design with a few minor styling cues attached. This is not brand differentiation; it is product decoration leading to brand homogenization.

Brand Design means more than just deciding how to give a product a particular style. Brand Design means designing the brand experience into the product or service, not attaching a style to the product or service.

Designers talk about the power of design in making connections with customers. But the management of the brand and its intent must be integrated into the design process.

Differentiating brand experience
Brand Design is all about creatively designing innovative approaches to differentiating the brand experience. I define Brand Design as the creative fusion of insight and imagination to create innovative and intelligent designs of relevant and differentiated brand experiences.

Brand management and design management need to be fused into one inseparable concept. American Girl, for example, is an amazing Brand Design learning experience. Its brand idea is that family, friendship and feelings are as relevant today as they were in the past.

Six Senses

While following the four steps of Brand Design (see box) will get your company started, you'll need to go farther.

Martin Lindstrom, a Danish branding expert, eloquently explained that "customers will increasingly experience brands through all five senses." By appealing to more than one sense, brands establish a stronger and long-lasting emotional connection.

Starwood Hotels
Starwood Hotels is designing distinctive multisensory brand experiences to help distinguish its various brands (Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, St. Regis, W, Westin, Le Meridien). In fact, Westin has its own scent, White Tea, to signify the calming Westin brand experience.

Singapore Airlines has created a special perfume and look for its female flight attendants, known as the Singapore Girls. Mercedes-Benz has set up a special department to work on the sound of its car doors to increase the perception of high quality.

In conventional design thinking, multisensory means designing to appeal to the five physical senses of taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. But the Chinese culture recognizes that there are six senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, sight and mind.

An Asian-based resort company called Six Senses Spas has the mission of delivering unique and memorable spa experiences appealing to all six senses. As they say, "Our uniqueness lies in our quest for perfect balancing of the senses."

The six senses
A brand's differentiation is defined through the unique interconnectedness of the six senses. This six-sense approach defines the essential truth of Brand Design.

The five physical senses are how we design the physical brand experience. The sixth sense, the mind, is where the brand resides. The sixth sense interprets and selectively perceives the information received through the other five senses. The mind sense is the integrating sense. It is where memories are stored. Brand Design is about designing the physical five-sense customer experience with the sixth-sense brand promise as the integrating core.

Brand Design needs to be integrated into marketing education. MBA programs need to include education on the subject of design. And design schools need to include education on brand management.

It is appropriate that, in June 2005, the 17th International Brand Design Conference was held in Cincinnati, the birthplace of brand management. The theme of the conference emphasized that the new Brand Design world demands broader and deeper collaboration between marketing, design and product development. We need to abandon the out-of-date traditional role of brand management developing the brand strategy and then handing the strategy over the wall to design management and product development. Brand Design requires the creative input of designers and product developers at the beginning of the strategic process.

Fused into one
Brand Design means these functions must become fused into one integrated process in order to achieve the goal of creatively designing innovative approaches to differentiated brand experiences.

Samsung used to be known for cheap knockoff electronics. Now it's a red-hot global brand. Samsung's chairman, Kun-Hee Lee, bet that in a world where products are rapidly becoming commodities, Samsung would never thrive through scale and pricing power alone. It had to create stylish, premium digital products that sparked customers' emotions with elegant, human-centered design. Lee foresaw that Samsung could wield design as a competitive weapon and use it to transform itself from an also-ran imitator to a world-class innovator.

Just as Procter & Gamble invented brand management, it is now re-inventing it. A. G. Lafley, CEO of P&G, recognized that Brand-Designed experiences were not only important in beauty, they were even more important in household care and consumer care, where products were arguably underdesigned. He says: "I want P&G to become the No. 1 consumer-design company in the world, so we need to be able to make it part of our strategy. We need to make it part of our innovation process."

In today's world, where brands are promises of multidimensional experiences, Brand Design will be the great differentiator. The Brand-Design management process ensures that with each brand experience, the brand promise is reinforced, brand loyalty is strengthened and brand value is enhanced.

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