• Transform magazine
  • April 16, 2024

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First aid for brands

Alice Dall Design Bridge

Alice Dall, strategy director at Design Bridge Singapore, makes a case for creative strategy in brand (re)design.

When it comes to first aid, there is a helpful mnemonic to recall the treatment process. The three Ps: preserve life, prevent deterioration, and promote recovery. 

In this VUCA world, we need to work hard to preserve the lifespan of brands, prevent further deterioration and promote their recovery. The brand marketplace is filled with so many fading stars who have forgotten who they are and how to meaningfully connect with the ever-changing world around them. One only needs to look at Standard & Poor’s 500 to see how the longevity of companies is dwindling. A McKinsey study found that in 1958 the average lifespan of these listed companies was 61 years. Fast-forward to 2027 and it is estimated to shrink to just 12 years. These brands are barely making it to their teenage years! 

So how can creative strategy help preserve the longevity of brands as they navigate their awkward pubescent years? 

Before I answer that question, let’s spend a moment looking at the differences between brand strategy and creative strategy. Brand strategy is all about the business and the brand. It is a discipline that helps get a brand theoretically and intellectually to serve the needs of the business. Creative strategy is about establishing how the brand emotionally connects with the consumer through design. 

The answer must start with people. Brands need to be people-first in their thinking and approach. After all people buy brands, without them you’re just a commodity. We need to get to know the audience and find out why they are buying into your brand or category, what your role is in their lives, and the needs that your product is addressing. Beyond analysing existing research reports and data sets, we peek into their lives, getting them to empty out their handbags, share photos of kitchen cupboards, take us shopping or simply stopping for a conversation. Being people obsessed has to be at the heart of any brand work, because we ultimately have to connect people with the brand. 

To create a meaningful connection between consumers and brands, we have to delve into truth and personality. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but these are my top tips. 

Begin by asking lots of questions. What is the history? What was the founding mission? Where does the name come from? Who are the competitors? What do they look like? Why do people choose them over us? What is the brand’s role in culture? We do this because we need to understand the broader contextual challenges faced today and the tensions to resolve to prevent further deterioration. Then we can establish what is working and where there is room for improvement and start addressing the shifts the brand needs to make. 

Digging deeper into the brand’s story helps us find the truth. Brand truths don’t change, but it’s important to understand which elements of the history we want to emotionally connect with people. More than ever, today’s consumer is looking for brands that resonate with their values and ideals, a truth that they can believe and buy into. Truth has become a superpower. To find and unlock it might mean rifling through brand archives or tracking down founders or family members to hear their perspective of a brand beloved to them first hand. 

Next, we unleash the personality. Personality is what makes a brand stand out in consumers’ minds. It drives uniqueness and distinctiveness from the competition and in turn makes you memorable and relatable. After all a brand is just an idea – albeit a potentially powerful one. Without it a brand is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with meaning. More than a personification exercise, personality is how we connect with the world around us and carve out an ambitiously creative space. 

Lastly, to promote the recovery of the brand we must keep checking in on it. Just because a new design is done and dusted doesn’t mean that we stop thinking about it. Brands require continual investment to maintain their relevance in consumers hearts and minds. Today they are more alive than ever before, so as you judge a new piece of creative work ask three simple questions: is it true to the brand? Is it relevant to the audience? Is it enduring for the future?