Whether we think about it or not, our lives are dominated by brands. They’re ubiquitous. We’re all familiar with the apocryphal idea that you’re never more than 20ft from a rat. Well, you’re probably never more than a few inches from a brand, whether it be your iPhone, your Casio or your Visa. So, brands have their work cut out if they’re going to make an impact. But the key isn’t necessarily investing millions of pounds in advertising – it’s down to creating something that makes a visual connection.
The incontestable champion in terms of brand aesthetic is, of course, Apple. Among detractors, the amount of time and consideration that Apple gives to aesthetic choices is sometimes used as a way of dismissing the value of its products, as though branding and product design choices are at the one end of a spectrum with technical function at the other. But this of course misses the point. The two aren’t mutually exclusive; even the most technically excellent products flop without an aesthetic that helps a consumer identify with them. And it is this that makes Apple one of the most successful global brands.
Perhaps the clearest way of measuring the effectiveness of a brand comes from the American marketing communications agency and brand experts Young & Rubicam. Their Brand Asset Valuator deconstructs the power of a brand based on four criteria: differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge. Differentiation refers to a brand’s most key characteristics and the factors that set it apart from its competitors. Relevance is an assessment of how appropriate the brand is for a given consumer. Esteem and knowledge could be viewed as two sides of the same coin – knowledge is based on consumer awareness and understanding of a brand; esteem relates to their evaluative response to it.
Obviously, while the distinctiveness of your aesthetic will impact upon the way customers differentiate you from your competitors, the main effect of a strong brand aesthetic is building customer esteem. It’s hard to build an emotional connection between the consumer and your brand but once you have it can be stronger and more valuable than any other resource at your disposal.
An apt example here is that of Paperchase. For a lot of people Paperchase isn’t a shop; it’s an experience. Walking through the doors, it’s hard not to be swept up by the novelties of its product design and the variety of its stock. There’s a real identity to the products and this is what makes it unique as a stationer. The brand not only makes stationery desirable but makes it actively exciting – rather than being a case of supplying staple but bland products, the store deals in potential. It has found a way to create a brand aesthetic that is far more about beauty and emotional appreciation than it is about fulfilling a simple function. And this is precisely why Paperchase has become a powerful high street presence.
Obviously the online marketplace is an entirely different world. There isn’t a store or physical space to build connection and esteem; here the imagination plays an even more vital role than with any other brand. Moo, the producer of custom business cards, understand this more than most. Not only are its product options unique and distinctive – its MiniCards, at half the usual height, offer a strikingly different end product – but the UI and customisation process allow the consumer to get a direct sense of the impact the product will produce. Again this creates contact between the brand and the customer.
The brands that really stick in our heads are more than those that advertise the most or that fulfil a novel function. They’re the ones that find a way to personally resonate with us, that we can envisage setting the tone of our lives. It’s something of a cliché that advertising is about selling an idealised lifestyle – there are a vast number of brands on the market that attempt to pitch a glamorous way of life to us but completely fail to hit home. And this comes down to not fully appreciating your demographic’s aesthetic sensibilities.
But that’s a charge that can hardly be levelled at boutique and luxury hotel specialists Mr & Mrs Smith. It knows its audience: hard-working but discerning professional couples who need somewhere to slip away for a incomparably stylish weekend break. Its destinations are invariably stunning – each boutique hotel is personally visited and reviewed by a member of its team in a first-person travelogue that places the customer right at the centre of their travel experience. But Mr & Mrs Smith isn’t just about serving up a memorable holiday. Every element of the brand follows through on this initial promise. Even the brochures themselves are highly desirable; sumptuously bound editions that can be bought by customers wanting attractive coffee-table books that promise a hint of boutique style.
Introducing something with aesthetic value serves a real function, above and beyond simply making your logo look pretty. It enables your customer to feel like your brand is in keeping with their own sensibilities and forms a bond that runs deeper than simple product satisfaction. Ultimately a brand should be like a piece of art. If it doesn’t engage your customer and encourage them to invest – both figuratively and literally – in the idea it represents, it fails to serve its purpose.
Building a glam brand from the ground up
Emi & Ben – Ronke Ige
The biggest motivation for me when developing Emi & Ben was to create a skincare brand that championed the West African skincare beauty secret, unrefined shea butter, and used it as a main ingredient in a product range. Since my early twenties I had aspired to create a business that had synergy with my country of origin, Nigeria, so once I had the shea butter business as an idea, this was a great catalyst.
The striking design came from the aspirations I had initially set myself for the brand. As the product in question was a natural skincare product, it was important for me that this shone through. I remember drafting the brief for the designer, using words such as clean, fresh, fun, young, approachable and honest within the document, highlighting that the concept developed had to communicate all of these words. We regularly receive great feedback regarding the branding; it’s a good feeling our customers appreciate what has been developed.
Naming the product after my daughter Emi and my nephew Ben was a decision I came to quite quickly and easily. The body butter idea was inspired by the forthcoming arrival of my daughter – I was using raw shea butter as a full body moisturiser on a consistent basis, as I was well aware of the brilliant results it provided and how gentle and natural it would be on my daughter. The Emi & Ben identity definitely forms a strong part of my brand, as it sets the tone of the story behind why the company was originally formed.
From the beginning Emi & Ben set out to support women in Nigeria who harvest the shea nuts into raw shea butter. This encouraged me when developing the brand, as I wanted a business that, while being successful, was able to ‘do good’ and support others in need. At present we support local women from a village in Nigeria by purchasing our raw shea butter in bulk. In the mid- to long-term, we envisage buying land to establish an ongoing farm part-owned by the local women who harvest the nuts, enabling them to not only sell unrefined shea butter to Emi & Ben for skincare purposes but to other companies leveraging the other commercial properties that Shea butter plant/nut possesses.
My brand influences the day-to-day running of my business, from things like striving for consistency in everything, to the brand’s tone of voice and personality.