A Cure For Brand O.C.D.

When you think of all the different expressions of your brand, what probably comes to mind are the tangible things that communicate who you are. Your logo. Your web site. Your packaging. Your advertising.

In reality, none of these represent what your brand is. Your brand exists in only one place: between the ears of your customers and others who know you. Logos, ads, etc. are fundamentally prompts to aid them in tapping into the feelings and experiences they already have for you.

That said, it would seem to make sense that all of your external elements and communications be consistent to make it easier for your customers and prospects to tap into those feelings. Different looks and messages will send mixed signals and can lead to confusion about what our brand represents. Right?

Well, yes and no.

This notion of "being consistent" can be taken to an obsessive-compulsive extreme, and in some cases, can actually sabotage the effectiveness of a communication.

We can only use this font. We can only make visuals this big. We can never reverse the headline. We have to show the product the same way in every ad. And humor? Well, we never use it. For consistency sake, of course.



In other words, we can justifiably exclude a lot of really good ideas just because they don't "look like" what we've done before.

Allow me to offer up the idea that while consistency (and certainly brand identification) is important, the consistency we're talking about has more to do with the "emotional takeaway" of the communication than it does which typeface you use.

Do our messages leave our customers with the same feeling we want them to have about our brand? Or are we sacrificing engagement for the sake of corporate standards?

My recommendation is to let your Brand Vision be your guide. It's really the only filter that matters in terms of communicating the brand. Graphics standards, branding elements and previous communications, as used by many marketers, are often nothing more than crutches. The lowest common denominator of marketing communications ("If people know nothing else about us, at least they'll know the red stripe goes ON TOP OF the blue stripe on our borders!").

I realize the very thought of "loosening corporate standards" is enough to set some marketing directors' teeth on edge. But at the end of the day, we're after engagement, not compliance.

A marketer who really understands this is GEICO, the auto insurer. Take a look at its ads. Neurotic cavemen. Talking geckos. Burt Bacharach singing the story of a real GEICO customer. Stacks of money with cartoony eyes attached. One could interpret the company's advertising as being all over the map. But, really, all of its advertising dramatizes its Brand Vision in its full glory. It's about taking a mundane category like car insurance and dramatizing savings and service in an interesting way.

It's all about engagement, and GEICO is using multiple doors to invite the viewer in, and having them look forward to the next iteration of the campaign.

The bottom line? Concern yourself more with what your audience is taking away from the communications than with the elements used to tell the story. Instead of summarily rejecting ideas because they may not "fit" what has been done before, pass them through the Brand Vision filter with an open mind. Loosen up the rule book just a bit.

After all, it's hard to get outside the box if you won't allow yourself to get beyond the graphics standards manual.

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4 comments about "A Cure For Brand O.C.D. ".
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  1. Octavio Sacasa, May 11, 2009 at 10:18 a.m.

    Great points, but I would argue that brand strategy teams may be the cause of this problem. By not internally communicating what the brand should be within customers' minds, organizations can fall into the trap of seeing brand as simply guidelines within a book they must follow. This is where brand activation plays such a critical role. Employees that understand the "brand vision" are more likely to be able to make better decisions around brand guidelines and understand when they can be bent and even broken.

  2. Stephen Chukumba from Shadow Propaganda, May 11, 2009 at 10:53 a.m.

    Mickey, I'm in complete agreement with you. We are victims of the 'identity trap,' where we don't stray too far from a perceived brand identity (logo, tag line, whatever) for fear that our audiences will not 'get it.'

    If we accept that the brand is an idea, free of any tangible constraints, then we can really shoot for the stars in terms of developing creative and engaging campaigns.

    Unlike Octavio, I don't think that there is any specific cause. Where we are today is the result of years of industry and consumer behavior. We marketers are always gazing into crystal balls trying to divine what audiences will do or how they will react to certain prompts. But the reality is, that we cannot predict consumer behavior.

    The importance we've attached to the external elements of a brand are extensions of our attempts to control the way our brand is perceive, and help to shape the inner dialogue between our brands and our audiences.

    At the end of the day, I think the 'takeaway' from your article is that marketers should create and let audiences interpret.

  3. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, May 11, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

    First of all, great article - many great points.

    Quick comment about the GEICO segment:

    I think GEICO is doing even more than is suggested in the article. Maybe I'm giving them too much scientific behavioral cred, but,

    I think GEICO has very subliminally and openly, and in a very subtle and sophisticated way, created a successful business model or has tried to (I don't know the results).

    The cavemen, Burt, the eyes on the money ... all of these have many of us saying, "geez, that ad sucks" but not enough to cause us to hate GEICO, but just enough to REALLY want the gekko back. He's understanding, we believe him.

    So, when we see the gekko, we know that we can trust him (or, at least, that's the desire of the company), so we listen more closely to what he says.

    Anybody else read it that way?

  4. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice, May 12, 2009 at 9:02 p.m.

    Yeah, and let's mix up that Nike swoosh with the occasional teardrop or arch. And why does IBM always use that same stupid typeface in their logo? And what's so great about gold as the color for the McDonald's M? How about a little variety?!

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