Good design is everywhere. For brands it is a requirement of simply being in the game. But rocketing expectations on price, quality and design have driven the consumer bar so high that an inspired logo or a slick interior will only get you so far. Design is certainly important, but it is only the shop front - literally.
So if everyone looks good, how does a brand make itself the one people actually want to hang out with? Personality is good
People are drawn to an independent spirit and the feeling that they are experiencing something out of the ordinary; it's clarity of purpose and inspiration that people crave. In a market cluttered with too many ubiquitous, 'me too' brands, a bit of personality goes a long way. Look at the success of restaurant chain Leon
; with its vibrancy and quirkiness it stands apart from the legions of generic-looking chains.Image vs. Spirit
More and more mediocre brands are hiding behind great, outsourced design. What a brand cannot outsource is its spirit: that fundamental conviction that drives it, connects it to people and underpins everything the organisation does.
Capturing spirit is about finding what makes a business special and celebrating it. The role of design is to help express it. Ultimately, the businesses themselves are the ones that should know who they are, why they exist and the sort of role they have in the world.
The Spanish shoe brand Camper
is a great example of a business whose brand essence runs through everything it does, and doesn't attempt to represent itself as anything other than what it truly is. Camper's total conviction in its purpose - creating shoes that are useful, innovative and full of personality - means it doesn't follow fashion trends and it doesn't cut corners. Recently I stayed at the Casa Camper
hotel in Berlin. Whilst it might seem an unusual area to branch into for a shoe company, the hotel was a totally convincing extension of the brand and its ethos: delivering quality, originality and functional design. The difference between a brand and its branding
"Brands" and "branding" are emphatically not the same thing. Like the people behind them, brands earn their reputations by what they are, not by what they say they are.
Take First Direct
, for example. It is, quite simply, a great bank, because it knows what makes it special: the way it treats its customers and its down to earth quality that ultimately delivers. That's brand promise for you, and it's delivered through everything First Direct does.
The opportunity for brands is to have the confidence to be themselves. If they know this isn't good enough, they should make the reality better instead of trying to paper over the cracks.
When design and communication become a façade and a way of masking the truth, the reality of a brand experience is fundamentally wrong and people will walk away from the experience unconvinced and uninspired.
Find a fundamental conviction that people can connect with and use it to drive the business. It is this real brand spirit that cannot be faked or fabricated. Do this and the brand and people's experience of it will always be true.
If you don't then you're just putting lipstick on a pig.Dan Rowe is co-founder and creative director at brand consultancy Dave