... It's the level of creativity. A Creative Crunch.
The UK's Marketing Magazine recently posted an article aptly titled, Creative crunch not credit crunch threatens luxury brands.
Some luxury brands, like Chanel (video below, Chanel Spring Summer 08 Fashion Show) are thriving. Chanel remains creative. Most brands are not.
And in fact, the same can be said for most brands these days, luxury or not. Companies and products currently run around in circles trying to copy another company's perceived successes like dogs chasing their own tails.
The proof is not only in copycat products and services, but also the way companies portray themselves in image, message, tone, and customer engagement. The result is that the uniformity and sameness further commodatizes brands. Even previously unique & valuable brands recently fall into the same trap of sameness, no longer breaking away from the pack.
In order to succeed, companies need unique and creative ways of leading, not following each other.
Following a success is a dangerous move that can unexpectedly turn sour. Copycat companies find themselves scrambling again to distance themselves from brands they were previously mimicking. Instead of one problem, these companies now have two: Scrambling away from negative connections, and scrambling for another success to mimick.
Unfortunately, neither will solve their intrinsic problem. The only way to survive and prosper is begin cultivating the missing creativity. Only then will these companies recover a real connection with customers.
Companies should not fool themselves into perceived creativity based on a committee of uninformed non-designers, accountants, and marketers that emulate others—badly. Not everyone is qualified to make a creative decision. A committee of personal opinions will usually choose blue or a logo with a swish.
Instead, a real creative solution that delivers can only be made by design-aware/ educated, or strategic design & brand professionals. Face it. And as creative professionals, it is our duty to educate.
The creative deficiency problem goes well beyond merely superficial brand design aspects. It is also design of customer engagement, design of brand architecture, or design of business positioning.
As brand & design agency Ziba puts it, good design is not a personal opinion...
... but what does that really mean?
... that's a topic for a future article.
Russell Volckmann is an award-winning designer, producer, creative director, ad & brand & marketing strategist. For 17 years helping global agencies and companies tell their stories and make meaningful connections. Contact Russell at VÖLCKMANN STUDIOS for more ways to connect.
Before I saw the Orangina ad as presented by Landor Brand Strategist Martin Bishop's Brand Mix, I would have been able to name a dozen or more Worst Ads Of 2008 without even trying. As advertising disconnect continues to deteriorate the connection to meaningful brand dialog, I believe the list should now include the top 100 (at least).
Now if someone can just help me remember what I was going to say, and help me get my jaw back up...
J = Julio Ferro/ Hey!
R = Russell Volckmann
Compared to the more "stable" Coca-Cola brand ID, Pepsi seems to react like a teenager brand: changing without any apparently strategic drive. This seems to impact on their brand integrity regarding its changing symbol: it changes over and over on every line extension.
I've been thinking in the meanwhile if this rebranding is because the cola wars is not between Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi anymore. RedBull has just launched its own soda. RedBull Cola has the original and natural ingredients and look at its branding. Taking into account the "energetic" attribute, the battle would be between Pepsi and RedBull Cola.
Back to the original topic, while Coca-Cola went back to simplicity, Pepsi did more or less the same. What happened with differentiation? What happened with the brand history? What about shelf impact?
R: Well, to paraphrase myself (if that is possible) from our previous discussion on the topic.... The new Pepsi graphical identity marks are strange and defy accepted rationale for branding: to be brief, the marks are inconsistent with the Pepsi history, and worse, inconsistent across product lines. The message in the graphical ID is therefore inconsistent, wavering, and lacks the necessary integrity that distinguishes the brand mark. Look at the Pepsi logo across the line of products in the photo below. The variation in the logo includes variances in color, variances in swish size between the product line. PLUS the prominent "0" (I assume, "zero", for zero calories) on Pepsi Light & Max is a distraction from the brand mark. The variances are the very antithesis of a strong brand mark, and can cause confusion. Is it a company logo or a product logo? Both? There is so everything wrong with this Pepsi logo picture, I am almost surprised it is legal.
What happened to brand history indeed. From all appearances, this says "forget the last new generation", forget any associated brand loyalty, forget any visual integrity.
The new Pepsi product façade also resembles the advent of a plethora of new sports drinks and vitamin waters flooding the market. Do they want to fake people into believing this is something sporty or healthy? The minimalist lowercase thin wordmark certainly implies this. Redbull and other similar energy drinks may be one reason for taking Pepsi on the new wrong turn down anti-brand highway. However, it is not enough to be simply different in brand—the change also needs to be an improvement. Before breaking away from the pack, make sure others can follow.
The naming component of branding & identity appears to be reaching crisis proportions in light of needing corresponding ".com" domain names to represent company names, movie titles, products, and more. Adding a different domain suffix (such as ".net", ".biz", etc.) does not help, because it typically dilutes an existing stake in an existing brand—not to mention the legal ramifications in terms of brand confusion.
How will new products & new companies find new names in the future?
Further compounding the crisis is the inherent globalization in brand, due in part to the speed of the Internet, and needing to consider names that work well when localizing or globalizing a brand.
In working with both domestic and global companies, I am constantly involved in addressing naming challenges as a fundamental part of brand. But the job is not getting easier.
What solutions do you propose for a dwindling supply of finite names that can be used as part of a total brand strategy?
Naseem Javed is CEO of the ABC Namebank, and brings up some of the challenges facing companies trying to develop the name aspect of a brand in today's naming climate. Check out the video below.
Design. I love design, and like Peter Knapp, Executive Creative Director EMEA at Landor in the video presentation below... I am absolutely passionate about it. See why design is imperative, not just a 'nice to have' in building a successful brand.
Like many of you, I have followed brand trends and ideas on a daily basis for years, and have witnessed the growing consensus among brand managers, strategists, internal company stakeholders, large agencies, and the very chic boutique branding agencies. They all sing in chorus:
Although we are seeing a shift in terms of brand awareness, I believe the successful brands still need to embrace solid traditional tenets. To an increasing extent, companies are beginning to shape their own brand by selectively listening to individuals and tribes of consumers who have a stake in those brands. But is that the same as consumer ownership of a brand?
Does Everyone Own The Brand?
Let's play devil's advocate for a moment, and say we tend to disagree that everyone "owns" the brand. What about psychopaths, the socially outcast, or people with just generally bad ideas you don't want to associate with your company's brand ? Do they own the brand and shape it too? Or do competitors own your brand in their fashion? If they do, then the company's brand is in for some real trouble. Instead, I believe the brand needs to become a model of best-in-class product, behavior, and communication.
Yes, we are seeing the successful companies truly engage their customers. We are seeing companies become more aware everyday that in order to be successful, they need to live up to their brand expectations—whether derived from internal values or external values, or some combination thereof. As Patrick Newbery (Method, San Francisco) pointed out, companies need to deliver value, listen to consumers & partners better, understand problems, and diligently work to fix things that are not working. In that sense, the company necessarily needs to OWN (or take the ownership of) those brand values. It's what I like to call integrity.
Brand integrity. For most companies, it may no longer be sustainable to continue the ivory tower approach. Call it "cleaning up your act" as Sara Batterby (WORD Messaging Strategy, San Francisco) declared. In fact Sara hit the nail on the head—the method, tone, and approach to communicating brand values, and engaging customers needs to become more communal, engaging, and participatory.
What Inspires Brand Engagement?
However, the brand still needs to stand tall in front of it's audiences, stick to the core values that work, discard the values that do not work, and embrace positive stakeholder (customers, partners) values that inspire engagement.
After all, people will always look for something greater than themselves to believe in. And what better way to convince consumers there is a reason to believe, than the company brand walking the walk?
What do you think?
Greetings... Finally, finally, after seven long years, I had the chance to create a new website for VOLCKMANN.COM [ beta ] with some portfolio at
It's a start.
The Scenario: Your account manager has just set you up with your new client contract. To the client, you have presented an outline of your agency process: scope of work, milestone schedule, definition of processes, preliminary timeline, discovery process outline, the creative direction process, asset delivery, project assessment and ultimately implementation and celebration (usually).
The Agency: Wants to deliver a successful brand experience that is adaptable, scalable, attentive, creative, elegant, professional, personable, represents solid company tenets in some meaningful and deliberate way--and can stand the test of time. A brand that speaks of integrity, assurance and quality.
The Client: Wants to build a brand, thinking all they need is a logo.
You've all been here before. You have a professional team ready to roll and do the painstaking groundwork to make sure no stone is left unturned for the sake of your client. You want to ensure the company's enduring success in part by establishing an iron-clad brand, and subsequent Visual Identity.
Suddenly you find yourself in front of the client's team consisting of CEO, COO, VP Marketing, attorneys, and even engineers and administrative are sitting around the boardroom table looking at you with a blank expression on their faces, telling you, "that's nice" but "when do we get to see some logos?"
The client doesn't get it. And yet you have assumed you are doing everything right. After all, the account manager achieved the contract, right? Not so fast...
Design Before Strategy.
To paraphrase one CEO's recent comments, "I want design mock-ups almost immediately. I want action. I want to see a lot of logos. Show my company all kinds of options. Then bring in EVERYONE from the company organization (janitor, etc.) into the process. Let the entire group choose the creative that they like. Save some time and print out a hundred logos from the web. This would only take the branding & ID company two minutes." The client wants design before strategy... We'll just call this person "Action CEO".
First and foremost, the hundreds of visual examples in the world of company graphical identities will be likely 100% irrelevant to the specific client company brand needs. The client needs a unique brand--both in visual identity and in practice--that breaks away from the pack of the other thousand companies that are in a similar business. The client needs may even go deeper. In the short-term the client company may need to rethink the way they communicate and engage customers, vendors, and employees. That's an important enough step in beginning to create brand success, and the fruition of a strong visual identity to match. It's also doable within a reasonable timeline.
In the long-term, the company may even need to overhaul its product line, services, or core business offerings--in order to maintain or improve brand awareness and brand loyalty. That may be Phase II or even Phase III in a hopefully long relationship with this client. How do we communicate these values to the Action CEO? We engage his/her objections with key questions designed to clarify the client needs, and provide relevant data and marketing justification for brand decisions.
What do you think of this as it applies to engaging a client with your brand recommendations?
Second, 20 different stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests is a potential recipe for failure. By running the gamut of 20 people with different positions, interests, tastes, color preferences, likes, dislikes, plus various levels of business/market/brand connect or disconnect--will create a situation where 20 different decision-makers ultimately will never agree, or will agree to have the agency create a combination of the 20 things that everyone likes. The end visual result, according to the aggregation of all client stakeholders, would be a sort of round-square stitched-together thing that is a mish-mash of red, yellow, green, blue, purple, gray and shows a horse's body with a bunny's head--and using 40 different fonts in the wordmark. Or worse. Throw brand integrity out the window. Forget the marketing data and the competitive analysis. Forget any possibility of a solid brand architecture that can transcend and survive new product and packaging or company growth and expansion. In other words, a Frankenstein brand that will please no one, especially the agency which is on the verge of firing their client at this point. AND, let alone the idea of organically connecting the dots between client and audience.
In a client environment such as the Action CEO example, I try to assure the client that we deliberately want take the time to discover the unique company tenets & values, markets & competition, business climate & trends, experiences & aspirations---so we can create THE perfect brand that delivers enduring success for the company--as opposed to delivering random graphical imagery without any thought about the often very deep business reasons for a particular creative direction.
On the other hand, when we are talking about a brand launch or launch of a new business, there is often a tearing hurry within the organization. Everyone is looking at numbers, the impending targets for the years. The internal stakeholders want to see that logo, the packaging, the advert designs. There is little patience within the organizations. What makes it doubly complex is that we might not end up with CEOs who are from brand or marketing backgrounds.
According to Satya Upadhya, Asst. Vice President, Brand Communications at INX News, "A successful strategy in such a scenario is to have a well chalked out plan well in advance where you have done many consumer researches (trust me there is nothing more convincing for the board members than 'market research findings'!). And then make an identity presentation which has linkages to the business, how it will positively impact the topline and bottomline and keep the identity story relevant to the business realities."
Again, engage the client with relevant motivation for your recommendations, all the while engaging the client objections.
So there actually is hope for the "Action CEO" company if we do our homework deliberately and fairly quickly; And, if we handle client objections with a true engagement. After all, brand engagement what we do isn't it? What we are doing is selling the client on brand choices (our "tribe's brand" of brand), so that our clients can sell their company products and services with integrity in their own brand.