It struck me one grey winter’s morning at the end of last year: is my whole way of thinking wrong?
We’re starting a new business at the moment in Wolff Olins – a kind of school of branding. We’re getting advice from the experts in start-ups. And on that winter’s morning, the advice arrives, in black and white: don’t think about vision or strategy or any kind of Big idea, but get something out there fast and learn from it. Just do something small that will prove the concept. Make a product, any product, of the minimum viable kind. Big ideas are just a distraction, a kind of procrastination. The way we all instinctively do things at Wolff Olins – sort out the idea first – may just be wrong.
We followed the advice and, as the winter comes to an end, we have a real business, with real paying customers. We’ve learned a lot. The advice has worked.
Which has made me think about the drawbacks of traditional brand thinking. Is what a lot of us do too theoretical? Do we too much live in a fantasy world where we set out beautifully clear, idea-led futures for our clients that are a million miles away from their daily reality? Are we – as Liz Moor suggests in her book The Rise of Brands – control freaks, imagining we can turn our clients’ world into neater, better things? Do we kid ourselves that brand is at the centre of the universe? Are we too perfectionist, and too slow?
Maybe, in fact, there two completely different ways of looking at the world: the brand consultant’s view, and the start-up expert’s view. One is about thinking, the other about acting. One is idealist, the other realist. It’s one big idea versus many small ones. It’s designing versus making. It’s neatness versus impact. Cleverness versus usefulness. Control versus chaos. Brasilia versus Lagos. Anxiety (‘we must pin everything down now’) versus trust (‘it’ll work itself out’). Apollo versus Dionysus. One is like an architect, the other a handyman, a bricoleur. One sees brand as the cause of everything, the other sees brand as the eventual result.
As a neatness-loving control freak – like most people who’ve worked in corporate identity – I find myself challenged by all this. I teach a lot about brand-led innovation and brand-led change: are these ideas illusions?
And yet… There was one moment over the winter when our new business took off. It was when we decided to name it not Wolff Olins Academy – the obvious name – but Kitchen. Two of us were talking at the green armchairs near my desk, and the name just seemed right. Very quickly, a whole story about kitchen flowed. This would be a school that metaphorically took customers behind the scenes of Wolff Olins, from the restaurant into the kitchen. Its style would be like sitting round a kitchen table, not a lecturer addressing a theatre. And it would be totally practical: we’d be making something good. (Plus it might get a bit messy.) In two or three minutes, we’d defined our experience principles. We quickly spread the word. Colleagues began to get it, to want it, and to sell it to clients.
And that was a brand moment. It was a (fairly) big idea. So brand, whatever exactly that is, does have a value, even in a start-up. Brand thinking has a role. It wasn’t just the name, but being clear what you want to stand for in people’s minds. Somehow, that changed everything.
So brand may not be the centre of the universe, but it somehow gets the planets moving. And – to switch metaphor – our practice needs to ricochet constantly between architect and handyman.
How does an Indian company make the leap from a homegrown, national entity to an internationally recognised player? This was the question (and challenge) posed to us by Indian business leaders at our CII/IBF breakfast workshop on Tuesday 18 February.
When an entity (whether that be a place, an organisation, even a person) is something of a mystery it’s a natural human reflex to resort to basic visual or sensory cues – colours, smells, images, style – to interpret and make sense of what we’re seeing. The result is a string of unhelpful, clichéd adjectives that don’t necessarily reflect reality but bring us a degree of relief for being able to put that ‘mystery’ to rest.
In the same way, when we think of India a specific image is conjured up informed by a narrow slice of content that is peddled out on the cultural, media roundabout. At best - colour, Bollywood and spice. At worst - chaos, poverty and corruption. Whether true or not, they’re either conventional or misinformed answers. And with little to counter these perceptions, they become unquestioned truths – dangerous and superficial. And it’s not just India. From Taiwan to Poland, many markets find it difficult to combat the raised eyebrows provoked by the ‘Made in [place]’ tag.
So how do you begin to unravel these perceptions and assert a new and more accurate reality? Historically, the first global ‘national champion’ brands from a country often bring their country’s baggage with them. But over time, they can leverage perceived strengths about their country, and also redefine how their country is perceived. For example, Sony and Toyota built their global brands in the shadow of perceptions that Japan was a producer of cheap, copycat goods that could only compete on price. As the two companies went upmarket they redefined themselves, and Japan, as benchmarks for engineering excellence and innovation.
Such brands nudge and push perceptions but also do something even more powerful. They stand for something. They rise above the clichés, the stereotypes, the prejudices and the cynics to answer global needs that they are uniquely placed to address. They are valuable and recognised because they play a significant role and enrich the lives of customers and our culture, society and systems.
For example, Toyota brought reliability, design and safety to an industry lauded over by American GM muscle. More recently it has done it again by pioneering sustainable automotive innovation. Similarly, HTC shifted perceptions of China’s ability to design and make intuitive, smart, mobile products. The HTC Desire was one of the first serious contenders against Apple and, amongst most die-hard techies that know their stuff, the preferred option. Other examples: Samsung from Korea, Uniqlo from Japan, even the likes of TweetDeck and Song Kick have arguably shifted perceptions of Great Britain and put the silicon roundabout on the map.
However, the hitch here is that these are all consumer-facing brands – higher profile and innately consumer-centric. Their value, innovation and contribution are far more visible. But it’s not impossible – GE’s Eco-imagination has captured the hearts of consumers and business customers alike.
Back to India. It’s multilayered, multi-faceted, multi-everything. So, what are the truths about India that Indian companies can champion and represent? What is it about their Indian origins that make them uniquely placed to play a particular role in the world? Here are some thoughts.
Firstly, The Indian market is dominated by B2B – their main international exports are machinery, chemicals, outsourcing services, transportation equipment, building materials, and pharmaceuticals. Critical, systemic products and services that are play a significant role in industries, societies, and economies.
Secondly, India is a market where need is not only great it is overwhelming. As such, there is an innate social consciousness that runs deep in Indian businesses. For example, Dr. Reddy’s – an Indian pharmaceutical company – was created to bring generic drugs to the Indian market at a fraction of the cost. Today, they are at the forefront of generic drugs and biosimilar innovation that few can keep up with. Fuelled by need they have designed an approach to pharmaceutical creation and manufacturing that makes social and commercial sense.
Thirdly, the frugal movement – Jugaad – has gone from being a technique used my Indians everywhere to improvise solutions in the face of glaring necessity, to a lean, management technique adopted increasingly by Western companies. The likes of Infosys and Wipro have built their entire offer around designing disruptive outsourcing solutions so you can literally buy and insert Indian ‘jugaad’ processes into your own company.
That’s just a starter for ten. There is much that an Indian company can leverage about their origins to be a respected, valued and loved brand both at home and abroad. The key point is that Indian companies don’t need to borrow, steal or imitate the paths of other companies who have successfully internationalised. They can adapt, adopt, advance and forge their own path.
And it won’t be long until ‘Made in India’ – conceived, crafted, engineered, and implemented – will quicken pulses rather than raise eyebrows.
Yelena Ford is a Lead Strategist in Wolff Olins London.
Once the critics lose interest in the comments section, the brand video stops getting hits and the all-agency briefings come to an end – this is when the challenging realities of getting a brand into the world begin.
Whether a charity, telco or banking institution, the following five post-launch considerations and actions can help make your new brand stick (and hopefully prosper).
1. Alignment between brand and propositions
No new news on this one, but if the business isn’t organised to deal with a new brand, the road from here on in gets bumpy.
A big win is getting the propositions and brand teams in the same room to figure out if the stuff in the pipeline can deliver against the ambition. If the brand is geared to engage through amazing new services and products, but your customer offers and experiences reflect the old brand, then no amount of new wallpaper is going to distract customers from spotting it.
Consider updating the briefing tools. By putting the brand ambition front and centre in the briefs, planners and proposition mangers have tangible ways to judge new products, services and offers.
2. Consistency of quality
A common challenge when launching a new brand (and in fact, maintaining momentum with an older one) is ensuring the content is right. The natural inclination is to make sure the visual bits are all in the right places, and so they should be, but this won’t make the brand connect with customers.
Invite staff from across the business to brand surgeries to teach them the role of the new brand. Help them understand how the brand must engage, what sort of offers it must create and why this brand is different from the old one. With this sense of understanding and empowerment, they can live the brand and ultimately drive up quality throughout the business.
3. Shift focus from visual and verbal to experience
If your new brand is focused on how it sounds and looks rather than how it feels, you’ll end up with handsome posters, but little else.
In order to create a coherent story for customers and to deliver more engaging experiences beyond typical media touch points, brands must evolve to adopt high level experience principles. These philosophies not only inform the visual, but the behavioural, across both the physical and digital estate. And when partnered with a new proposition, should create an experience that starts to shift customers perceptions of the new brand.
Once the foundations of the brand experience are defined, workshop with product, technology, service and operational teams to develop and flex these principles, ensuring any channel specific challenges are considered. Ultimately it is these teams that create and deliver the experience, and engaging them in the process can be commercially smart and also personally rewarding.
4. A consistent team within all partner agencies
It’s understandable that teams change and people move on. However, brands move so fast that the quality can suffer if the new team doesn’t properly understand the ambition. Remember, people need more than to be shown the latest guidelines to ‘get it’.
It’s always a good idea to grab a coffee with the new team and speak openly and informally about targets for the brand, areas of weakness and what you need specifically from them. Everyone feels better when they know where they stand.
5. Digital doesn’t end at .com
Once the new website has launched you have to consider the role your brand plays in the broader social conversation.
It’s pretty well documented most brands aren’t great at this. The all too familiar Twitter scenario plays out something like; customer needs help, brand doesn’t answer but starts random # chat about something that happened two weeks ago, customer gets angry and tweets about rubbish company.
If you are going to enter the conversation, you must have a dedicated team readily available to engage with people. And as important as having the infrastructure in place – you need to have an opinion. If you’re giving it the c-suite acceptable chat, you’ll be found out very quickly and no one wants their Dad at the disco.
These are only five super top-line watch-outs to be aware of as you go into the post-launch phase and, as every brand is different, I’m certain there are hundreds more. If you would like to talk to us about some of the challenges you face, please get in touch, or you can critique this article in the comments section below ;)
Dan Greene is a design director at Wolff Olins London.
Having reached the half way point of my stay as visiting creative director here at Wolff Olins, I thought it was only right to tell you what I’ve been upto. If I was sitting where you are, all I’d want to know is what a ‘VCD’ actually does. Is it all just free lunches and half-baked critique, or does it have real, tangible worth to a business as beautifully put together as Wolff Olins?
The cynical among you might think a visiting creative director just prances about looking over designers’ shoulders pointing out things they probably already know, but I’ve found out that definitely isn’t the case.
My role here has been a full-on journey of creative thinking and scheming and I’ve tried to extend it beyond my original brief to bring an outside perspective to the work being created here at Wolff Olins. Sure, I’ve sat in meetings, shared some ideas, delivered second opinions, suggested some collaborators, and much of the bits and pieces you might expect. The real excitement though has come from digging a little bit further into the process to try and really start to understand the process of making brilliant work.
So, intertwined into my visits I’ve started to organise day-long working sessions with creative thinkers I know from the wider world, and used their expertise and my understanding of the projects on here to really try and make a difference to client work here. With it we’ve brainstormed, dressed-up, disrupted and even devised hypothetical new customer service departments to solve our clients’ briefs. These little ‘creative grenades’ have of course given those working on the specific accounts a chance to create some output to impress and challenge their clients, but almost more importantly the opportunity to change the pace of their working week.
I was desperate before I started to make sure my time here wasn’t a ‘nice to have’ but something that brought real worth to the business and that I was held accountable for that ambition. The day-long sessions are my attempt at that, and in my final six weeks I hope to run two more of these one-day ‘grenades’ with a ceramicist one week, and a film maker the next.
Whether the output is successful or not, I’ve learnt that the power of change, deviation and breaking routine is as important and trying to improve the actual work, and if that process can be enjoyable along the way, then even better.
Without doubt, the incredible openness and desire to create brilliant work engrained in the culture here has definitely made the process of coming in more valuable than it could have been, and I hope I can repay that support in bundles on the home straight.
Alex Bec is a visiting creative director at Wolff Olins London.
Daniel Siders joins Wolff Olins as (what we’re calling) Visiting Technologist. This is Daniel’s first guest post.
I wouldn’t call myself a technologist.
While my work involves developing and exploring technology at a higher level than most, it is fundamentally strategic and analytical. I ask the same questions about a new piece of technology as I do a brand: How are people using it now, Who will start using it in the future and in what ways? and most importantly, What unique possibilities exist because of and for this technology?
The answers to those questions, to the degree that they can be answered, inform discussions about how best to leverage the technology itself and its effects on marketplaces and society (ideally before anyone else does).
What does the future look like?
We’re in the early days of the information revolution, a period of cultural and technological changes with repercussions on a similar scale to the industrial revolution. It’s premature to speculate on the total scope (or sequence which is often more significant) of changes to come, but here’s a few things I see right now:
There are definitely some early leaders in the race to connect consumers with technology. What’s less clear is whether there is a maximum possible extent to their power, and if so what those limits are. Most significant technologies started out in the control of one organization and were later democratized. That process has rarely been smooth or easy for industry or consumers. It’s hard to imagine the rules will be different for information technology. Google and Facebook count their users in the billions. Whenever a company starts thinking about the day that every human on earth will be a user, I start looking for the tools that will replace them.
Entropy usually prevails given time.
Given how fast the world is changing and how many other brands want to participate in these spaces, it seems like the time is ripe for a massive wave of decentralization to hit everything from internet services to traditionally regulated fields like telecommunications and banking.
A variety of forces are lowering or eliminating barriers to entry in nearly every field. Simultaneously dominant players in most markets exercise unprecedented levels of control and influence. This period is marked by both an incredible rate of change and the phenomenal power of network effects. The combination of the two will leave many established companies with an undeserved sense of confidence until they have already been replaced.
What keeps me up.
Everyone is trying desperately to hold onto the power they have over others - governments, religious extremists, brands. What strikes me most is that this struggle seems to come not from lust for power, but the desire to remain relevant. The world changes and we change with it or fall by the wayside. There’s a cycle in human society and in nature — we contribute throughout our lives until we ourselves become obsolete and then someone else takes over. That cycle hasn’t changed, but it does seem to be speeding up. Technology makes the world change faster, perhaps faster than many of us can adapt. If brands are as slow to change as people their untimely demises could either fuel a revolutionary period of innovation or plunge the world into chaos. This is what keeps me up at night — the dual possibility of tremendous innovation and multi-generation stagnation from monopolies, and the inability to determine which we’re experiencing until after the fact.
I can’t imagine a more exciting time to shape strategy for the world’s best brands.
When I first met the Wolff Olins management I was impressed by the possibility to affect change through WO’s relationships with brands. So often I encounter a possibility for radical growth in a market but can’t reach key influencers or convince leadership to dive in soon enough to take advantage of the situation. I’m excited for the opportunity to help speed up that process and make sure possibilities are presented with more weight to the right people.
To kick off 2014, some of us at Wolff Olins have been getting to grips with naming challenges as part of broader client projects. We can’t talk about them in detail yet, but we can say that many of the organisations we’re working with have a presence in multiple markets. This means there’s lots to consider when deciding what they’re called. It got me thinking about the future of naming as a discipline.
When brand names help us quickly and easily express what we mean, we absorb them. I jot notes on Post Its, not pressure sensitive sticky papers, and I spend a disconcerting number of waking hours using PowerPoint, not a presentation graphics programme. We cling to euphemistic brand names that spare our blushes, which is why Viagra and Prozac entered the OED in 2001. When brand names are words for new technologies, we can only embrace them. What else would we call Velcro? The same goes for new behaviours. When there isn’t a pre-existing verb for an action that quickly becomes commonplace, the brand name is used as a verb. This is why I Skype and Google (but I don’t Bing – brand-verbs can’t co-exist). It’s something etymologists call anthimeria.
Because of western capitalism and the scale of the English language, English speakers have been front of mind for name consultants. Organisations with international market ambition chose English names regardless of origin, hence Thai government-owned Thai Airways, Korean conglomerate LG Electronics, and Middle Eastern investment managers, Investcorps.
Tricky words were simplified so they were easy(ish) for English speakers to say. Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo became Sony, from the Latin for ‘sound’. Seikikogaku kenkyusho became Canon, Lianxiang - Lenovo and Nintendo Koppai dropped the last bit. At the same time, as western brands grew and Roman letters became a sign of sophistication in some markets, local brands like Korean café Twosome Place and retailer Bean Pole jumped on the bandwagon.
But the English language won’t forever be the biggest. The British Council predict Hindi, Arabic and Spanish will claim at least as many native speakers in 2050 and Mandarin leads the charge on that front. Chinese webpages are multiplying and as the Far East becomes a bubbling hotbed for the science and technology sectors, English may well be displaced there too.
Rising consumer power adds fuel to the fire. Despite some spluttering, the goods market in China is still growing by 13% annually and behemoth brands with western names are coming unstuck. Chinese relies on characters, rather than a phonetic alphabet, and every character is a drawing with layers of meaning. In this context, names have deep significance. Phonetic representations of brand names look limp and intentional meaning, literal or associative, is lost. Brands are now looking for homonyms that pack a semantic punch – no light undertaking – and specialist cross-cultural consultancies have been quick to fill a lucrative gap. This is how Reebok became Rui Bu, meaning ‘big steps’, Colgate is known as Gao lu jie, ‘revealing superior cleanliness’, and Coca Cola is Kekoukele, ‘happiness power’.
Beyond this new off-shoot of the naming industry, the language shift is having a more fundamental impact on brand names. Qatari telco Qtel leveraged its linguistic roots in a recent rebrand, becoming Ooreedoo – the Arabic for ‘I want’. Chinese telco Huawai, pronounced wah-way, decided to stick with their name in America and make a feature of the fact it’s hard to pronounce. Xiaomi, China’s answer to Apple with a larger market share than its American rival, hired an ex-Googler to focus on international markets and has no intentions of changing its distinctly Chinese name. Similarly, Shang Xia, a luxury, Hermes-backed brand founded in 2008, has just opened its first Paris boutique after success in Shanghai and Beijing.
The evidence is limited at the moment, but I’ve no doubt the movement will gather steam as markets gain confidence and stature. This means English speakers will be increasingly exposed to unfamiliar sounds. Initially challenging letter combinations will become recognisable and we’ll be able to pronounce them with ease.
And when a brand comes along that’s impossible to describe using existing English words, we’ll absorb it. Language protectionists worry about the impact of Anglo-saxonisms in other languages – borrowed words in Chinese, the rise of Arabizi in Arabic, Gairaigo in Japanese and Franglais (je tweet, tu tweetes, nous n’avons plus de ‘hashtags’). Languages are already changing shape around the edges and English will too.
When choosing a brand name, this linguistic shift brings about four key considerations:
Carefully consider the potential of future, non-English speaking markets at the outset. If Chinese or Arabic-speaking consumers are likely to form an important target either now or in future, feed this in to the naming brief. Having foresight at an early stage avoids clumsy retrofits or costly re-brands at a later stage.
Co-create with the specialists like linguists and native speakers of foreign languages. They’re invaluable. Bring them into brainstorming sessions and spend time face-to-face to explore possibilities. For existing brands, consumers should be considered specialists too. Why not open up the exchange with consumers and consult them directly? (For more on this exchange see our recent Game Changers report, The New Mainstream.)
Carry out cultural and local checks early because understanding potential problems at the outset saves time and heartache longer term. An initial disaster check will ensure your name doesn’t mean something unfortunate in another language or dialect. It’ll weed out issues linked to similar-sounding local brands. Google searches only go so far and it’s impossible to get the full measure of this stuff from your desk.
Play, invent and turn what may seem like frustrating parameters into positives. They’ll make your approach more creative, which is no bad thing. It might have all kinds of unexpected advantages.
Do you have a hard time defining the vision behind your visionary idea —to customers, investors, or even to your mum? Is your elevator pitch standing a bit too awkwardly in the elevator?
Take a class with Wolff Olins’ lead strategist Melissa Andrada on how to use brand to nail your pitch.
This interactive session will equip you with the thinking and tools to take your brand to the next level. We’ll highlight key learnings directly from our clients and share tried-and-tested tools to help you build your own brand.
By the end of the class, you’ll be able to:
- create a compelling vision for your brand that brings in customers, attracts investors and inspires employees
- use your brand to drive impact across all parts of your business - from your Facebook page to your product offer to your office space
Last week we held our first-ever MakeShop at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. The event was our excuse to get some of our favorite partners, clients, friends and family together to dive deeper in the behaviors we explored in our latest Game Changers report.
In the spirit of making, we worked with Henrik Werdelin and Philip Ingemann Petersen, of Prehype, the venture development firm that’s helped companies ranging from Verizon to News Corp incubate and spin out new businesses. We heard from Jake Barton, principal and founder of Local Projects, whose media design firm reinvents public space through collaborative storytelling experiences like Storycorps, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and Change By Us. And we wrapped up the day getting our hands dirty (as dirty as littleBits will get you) learning how to prototype our product ideas with Bethany Koby, the founder of Technology Will Save Us.
Branding keeps changing. The way brands work – their role in the world – is constantly evolving. But it’s possible to simplify this complex story into five distinct stages: five versions of brand.
Brand v1: marking ownership
The emergence, centuries ago, of the idea of private property meant people needed to mark their property – to say either ‘this is mine’ or ‘I made this’. People used painted marks, written signatures, watermarks, hallmarks, stamps – or marks burned onto things like cattle. Though this practice goes right back to the ancient Egyptians, the mark wasn’t called a ‘brand’ until some time in sixteenth century.
Brand v2: guaranteeing quality
With the industrial revolution, and the emergence of mass production, came a new insight: if you were a factory owner, you could put a mark not just on your property but on your products. The mark would mean ‘this is a product you can trust’. In an era of shoddy products, and often adulterated foods, these marks could command higher prices.
The great pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood was a precursor of this idea, with products labelled ‘Etruria’ from the 1760s. The technology of branding shifted: burned marks evolved into marks stamped onto products like pottery, and then printed on packaging. By the 1820s. the word ‘brand’ was being used in this new sense. The focus was on brand names and on brand reputations, and a new expertise emerged: the new breed of artists behind trademarks and packaging design.
Brand v2 turned direction, and gained huge new power, in the 1870s, with the idea that you could protect these new assets as ‘registered trademarks’. Design and law made a potent combination, and many of the earliest registered trademarks are still effective value-creators now, like Kellogg’s, Campbell’s or Bass.
Brand v3: promising pleasure
Around the start of the twentieth century, mass production was amplified by mass media. Factory owners realised they could combine with media owners to give their trademarks even more power: that through advertising in newspapers, then cinemas and radio, they could associate their products with powerful emotions. Brands could do more than guarantee quality: they could promise pleasure.
The chocolate entrepreneur George Cadbury anticipated this new version of brand. He associated his products with a big idea – purity – and gave that idea emotional power through advertising that used images of children. Once again, the technology of branding shifted, into the new arts of advertising and public relations. Cultural forces like psychoanalysis played a role in this: Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays was a founding father of PR. Brand makers defined brands through a proposition (or ‘unique selling proposition’, USPs) and a personality, in order to create powerfully persuasive communication. Large manufacturers of consumer goods – Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Ford and many more – became masters of the art.
Brand v3 turned direction, and grew in power, in the 1960s, with the arrival of television in almost every home, and the ‘creative revolution’ in advertising, which produced hugely more sophisticated brand messaging. Increasingly, advertising appealed not only to people’s sensory pleasures, but also to the deeper pleasures of self-image: by choosing the right product, it suggested, you would look good to your friends, or feel better about yourself.
Brand v4: inviting belonging
Through the mid twentieth century, a new force emerged: the post-industrial corporation. Companies became huge supra-national centres of power. Big corporations, and their institutional investors, saw that they could broaden the impact of brand, from their individual products to the company itself. Brands could now be corporate brands, and could do more than promise pleasure: they could invite all kinds of stakeholders to feel a sense of belonging. By feeling they belong, employees would work harder, and customers would stay loyal for longer.
Early pioneers of what was originally called ‘corporate identity’ included Peter Behrens at AEG in Germany before the first world war, then London Transport in the 1920s, then IBM in the 1950s. The technology of brand shifted into defining an organisation’s purpose (or vision or central idea), expressing it through visual design – the logo and its supporting paraphernalia – and sharing it through the various mechanisms corporations use to build their internal working cultures. And a new kind of expert took centre-stage: the design-based brand consultant.
Brand v4 turned direction in the 1980s, when two contradictory things happened together. First, Reaganism and Thatcherism glamorised the corporation still further, and created a new cohort of privatised companies. Second, the PC gave individuals a new sense of power, culminating in the Apple Mac, and the 1960s generation started identifying with a new kind of apparently anti-corporate company, like Apple, Virgin or Southwest. These new phenomena felt like consumer brands, and the old terminology of ‘corporate identity’ switched to ‘corporate brand’.
Brand v5: enabling action
At the end of the twentieth century, patterns of consumer behaviour were transformed by the arrival of the Internet. Writers like Alvin Toffler were talking about the producer-consumer, or ‘prosumer’, back in the 1980s, but the Internet made prosumers mainstream. Suddenly, people had more knowledge and power than ever, and gained huge new scope to make and sell things, as well as buying them. Entirely new businesses transformed industry after industry: Amazon, eBay, Google, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia. None promised pleasure, or (in any deep emotional sense) invited belonging, but they all offered people a platform on which they could do new things: they enabled action.
The technology of branding is therefore changing once again. These new platforms think in terms of their role in people’s lives, and of the principles behind the user experience – and their success depends on how well that experience works. The old arts of advertising and logo design are much less important in this world, and expertise lies with the tech companies themselves, and with new kinds of specialists like service designers.
Where we are now
All five versions of brand still exist, side by side. Probably v3 brands are still the most common, and advertising agencies are still the most powerful force in the brand world. Most big corporations now take their brand v4 very seriously, and brand consultancies are still very influential. Brand v5 is still very young: it’s impossible to predict how it will play out, and it’s unclear who the new breed of experts will be. And the story isn’t linear: it may even be that the biggest v5 brands will start to look like big corporations, and behave much more like v4 brands. What’s certain is that evolution never stops, and v5 isn’t the end of the story.
If you’re in London, the Museum of Brands offers you a journey through the evolution of brands, with a particular focus on v2 brand packaging. For a good insight into the thinking behind brand v3, read David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising (1983). Liz Moor’s The Rise of Brands (2007) gives an historical account of brand v4. And Adam Arvidsson’s Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture (2006) offers a cultural analysis of brands v3, v4 and v5.
Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia.