As a child, did you ever receive a present, begin to play with it, then realise that you weren’t having nearly as much fun as the kids playing with the same toy in the TV commercial?
As a child, you may have weathered this storm of disappointment and probably never thought to place fault with the brand. But in today’s brand-centric world, companies must deliver on the promises they make if they want to create loyal customers.
For many companies – both manufacturers and service providers – the most effective way to ensure brand loyalty is through the design of the products. At Fitch, we call this idea “brandware” – products that are crafted to deliver the promise of the brand to the consumer.
In truth, this is not a new idea. It is common knowledge that Peter Behrens delivered the first holistic branding exercise in 1907 when he and his team of designers created the identity for AEG, a German electrical powerhouse. Behrens and his fellow designers designed AEG’s logo, buildings, and, crucially, the products. Over time, manufacturers such as Sony, IBM, and Olivetti have achieved similar success.
Despite the success of these well-known giants, there a very few companies which take a holistic approach to branding, probably because, until recently, companies didn’t have to send a consistent message to turn a profit. Things are changing, however, and brandware design is becoming more important to business success. This is because:
These changes have led to a new service-based economy, and an emphasis on service at the core of many business strategies. It used to be that companies made products and that, in order to differentiate them, brands were created around them. Companies such as Procter & Gamble or Unilever are experts at this branding.
Still, today, when business people think about brand building, they generally think in terms of advertising, packaging, and retail design – not product design. Branding, when applied to product design is too often an exercise in applying a logo or picking a colour. Or perhaps, even worse, a serious, resource-intensive effort to develop brand-sensitive products is undertaken, but is unconnected to the corporate branding effort.
It is time to realise that products play an important role in delivering the promise. If they occupy a permanent place in the consumer’s life, products have the ability to communicate the value of a brand over and over again.
Companies looking for market share must realise that the values of their brand must be delivered through every consumer touchpoint – especially the product that the consumer takes home.
The brandware process
So how does product brandware differ from conventional branding? Building experiences is an important part of building strong brandware. To create an experience, however, is not enough – to deliver the promise of a brand, a company must change the habits of the consumer to ensure interest and loyalty. To achieve this transformation, the consumer has to go through a series of stages very similar to the ones they would experience in a relationship they might have with a mentor, friend, or partner.
The consumer is attracted to the product through visual cues which express the character of the product. These visual cues are based on symbolic associations that reinforce the core brand attributes. An example of such a visual metaphor is the fast lines and forms now found on the newest Iomega disc drives. These forms speak of the speed and power within the new generation of Iomega products.
Once a positive experience is delivered through the use of product or service, the consumer returns to the brand and a relationship with the brand is achieved. The consumer then buys more applications, accessories, or products which provide additional positive experiences, thus reinforcing the relationship.
Transformation is achieved in the consumer. Continued use or purchase of the product has made them fitter, more organised, or better informed, for example. As a result of the transformation, they are now loyal to the brand, and hopefully – an active advocate.
Starting from within:communicating brandware to the corporation
The benefits of brandware do not stop with the creation of a better relationship with the consumer; brandware strategy adds value to the corporation.
Well-constructed brandware will not only help consumers navigate their way around complex product categories, it will also help businesses by streamlining the product development process.
A recent example of brandware strategically applied to simplify future product development is The Friendly World of Playskool. The aim was to create richer play experiences for children through features, colour, and detailing.
In creating thematic toys, the language encouraged parents to tell stories. By using the metaphor of a balloon being squeezed, Fitch created a visual cue that could be understood by the internal development teams but did not infringe on the individual designer’s creativity.
Crucial to brandware strategy is the documentation of the guidelines. After all, if you do not communicate the message, you may as well have not created it in the first place. The documentation should respond to the internal product development workflow and methods. Some identities can be delivered on paper, but a document can easily be put away in a filing cabinet and forgotten. One successful way to implement brandware strategy is to create design spaces where in-house design teams can immerse themselves in the new design language.
For Playskool, Fitch created a design space at the company’s headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island. This space was designed to communicate the brand message, inspire creativity and encourage interaction between the design, engineering, and marketing teams at Playskool. Fitch selected bins of materials and objects to inspire the Playskool design teams and recommended a book list for the space.
To instill the message of the identity within Playskool’s corporate culture, three-dimensional forms that demonstrated the balloon identity were created in the vicinity around the design space.
In short, the effect of the brandware strategy for Playskool worked in a similar manner to the work of Peter Behrens. Brandware worked to communicate the value of the company to its customers and the focus of the company to its employees.
Delivering brand promise through brandware is an important business tool. Next time you buy a product, take a good look at it. Check to see if the brand promise is delivered in the brandware. If it is not, maybe that should be your next client.
Dominic Jones is director of product at Fitch in the US.