Power of Branding

A few weeks ago, as I was giving my Onion Ring School of DesignTM talk (ask me about it – I do both corporate trainings AND birthday parties!), a few of my coworkers noticed that some key principles of design are the same as key principles of branding. I hadn’t articulated it at the time, but they were correct; the top five requirements for effective design are the same as the top five aspects of effective branding (and content strategy, and public relations, and integrated marketing, and fried foods).

The Top 5 Essential Requirements for an Effective Brand:

  1. Consistency
  2. Consistency
  3. Consistency
  4. Consistency
  5. Consistency

Branding can be a confusing subject. At its heart, it’s a synecdoche (sorry that no one likes you, metonymy) – using the physical brand burnt into an object to refer to the company as a whole – and on that level, it’s pretty easy to conceptualize.

But branding, as us marketing types will tell you, isn’t just writing your name in a cool font or drawing an evocative shape and being done with it. A brand represents the entire world of thoughts, associations, memories and beliefs that the customer associates with the company or product. If you’ve been able to encapsulate all of that into a simple graphic, then great! Feel free to slap your logo onto the top of a page and call it a day*. For everyone else, however, building a brand means constant effort and vigilance.

That’s where consistency comes in. Hooray, rules!

I completely acknowledge that much of the branding discussion today is negative; honestly, it’s fatiguing. When a politician or company goes “off brand,” it’s a news event all its own. Talking heads on TV spar about whether the action actually was off brand; commenters on social media accuse the brand of wading into issues beyond its place or praise it for taking a stand; maybe the issue even “goes viral on the internets.” The perceived danger of going off brand is now so strong that the idea of staying “on brand” seems like consigning yourself to being boring, cautious, and robotic.

You know what aren’t cautious, boring, or robotic? Movie soundtracks. (Please feel free to turn one on in the background as you read this.)

I love movie soundtracks. I’m the type of person who likes to pair music with mood, and the raw emotion conveyed by soundtracks achieves that beautifully. The best movie soundtracks are like the best brands, and it’s all because of consistency.

Soundtracks, like brands, don’t have the luxury of existing in a single point of time. Just as companies can’t just design one effective visual and be done with it, soundtrack composers can’t just write one song and play it on loop throughout the movie. The best soundtracks respond to the emotions on screen – fear, happiness, tension, jubilation, relief, bombast, tranquility – but always maintain their sense of place. The key is that consistency. Composers may choose to use specific types of instrumentation throughout, stay in similar keys or use similar scales, or repeat musical themes or melodies; choices that are subtle enough to not interfere with the action being portrayed onscreen, but significant enough to remind the audience that they’re still part of this cohesive world being portrayed on screen.

That’s how good branding efforts work, too. Subtle instances of consistency – logos, messaging, language, colors, fonts, positioning, content – provide the cohesion you need to build your brand without interfering with the actual work you’re trying to do. Like an effective movie soundtrack, you want to build the world that your integrated marketing efforts live in; you build that world by establishing consistent elements and sticking to them.

Hooray, rules!

*Well clearly we wouldn’t actually recommend that, but if you’ve achieved that level of branding, you probably work for a multi-billion dollar company, know not to do that, and aren’t reading this blog. That said, if you need food-related design training, we can offer that!