Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Implications of Multi-Variant Brand Mark Systems

© City of Melbourne

© London Olympics

© MIT Media Lab

Technology now supports the implementation of complex brand identity systems where the most fundamental elements, such as the brand mark, may now readily have multiple variations (examples include MIT Media Lab, Aol and London 2012 identities). In practice, what is the trade-off between the flexibility and freedom of expression and the overhead of time and resources needed to make such identity systems work effectively?

© Aol

Firstly, wearing my Creative Director hat, I find the potential for experimentation, opportunity and innovation in this novel class of technology-enabled, procedural, multi-variant identity systems to be very exciting and challenging. Creating and implementing a branding system leveraging this design methodology and technological affordances is the kind of project which my own skills are totally suited to.

Secondly, putting on my other Project Manager hat, I have to ask ‘how do we deliver this project on-budget’. I cannot help but ponder what overheads such multi-variant branding systems place on the organisation’s internal marketing teams and subsequently on to their branding and design partners?

In my experience, a company’s goal is often to remove as much extraneous variation as possible from within their brand identity system. Every quanta of variation added into the system brings some additional management overhead. Each is one extra thing to discuss, debate and approve: yet another straw on the camel’s back. In a business environment where marketing budgets and departments are shrinking, marketers are trying to conserve their time for big-ticket, strategic marketing decisions by standardising and codifying as much of the supporting visual expression as they possibly can.

In practice, one vital outcome that Marketing Directors invariably want when they commission a brand guidance system is to draw a line in the sand. They wish to record all of the key choices made and the decisions taken about the visual expression of their brand. They want to clarify for all of their internal audiences what is on and what is off the table. Therefore, one of the key benefits gained from their investment in brand guidance systems is enhanced focus and clarity added to many internal discussions.

Having an agreed branding framework allows the Marketing Director to more efficiently move past irrelevant feedback and get internal parties to contribute where they give must value.

“I’m sorry. I realise  you have decided — given your vast experience creating your own PowerPoint decks — that Trebuchet is the best typeface ever designed. However our corporate typeface is SomeFontName. If you refer to page 44 of our brand guidelines..."

“I know that your wife painted your en-suite bathroom in that colour and it
‘never worked for you’, but this colour is from the agreed secondary palette associated with your department, so we are going to run with it.”

“Now, what I
really need your valuable input on is, firstly, the headline and image on this cover. Does this accurately express your positioning and departmental message for this year?”

And so forth. Working within this operational methodology, the brand mark is one of the first discussion points taken off the table.

© City of Melbourne

So what happens when your brand mark has N possible permutations? The counter-productive scenario I imagine is discussing a literature design commission like these three Melbourne covers for example. Using a procedural, multi-variant brand mark, I envisage the most resistant internal party asking: “Can you guarantee this is the best of the N possible brand marks that works with that particular cover image for my brochure?” Somewhat inevitably followed with “Can we evaluate that layout with the ten next best brand mark versions.”

How does the company ensure that one innovative systemic decision by their branding consultants does not have wide-ranging impacts on the decision-making time lines (and therefore the budgets) of multiple design projects downstream?

The successful implementation of a branding system of this nature must therefore depend on a powerful willingness of the organisation to accept that some expressions of their brand are going to work better than others. Success also hinges on the internal culture and fundamental personality of the organisation — it is more interested in control and standardisation, or more interested in freedom of expression and variety? If the core personality does not align with a free form identity system, then a significant investment can be wasted in a fundamental strategic misstep.

Following on from my line of thinking in this post, I asked this question on Quora: ‘In practice, do multi-variant brand marks (such as MIT Media Lab, Aol and London 2012) introduce much additional management overhead on their marketing teams and design partners?’ You can track any answers here.

MIT Media Lab identity in Fast Company
Aol identity in Fast Company
City of Melbourne identity on Behance Network
City of Melbourne identity on Brand New
London 2012 identity at Wolff Olins
Wikipedia living brand concept by Moving Brands

#branding  #corporate_identity  #brand_architecture  #marketing  #master_branding  #masterbrand