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Branding: from being to becoming

When we talk about branding, a Greek term comes to mind. It is a sign one is likely to find over many a doorway “Gnothi Seauton” meaning Know Thyself. In simple terms, when we design a brand, we are going after this essence of “Who are you?” and then “Who do you want to be?” This in a sense is exactly every person’s story! We all are individuals in this world, thinking of ourselves in one way, projecting something a little different on the outside and maybe wanting to appear something else entirely. Branding is about creating a distinctive identity for a product so that it is seen for the qualities it wants to project.

When we see an object that is orange, it appears orange because it is the colour it reflects while all other colours are absorbed! Just like when we hear Amitabh Bachchan saying that he is actually reserved or quiet, it does not fit the Bachchan we see on the screen or as a television host – he is projecting himself as a dynamic extrovert, while he may be an intellectual and an introvert. Is he being truthful? You may say no, but the answer is yes. He is holding back certain qualities within him and projecting those he wants to be seen for. It is a conscious and deliberate choice to act in this manner and this image is what brings him success. A brand may require the organization to be hardworking and persistent to appear as fun and innovative. All of these go into a program, which defines “brand behaviour” within the organization, for the audience and customers.

In design, we research the market and interview the target audience to see how a brand can fit and how best we can project it. If there are six similar entities in the market, we want ours to stand out in some way. Thus, branding is always about finding the right proposition and making the right choices to see how the product can find its place and most importantly, continue to grow and succeed. Summing up, the process involves finding

    1. 1. The brand’s essence
    2. 2. Brand positioning and
    3. 3. Brand attributes

A brand can really only succeed if we are honest in finding what it is capable of doing. If we over-project an ideal, that may fall short of the target audience’s expectation. Much of our work therefore organizes itself around the brand behaviour. How will the brand actually act in the real field? The ‘Tone of Voice’ helps with this and this is really all about setting the values and mannerisms. When we think of Scandinavian furniture we instantly recall clean, non-fussy, comfortable and functional images of products. Similarly, we can set out the way in which the brand must behave – for instance a cultural organization that brings Japan and India closer may be warm, proactive, cross-cultural, simple and poetic. Whatever the tone of voice is, in the realm of design, we are working primarily through the visual message. The ‘visual language’ paraphrases how we perceive the brand. It is in a way the dress code of the brand. A ‘farm-fresh’ ice cream can decide that it will use images of farm and natural landscapes to celebrate its flavour. This has to consistently happen many times over the years, so when we define the visual language it has to allow for enough explorations. The visual language also decides the colour palette for the brand.

Finally, there is the performance of the brand, which is the value it delivers. I like a certain ice-cream because it meets the expectations the packaging has set for me, with its fresh and fruity graphics and it’s promise of a ‘farm-fresh’ flavour and I am not disappointed when I find real fruits and a creamy taste when I take a bite. I go back and buy the same pack the next time. This is desirable.

Our caution to people who design for brands is ideally captured in this quote from Kalila and Dimna (the Pancatantra retold by Ramsay Wood) : Never seek after anything, which may be unworthy of you or contrary to your nature. (sic) The crow who attempted to learn to fly like a partridge, a way of flying impossible to him, forgot his own skill and crashed to the ground.

Branding for success is about discovering what the brand’s essence is and what it wants to be and knowing the difference between the dream and reality. The brand can only work when it consistently delivers what it has promised.

Written by Sujatha Shankar Kumar
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