Ask most people to define branding and I’m guessing 9 out 10 people will include the word “unique” or a synonym of the word in their response. But lately, I’ve been questioning whether that’s always a good strategy in this over-saturated, over-branded landscape. Sure, you want to stick out from the crowd…but do you?
Everything has a brand. Look around you right now and you’ll see everything from the strongest and most well-known brands like Apple, the icon that’s currently 5 inches from my typing fingers. Or Starbucks if you needed a pick-me-up today. But more importantly, the lesser-known brands. That online clothing brand that targeted you to good effect. The new food brand that you recently discovered and now you can’t live without. These brands may be well-known to you, but only because you’ve encountered them and now they’re part of your current view. Those are the brands that I would encourage to ask the question above. Honestly, what’s the value of sticking out of the crowd if the crowd can help define your brand to a new potential customer?
The example that comes to mind is organic foods. Quick, think of an icon to represent organic foods. A leaf? Yup. And color? Green. Mmm-hmm. Is that still the case? Probably not consistently, but when the term “organic” started to become more and more important to consumers in the early 2000’s a green logo with a leaf or some iteration therein was the norm. Since then, brands have deviated and created more ownable looks, but the organic look is still ingrained in us and there are still design cues that are left over from that era when the desire is to portray natural, fresh, healthy…organic, even when you’re not talking about food.
As a young brand, many think the only viable strategy is to be disruptive. What are the competitors doing? Do the opposite. But when I’m working on a brand strategy, I think it’s just as valuable to look at whether that young brand can ride the coattails of the more established brands in the industry. Do you need to look at them as competitors? Sure, you’re competing for customer dollars, but aren’t you both building the strength of the industry as well? Together? Eventually, perhaps the young brand will overtake the established brand, but aligning with that brand initially might help both brands and the industry in the near-term.
No, I am not saying to copy other brands. Definitely not. But I am saying there are visual cues that can be helpful in indicating to a customer what the heck it is you do or what it is you’re selling. Then the game is how to build your unique brand from there.
Have a look around. I think if you look at branding through this lense you’ll see what I’m saying. And is it the right strategy for everyone? Nope. But it’s definitely something to consider and explore.
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.