Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Brand New Beginning

This is one piece I have been restless to write for years. Have seen many Brand NEW Beginnings & Brand NEW Innings and have attended many lectures on Brands and Branding & done many presentations on the same subject, but this one time in all these years, actually took me to the beginning. What is a Brand New Beginning?

As a Brand Design Consultant I was approached to give my credentials on how to make a brand & how to begin the branding process for one of our new partners in progress.

In the first meeting I was inundated with what our partner was planning for the yet to be born brand. It almost seemed like a Daddy (or I should say Daddy’s - directors) planning for a soon to come baby in the family. There was excitement & thrill because it was their first family baby. They narrated all the preparations they had done right from the beginning like
  • Hiring the best sales guy from the industry (most experienced nanny),
  • Importing a state of art machine to produce in bulk ( imported nutritious supplements),
  • Assortment of packaging they were eyeing to become ( clothing & comforting products),  
  • Their distributors list (places they would send their baby for growth).
It all seemed so nicely planned & thoughtful that it made me relax for a moment (like a doctor who was going to deliver their baby to the brand new world). While in some corner there was anxiety too, about delivering the brand (baby), what if something went wrong, something unexpected, something due to ignorance or negligence, I was also starting to get worried about the over planned and over concerned partners (parents).  They even went to the extent of sharing the names which they were planning to keep without even deciding on the positioning (without knowing if it was a boy or girl). 

I had never seen such excitement in the eyes of a partner but then Branding is all about that, I told myself.

It makes you restless, it makes you probe, it makes you cautious, and it pushes you for perfection.

I got the deal. My credentials as a brand design consultant (doctor) were approved.
By the second meeting our partners had become relaxed knowing that I was going to perform the duties of their Brand New Beginning. They had come down on their level of anxiety and were more ready to listen about our preparations (the operating process).
  • What we needed to create a path for long term success (bring the baby nice and carefully)
  • How we were planning to execute (day & time of the delivery).
Everything seemed to be going fine.

By the third meeting our partners had finished doing their own research on the Brand New Beginning & were ready with their thoughts (of good parenting tips).

The dates of brand presentation were decided & we were a GO!

Today we delivered & not one but many daddies of the baby (directors) were impressed & satisfied. Good features, good looks, great physique & by gods will a good future is in the making. My heartiest Congratulations to them & Wish their family a Prosperous Life (with the Brand new beginning).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Design Friction: How Design can defend?

Design Friction: How Design can defend?

We all like to think that design is smooth and curvy, creative and smart, enjoyable and easy, but we are largely wrong. Design has its own pitfalls and has to undergo many challenges before it is called DESIGNED. In some fields Design has earned its honours by virtue of the necessity. In others it has gained honours by defeating all odds in its process of creation and existence. Design has managed to earn itself a title of polished and sophisticated in many fields. Fashion is one of them. Design also has its impression in engineering and technology. Lamborghini & Apple are some of them. Design in architecture and education have already proven their status. You think of an industry and you will find Design presence. Those who have not yet embraced Design will do so in a short span of time.

But it is not all so easy for Design, Designers or Design People. They have to face a lot of friction before Design becomes what people admire, acknowledge and accommodate. Whether it is Business Design or Consumer Design, Social Design or Institutional Design, at every stage Design has to go through a lot of friction.

In this article I will focus on my area of design (i.e. branding design - packaging) and what that friction is. Do these frictions create “Heat of the Moment” or easily cool down in the process and freeze into the avatar?

Packaging design has often raised eyebrows (if it has to start somewhere). I have met a lot of responsible people who consider packaging design as a tool to make products available at a point where it can be paid for, for all the hard work.  Even in this era there are consumer product marketers who have such a view on packaging design. And if you ever get a chance to work with them you will realize what friction I am referring to.

Many marketers often rely on sales force for Design management issues, packaging design solutions and CHANGE, when the sales team is for selling, availability, coverage and promotions (more technical). Often the views expressed by the front line on matters of design are disaster. They don’t understand what the basis of Design is, why certain colours, fonts, nomenclature, packaging structure etc have been created and more importantly how (inspiration) they have been created. For them the package is a token, on which they get targets & push it to achieve targets. Their remarks sometimes sound like jokes. While I myself do not advise isolation of the key sales people, super senior sales managers from discussions and decision making or eliciting views, but I recommend that it should be taken as an input and not judgement / directive. Decisions on Design are difficult to take and no one likes to be in shooting range (risk averse). Packaging Design is in many parts driven by culture, semiotics, demographics and psychographics which are used to bring out the essence, personality & imagery, which is not an area of concern for the sales team. For them culture is the language in which they interact with the retailer/shopkeeper. And any of the latter is “I don’t need to know”.

While this was easy on identifying the heat of the moment, there are other very practical issues which keep the heat on, more than any other. I have over the years realized some of these and would like to share the same here.

F1       What I want Vs What We want Vs What Customers want – I have come across instances where the team managing the brand is not sure what the objective of the brand design is, half way through the project. While it always starts with what the customer wants, captured as a crisp brief, but gradually it becomes a tussle between two states of mind (The executive and the boss - hierarchy). Many times we have received feedback that is like ‘my boss wants it this way but I think it should be this way. What do you think’? Such kind of feedback is like a poison which kills slowly, slowly. It has the potential to burn down everything that ever started with good spirit and motive. I have seen many Design People face this challenge every now and then. The only way to avoid this is to stick to the brief that was formulated, ask questions before putting pencil to paper, define the parameters of evaluation and devise a holistic feedback process.    

F2       Incomplete or half sure – There are many managers who are ‘Not Sure’ most of the time. If you ask them how they feel, they will say “Not sure”. They make it worse by adding ‘What if...’. Many times it also happens that new things come up in the middle of the design processes which were not part of brief. These so called “New” create a lot of problems & have the potential to destroy the essence of the Design and create more irregularities than imagined. Not being able to make up the mind is a weakness amongst many managers. This can be attributed to personality or behavioural issues. Such people should learn how to plan, organize, execute projects professionally for the benefit of the objective at hand and avoid interim hiccups caused by indecisiveness.         
F3       Constructive Feedback Vs Casual Views – Usually feedback is very critical for any Design in the making. It is important to consider constructive feedback as a catalyst for improvement. But often those who are entrusted with productive feedback get caught between what somebody thinks and what is actually useful for the Design. Not being able to differentiate between the two could be unhealthy. One should know how to filter feedback and channel the information that will be useful and productive in the Design process. Filtering is a tool rather than a task. It is about applying your sense and knowledge in a constructive manner rather than getting carried away by anything and everything that is placed as a comment on Design. 

F4       Sum of parts Vs One stop solution – Gone are the days when brand marketers used to rely on one agency/ service provider for all brand design & communication needs. Today the industry has got fragmented and many specialists have emerged who participate in the making of the whole. Being a knowledge driven business there are instances where the minds are at war, and Design is in the battle ground. Roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined for any Design project to avoid any casualties.

F5       Grammar or language – One of the most vulnerable issues in Design. I have noticed many brand marketers clearly defining their objective / expectation as ‘young, modern and active’. They don’t realize what each of these words could mean in the language of Design Development and how the whole creation process could steer away from the path if these words are not decoded in that specific scenario or situation. It is not only with these three words but a lot is said which can be avoided so that we don’t erode the essence we want to establish and mind space we wish to occupy. Design people are highly sensitive to words/ grammar and any wrong word or word misunderstood could end up creating a complete UFD – Unwanted Favourable Design.  
F6       Taking Decisions – A lot of brand marketers become indecisive when it comes to design discussions. There is some kind of fear in saying that ‘we like it’ and ‘let’s go for it’. They often remark the contrary, delaying the process and making more hills out of dust. Design often needs a good reason, a strong inspiration & great interpretation. If these tools are not accompanying design then there is bound to be friction.

F7       Deliberation – A lot of people like to deliberately create confusion. They keep comparing situations, other brands, other non related designs / issues causing clarity to get washed out like a bucket of water. Soapy and slippery, people are bound to tumble. Time is of essence in Design. Your ideas could become dreams if not put into action at the right time. Great ideas become sluggish if they miss the timeline or deadline. Bad ideas have no room for survival however they cause damage more than asked for.    

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Populism De-Merits Design Management

A decade ago Brand Design firms were looked up as prestigious associates to business & saviors in times of dwindling consumerism. Clients used to respect the engagements & work produced. With time this perception has changed and there are many reasons I can think of.

Today clients are more interested in knowing how much will be the fees and how many iterations will be non chargeable. While they still look at the credentials and clients credits but somewhere deep inside they are missing the point. It is not about how many clients an agency has for credibility index, how economically they can derive the output without causing big dent in budgets or how fast the project can be turned around.

With the proliferation of brand design firms parallel to main stream advertising (full service agency) firms, the selection and engagement parameters have changed radically.
From my experience I can say that there are three major risks which have emerged in the business partnership of such firms. Brand Owners/ Marketers (Clients) should have a clear understanding of the following:-

                      i.        Avoid Populism – Clients should not get carried away by the names, number of years or the number of clients showcased in the credentials/ pitch. Instead they should be more concerned and interested in what the agency did in a situation like theirs or would do.  What was the role of the agency in mitigating the problem & how did they overcome the planning & execution weaknesses. There is a very thin line between these selection parameters. For e.g. almost all design firms have credentials of doing brand identity for any brand but the question is “Can they do it for them?” Meaning, can the design firm create brand identity for the particular category of product, segment or challenge. Knowing how to do brand identity is not the same as “Creating a brand identity that fulfills the brands desired objective”.

Recently I was asked by a prospective client why do I charge so much for doing a brand identity when the existing one was done so cheap. I just asked one thing, “Did you get it done or they gave it to you?” For a moment he was confused then he realized what I meant.  We later got the project but more importantly my client realized that any design firm can make an identity for him, but will it be what it is meant to be or is it what a creative person can visualize that looks good.

                    ii.        Avoid Speak & Show business – Try to work with brand design firms who produce more tangible and realistic results / solutions. Don’t get caught up in jargon, don’t get overwhelmed with history, and don’t get blind in glamour. Engage with firms who listen & do. There are many firms who take senior rank / good speakers for important meetings just to put weight age on the work being presented. They are more likely to sell than be caught up in point of view. But beware. Clients should entertain firms who don’t have a song and dance show to make the point. They should rely on those firms who value your time and facilitate you to make important decisions in the meeting.

Recently I was attending a Strategic Brand Review Meeting with board of directors of one of our client. An activation agency was presenting their credentials and possibly trying to convince why they were so good. All through the one hour presentation they kept on singing the songs they knew (self proclaimed recognition coupled with what they did). Nobody was talking of creating a new tune (how to handle the new situation of a new client). It appeared as if they were good at remix and that’s what they were trying to portray.

                   iii.        Avoid who promise the moon – Many firms in order to clinch the deal go to extents you cannot imagine. At least I can’t imagine. They can show you the moon and will show you, but not tell you how to reach there. They will craft everything so well that every piece will appear perfect. But on closer look (when the execution begins) you will realize how superficial were the claims & how impossible it will be to get to the moon. Clients should engage with firms who have the courage to take responsibility. Courage does not need powerful point presentations. You can sense it, smell it or see it when the doer comes in front of you.

Recently I was reviewing some retail visibility solutions that were presented by a retail design solutions firm. On being asked how do they think these solutions would work for the client, the presenter shook away the onus saying that it has been done by many people in the past and hence assuming that it would work again. He insisted that we try and see rather than committing his responsibility by saying that if it didn’t work they would go back and work again. Responsibility I am talking of comes with big thinking.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How to make Design Penetrable – Go deep for the depth.

How to make Design Penetrable – Go deep for the depth.

Recently I heard someone saying “Depth can be enjoyed best when you go deep where nobody else has gone
before. Also depth should be measured by how near you are to the bed of sand and not by how far you are from the water line”. 

Since then this thought has started gaining more and more penetration in my mind over a time. I believe it is
wisely said for one aspect of brand business according to me. And that is client and brand design agency

I have read and heard many brand design briefs in my career. A client basically captures in the brief Ψ what they
want for their brand Ψ based on some deep pocket research Ψ and how they wish to see the change disrupt the
market with their strategy. They want the agency to come up with a creative idea & execute it to demonstrate the
objectives being met. Very instantly and diligently the agency undergoes a creative process and generates an out
of  the boat idea and decorates it glamorously. But seldom does the agency realize that delivering upon the brief is
not the challenge in the game.

Delivering design solutions for smiling faces in the board room, appeasing someone’s weakness by making an
element inclusive in the design frame, or going by the T and being good in the process are not the ways
responsibility should be handled by brand design firms. Good looking design is not difficult today. The more critical
aspect of the challenge is Design working for the favorable intent – market share, category leadership, trade pull
and customer delight (with good looks). You can’t achieve true and meaningful growth just by looking good. You
have to be good before good looks. And good gets spoilt or misdirected by unwarranted inputs & choices. For
instance there are many clients who almost dictate what they want in their brand design leaving no room for
Trends, Innovation & Creativity; there are some who show preferences of certain elements and make it almost
mandatory to be used in the design despite it having no reason at all for being there; some even specify
what they want indicating like whom (benchmark) they want to be and why; and some have no idea what to become
in spite of a well written brief.

Design is a bigger responsibility for those who create than those who live with it. Brand Design should be
approached without any sprints. Design is also not like fishing, Design is an ecosystem. In its ecosystem there are
many varieties of water species and water bodies.

Clients must ask their brand design agency what they didn’t consider before making the recommendations. They
must ask what have they found that would make the difference beyond the brief (knowledge they have). The agency
should upfront highlight what they feel is risky yet profitable rather than story telling about how it happened.   
The brand design service industry in India is growing really fast & many new firms are forming up every year.
Everybody is doing their good looks. But clients must depend and give responsibility to those who go deeper than
the brief and closer to the depths. Clients must trust those agencies who can not only deliver good looking design
but also provide reasons, insights & beliefs.