I don’t quit. In fact, I took a break from writing this to have a client meeting and they mentioned the swoosh. Still writing. That said, any brand designer can attest to the fact that there are certain examples that will inevitably come up at some point during a branding project:
“I want packaging like Apple.” or “I want a word mark as long-lasting a Coca-Cola.” or “I want an ownable color…like Tiffany blue.”
But the most common is “I want a logo as simple and recognizable as the Nike swoosh.”
Here’s the deal. Those are all great brands to emulate. Colors that stand out from your competition, beautifully designed word marks that require minimal updates to stay relevant since 1887? In. Totally in. But those designs did not stand alone. The problem with requesting these things is that it assumes if a designer is able to develop exactly the right, simple, swoosh-esque icon, the brand will immediately become a $36 billion company with over 73,000 employees like Nike was last year.
If you think a little harder about how we got here (wearing our Nikes while we write blog posts) you can’t ignore the history behind the brand. And more importantly, you can’t ignore the support of that simple icon through the years since it was designed in 1971 (for a reported $35…about $200 in today’s world). While the logo may have been a bargain, I’m willing to bet a substantial amount of money was put behind pushing the sales of the shoes that donned that now famous swoosh.
So when someone asks me to create the next swoosh, I respond by asking them what kind of strategy they’re planning to use to promote their new brand. Because without the visibility of the swoosh across all their shoes and the massive marketing push that helped get that swoosh on everyone’s feet, that simple icon would, sadly, be nothing more than a well-formed shape.
The point is, your brand design is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s why I couldn’t sit back and be a freelance designer for the rest of my life. It probably would have been an easier path, but there’s nothing more heartbreaking than putting your heart and soul into a design and then watching it fall flat because there was no strategy and no money behind promoting the brand. And I’m not asking clients to go out and sign endorsement contracts with Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan, but I am asking clients to be realistic about the value of a powerful marketing campaign.
I’m going to get kicked off the island, but if I had to choose, I would pick marketing over design. I’ve watched plenty of poorly designed brands blow up because the marketing behind them was brilliant. I’ve also watched beautifully designed brands fall flat because the marketing behind them was not (brilliant).
Brandt Hoekenga is the Founder and Creative Director for TIV Branding
TIV Branding is a boutique branding firm in Sonoma County, California. We specialize in building brands by using traditional, social and digital channels in unison. If you would like to discuss a project or find out more about how we do what we do, please email us at info@TIVbranding.com.