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Makers and Markers: Why Today’s Design-Led Brands Thrive

The main idea of purpose-driven brands is about recognizing, embracing, and celebrating the fact that brands can enhance people’s lives and help them to feel better about themselves. – Phil Duncan

The average supermarket has 30,000 products on the shelves. There are currently over 100 brands of nationally advertised bottled water. When I go into Starbucks, there are up to 19 million different customized beverages a barista can create. This raises important questions:  why do we create new brands? Is branding simply what differentiates one box of pasta from another? Is it a corporate idea? Or is it the creative and visual expression of a deeper experience?

Understanding branding:  what makes you different

I think of branding as deliberate differentiation:  something that you do to be able to instantly, telegraphically communicate that one thing is different from another. Our desire to “mark” things with our brand evolved in the brain’s development around the same time as the desire to “create.” The drives to make and to mark are closely intertwined in the human brain and in the human experience. Design is central to that process.

Branding as an activity was initially used to identify livestock. Ranchers used iron brands to note which cattle were theirs. Over time, this idea of differentiation carried over into the business world and, eventually, this evolved into our modern notions of branding:  Apple, Google, Walmart and so on. Today’s top design-led brands understand what their customers want and use that information to develop the most powerful expression of whatever they’re creating.

The role of personal connection in branding

At the same time, I see the trend that people are much more interested in brands with personal attributes, as opposed to the big manufactured brands that were once so popular. There’s a desire for deeper connections. People are happiest when they have secure attachments to others. Changes in our lifestyle – living alone, more technology – are driving people to seek connection with and meaning from the brands they interact with. Design helps brands communicate their values, purpose and focus to consumers in a highly visual world. I firmly believe that to people to fully commit to your brand, you must deliver on the promise of connection, of purpose, and of fulfillment.

Design-led branding in action

What does this mean for brands that are striving to connect with customers in an authentic way?

Global and consistent visual branding:  Think globally. Customers have more touch points today than ever before:  websites, social media, product packaging, and much more. Be consistent with your design throughout the business.

Build deeper connections:  Brands that thrive have a personal connection with their audiences. They use data to understand what their audiences want. Design helps companies build connections, make meaning, and create experiences by creating the most powerful expression of that brand.

Evolve authentically to engage:  It’s important that brands – and their design strategy – continually evolve. Deliberate differentiation relies on brands telling their story, having a point of view, and being strategic about how they live in the world.

Learn more about how design-led brands thrive, stay relevant, and connect with customers. Watch the interview to explore the power of design-led brands in action, or read how you can use design as a competitive advantage.

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Join the discussion

  • By Chris Dickman - 10:19 AM on April 15, 2016  

    The amusing thing is that the world branding won’t exist 50 years from now and that’s all for the good. Thus current mouthpieces for this empty concept can be safely ignored. Let’s all look forward to the post-brand world of tomorrow.

    • By Joss Rectitud - 1:04 PM on April 15, 2016  


  • By Anders - 2:48 PM on April 16, 2016  

    Brand will only be relevant as long as consuming is a lifestyle. When that ends, as it eventually has to, it will all be about the product. Consuming will continue. Consumerism will die, and the importance of brands with it.

    • By Tony - 2:42 PM on April 18, 2016  

      Consumerism is no where near close to death in any way, shape or form. It’s only growing and moving into new industries. Will it eventually die? Probably. But talking about it like it’s on the horizon is beyond foolish.