Marketing: Consider Creativity and Brand Presentation

One of the most important steps you can take in marketing is to create a strong, appealing, distinctive, and easily identifiable brand image. Everyone knows the world’s top brands, such as Google, Apple, eBay, or IKEA. Ferrari’s rearing stallion logo and Nike’s swish are unmistakable.

How did these brands rise to the top? Partly by using creativity appropriately in the development of their brand images and logos. And they stay near the top because their logos are distinctive, appealing, and (something to think hard about) relatively timeless.

Many hot, new brands go through a boom and then fail to stick. They get modified or replaced. Take MeetMe, Inc., which was the fastest-growing brand in 2013. It started life as MyYearbook.com but achieved breakout success by changing name and adding a smiley face to its logo.

So is MeetMe soon going to be up there with classics like Coca-Cola? Maybe, but in 2014, the company is pushing a new video-dating service on Charm, with a distinctive scripted version of the word Charm as its logo. Either the first two logos hemmed in the product developers, or someone in marketing is twitchily creative and can’t leave the logo alone long enough to make it a classic.

Creativity doesn’t play quite the role you may think in the creation of a powerful brand. Clarity, consistency, and strength seem to be more important than creativity when developing a brand name and logo, so you need to be careful to avoid being overly creative with your ideas. Try being creative in the following ways:

  • Start with a clear, simple, strong logo. Logos are supposed to symbolize the product, so keep them clear and simple and use them consistently until they become highly recognizable.

  • Put the logo in front of consumers in association with appealing products. You earn brand equity by doing a good job. Your product and service need to be valuable to customers.

  • Include a steady flow of good marketing communications to create a brand that everybody knows and respects. This communication can include everything from packaging and ads to websites and good social media exposure. Always keep communicating. Never let your marketing program fall silent.

Interbrand is the largest consultancy specializing in branding, and it publishes an annual list of brands ranked by their value. For example, Interbrand still values the Coca-Cola brand identity highly but finds its value isn’t growing rapidly, unlike more creative, faster-moving brands such as Google.

This table examines the ten top brands as of 2013 (you can check Interbrand’s website for the most recent rankings). The style and coloring notes are based on my observations of these brands’ marketing pieces.

Examining Elements of the World’s Ten Top Brands
Brand Style Coloring
Apple Friendly, distinguishable Apple design White, gray
Google Fun, unusual lettering Multicolored, commonly blue, red, yellow, and green
Coca-Cola Flowing, classic script Red
IBM Strong block letters Blue with white
Microsoft Plain, clean, modern lettering (changed after 25 years from black italic in 2012) Gray lettering, small red-green-blue-yellow cube (derived from the Windows colorful logo and added to the corporate brand in 2012)
General Electric Elegant, traditional monogram of initials (GE) Blue with white
McDonald’s Curving, arch-like M Yellow
Samsung Off-center blue oval, with a unique letter A White in print, often silver without the circle on phones
Intel Lowercase modern letters in an energetic circle Blue
Toyota Clean block lettering combined with elegant modern logo of elliptical forms Red in print, often silver on vehicles

As the table shows, these top brands and their logos share two important common factors:

  • Simple, word-based designs and names: By making the logo readable, the designers of these top brands made them especially easy to learn and recall.

    One exception to this simple and easy-to-read or say-out-loud plan is the top-ranked brand, Apple Computer, Inc. This company’s logo, an apple with a bite taken out of it, defies the rule that great brands spell out their names, but the association between the image and the name is a no-brainer.

  • Simple, strong, conservative colors: Blue and red dominate the top brands; yellow or gold, silver or gray, and green also appear. Brands that use two colors (such as 26th-ranked IKEA and 19th-ranked Amazon) usually draw from the conservative palate of blue, red, white, silver or grey, and black, with the occasional splash of yellow or gold.

    Having a creative mix of multiple colors is rare but not unheard of. Second-ranked Google does it, and so does 28th-ranked eBay, but most of the top brands favor a single color.

    Microsoft’s corporate logo consisted of black type only, until in 2012 it was redesigned in a more modern gray type, with a colorful cube to leverage the strength of the Windows logo, while still keeping it clear and clean. Blues are usually navy (dark) but occasionally lighter (think HP and BMW). It’s interesting that one could draw all the top 100 brands reasonably accurately with fewer than ten colors.

The goal of the top brand formula (which combines simple, word-based designs and strong, traditional colors) is to create a design that’s highly readable and clear to anyone, anywhere, whether shown large or small, in print, on a product, or on the web. Although exceptions exist to every good formula, start forming your brand identity by following this formula and seeing how it works for you.

Although great brands usually stick to simple, clear lettering and a conservative color palate, they build their value through creative advertising, creative product designs, and creative distribution to make sure consumers are excited about them. Keep your creativity on a fairly short leash when designing your brand identity, but let your imagination have a good run when it comes to designing other elements of your marketing program.

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