Skip to main content

Harvard Business Review recently featured an article on Design Thinking. California Management Review, the journal from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of business devoted its entire Winter 2020 issue to Design Thinking. Brand Design is necessary for creating successful brand experiences.

Brand experiences are not positioned, they are designed. Brand Design is the convergence of brand management and design management. Brand Design is not just about advertising. It includes every touchpoint with the customer… including packaging, labeling, the logo, the digital experience, the retail experience, the service experience, and so on.

Brands are more than features and functional benefits. A brand is a promise of a relevant and differentiated experience. Brand Design is the fusion of insight and imagination to create products and services with the purpose of promising relevant and differentiated customer experiences. Brand Designed experiences are the real differentiators.

In 1980, the extraordinary industrial designer, Jerry Hirshberg, founded Nissan Design Institute. NDI was essential to the creation of some of Nissan’s most outstanding vehicles (Quest minivan, Pulsar, Pathfinder, Infiniti J30). Some of the best descriptions of Brand Design are described in his book, The Creative Priority: Driving Innovative Business In the Real World. Read the story of the preschool daycare furniture project. The insight was that miniaturization of adult furniture was not designing from a child’s perspective. Preschool children were not little adults: they are “all head and torso with chubby little undifferentiated arms and legs.” Understanding what a kid is from a kid’s perspective was eye-opening.

Jerry Hirshberg delighted in describing the process for designing the XTerra, Nissan’s SUV for outdoor enthusiasts. His teams took vehicles on biking, hiking, kayaking and camping trips. Taking copious notes and using their experiences as outdoor adventurists, the Nissan XTerra had features with benefits specifically created for muddy clothing, wetsuits, bikes, ropes, racks, flaps and other assorted outdoor equipment. The vehicle had to survive rugged, off-road terrain. The Nissan XTerra addressed problems for adventurists who craved an authentic outdoor, off-road experience.

A Brand Design Process has 5 phases, all linked around customer insight and communicated through effective marketing. Think of this process as the circle of brand life. The 5 phases of The Brand Design Process are 1) Imagination; 2) Innovation; 3) Operationalization; 4) Renovation; 5) Employ the Six Senses.

1. Imagination: Creative ideas

Imagine the future. Foresight rather than just forecasts. Forecasts are mere extrapolation of today’s trends. Turn information into foresight. See what others fail to see.

True customer insight is the first requisite for imagining the future. Insight is seeing into the information, not merely seeing the information. Insight generates surprisal value: “Wow. I did not know that.” “Now that I know that, we will do tings differently.” For insight to drive creativity, people must learn something new.

Walt Disney was a legendary Brand Designer. He imagined the creative idea of a magical place that was high quality, safe and appropriate for the whole family. That creative idea led to the innovation that reinvented the amusement park experience. Richard Branson is also a penultimate brand designer. The cabins of Virgin Air made short-haul flights wonderful.

Howard Schultz changed the definition of the coffee experience. He had a creative idea. He imagined the development of an experience he called the “third place.”

2. Innovation: Innovative Solutions

This phase revolves around inventing the realization of the creative ideas… Morph imagination into innovation. It is not an innovation until the idea is brought to life.

Steve Jobs was a passionate Brand Designer. Apple innovated Brand Designed products that continue to be user-friendly, contemporary, highly designed brand experiences.

TravelPro re-designed the travel experience. The innovative concept of turning the product sideways, putting wheels on the bottom and adding an extendable handle, re-invented the luggage category.

Steve Ells designed food service and food quality innovations for Chipotle that revolutionized fast food dining.

Avoid focusing on what got the brand to where it is now. People digging in the same tunnel may get stuck in a dead end.

3. Operationalization: Practical Implementation

This is the practical implementation of the innovation. Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt once said, “Ideas are useless unless used. The proof of their value is in their implementation. Until then, they are in limbo.”

This phase is where lots of innovative concepts are tried out fast and economically. Learn from failure. Failure of a particular product or service does not mean failure of the creative idea. An invention is real when it is practical and profitable. Otherwise it is just a creative idea.

Thomas Edison believed the real purpose of inventiveness was to create inventions that were practical to produce and use. Elon Musk has brought imagination and innovation into several industries with Tesla, solar power and Space X, space exploration.  Ethan Brown changed the food landscape with delicious plant-based, alternative chicken and beef products that vegans can eat. Whole Foods and Trader Joe redesigned the supermarket shopping experience. Amazon imagined and operationalized a revolutionary future in how books wiil be sold and read.

For operationalization to work best, be persistent. As Henry Ford said, “You can think you can, or think you cannot. Whichever you choose, you are right.”

4. Renovation: Continuous Improvement

Renovation is about improving the efficiency and effectiveness existing products, services and experiences. Continuous improvement keeps brand alive.

Renovation strategies make it better, make it easier, or make it cheaper. Renovation modernizes, restores, updates, improves, reconditions, revitalizes, refreshes, rebuilds. Increasing top-line revenues through continuous improvement delivers enduring competitive advantage.

Toyota is a great example of a company dedicated to continuous improvement: never stop making it better and making it more efficiently. “Moore’s Law” led the tech industry for decades with its focus on keeping continuous improvement in speed alive.

Beware of those who think that first-to-market guarantees enduring success. Whatever happened to Visicalc? Thermofax? Diners Club? Woolworth’s? Amana Radarange? Chux disposable diapers? The pioneering advantage will be lost if you fail to continuously improve.

5. Employ the Six Senses

By appealing to more than one sense, brands establish a stronger and long-lasting emotional connection. Multi-sensory means designing to appeal to the five physical senses of taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. This six-sense concept defines the essential truth of Brand Design. A brand’s differentiation is defined through the unique interconnectedness of the six senses.

The five physical senses are how we design the physical brand experience. The sixth sense, the mind, is where the brand resides. The sixth sense interprets and selectively perceives the information received through the other five senses. The mind sense is the integrating sense. It is where memories are stored.

Starwood Hotels designs distinctive multi-sensory brand experiences to help distinguish its various brands. Westin has its own scent, White Tea, to signify the calming, wellness Westin brand experience. Singapore Airlines aligned a special perfume, language and look around its female flight attendants. Mercedes-Benz works on the sound of its car doors to increase the perception of high quality. BMW designs the sound of its windshield wipers. RH has redesigned its brand as an elegant, all-encompassing multi-sensory world across all the sense from visual (inside and out) to taste (restaurants).

Brand Design is about designing the physical five-sense customer experience with the sixth-sense brand promise as the integrating core.

Some marketing people still use “design” to confine Brand Design to the visual design elements of a brand, such as a logo design, package design and the other most salient, graphic facets of a brand. Their idea focuses only on giving a distinctive look, a unique visual style, to a brand. Brand Styling is not Brand Design.

Brand Styling resulted in the development of undifferentiated automotive brands such as the Ford Taurus vs. the unfortunate Mercury Sable: the same basic vehicle design with a few minor styling cues attached. This is not brand differentiation; it is product decoration leading to brand degeneration.  Brand Design is not about merely attaching a style onto the product or service. Brand Styling creates brands that suffer from a style attachment disorder. Kosher-style does not make pickles kosher.

With Brand Design, enterprise functions must become fused into one integrated process in order to achieve the goal of creatively designing innovative approaches to differentiated brand experiences. Brand Styling involves design at the end of the process. Brand Design integrates design throughout the process, from the beginning to end.

Brand Design is the great differentiator. The Brand Design management process ensures that with each brand experience, the brand promise is reinforced, brand loyalty is strengthened and brand value is enhanced.

Brand Design cannot happen, however, in an environment that is not conducive to creativity. Brand Design must have top-down commitment. The CEO must believe in a culture of creativity, a culture of innovation and a culture willing to take some risks. Playing it safe is not a marker of a creative culture. Creative cultures are cultures that are able to recognize the opportunity to envision and reinvent the future not just manage in it.

Source: Five Phases For Effective Brand Design