In his blog, Seth Godin talks about making a caricature of your brand, "...Worse than avoiding the negative, though, is the tendency for most organizations to resist creating a brand that can be caricatured. It doesn't feel safe or responsible or prudent. Coloring inside the lines and pleasing most of your customers most of the time almost guarantees you'll be bland."
I started thinking about this and Seth's post begs an interesting question that designers need to answer for themselves when creating a business identity for themselves or their clients: is it more risky to play it safe than to be different?
Yes, it is.
Bland and safe brands = not standing out from the crowd and being invisible to customers, which leads to starving.
There are two types of businesses out there: remarkable and invisible (that's Seth's not mine), hopefully the brands you're creating are helping to make companies remarkable. Creating bland, safe brands is a quick way to ensure you don't make a lot of money and don't bring in a lot of business.
Competing with the Brand Factories
There are thousands of design firms out there, pumping out even more logos and brands. Most of them have the same boring, "color within the lines" look and feel. You've seen it before, brands with: the obligatory swoosh, the abstract icon that no one really knows what it is, or worse yet - the globe that everyone seems to use.
Creating brands has slowly become one giant crap factory where graphic designers pump out inexpensive, generic and meaningless icons that some business people mistake as an effective brand. Business owners can now purchase hundreds of predesigned brands on the Internet in minutes. As a result, many of these people have been fooled into thinking, or have convinced themselves that's all they need to look professional and stand out from their competition. They're wrong.
Instead of seeing a brand as an asset that can help them build their business, some business owners see it as an expense. They see brands and the design professionals that create them as commodities. This has caused freelance professionals to become frustrated that potential clients entertain the idea of paying someone a cheap 100 bucks to create a "quick and dirty" brand instead of having a true professional customize one. They are often left feeling, "How can I compete with that?"
Actually you can compete, I've been doing it for years and charging a heck of a lot more than a few hundred bucks for a brand. If you want to start getting paid the money you really want to earn for designing brands and bring in more clients, keep these things in mind:
- Help your client understand that if they, like everyone else has the opportunity to purchase an inexpensive, generic-template brand from an internet site or quick copy place, they're going to look like everyone else. A bland brand = blending in with the crowd and becoming invisible to potential customers. Help your client see that a strong, unique brand can bring in more business, customers and revenue. Having a brand designed should be seen as an asset rather than an expense.
- Avoid playing it safe and designing brands that look like everyone else's. Develop your own unique style of how you design brands (people will start to recognize them). Look to push your creative boundaries.
- Recognize that there is a small segment of business owners that see branding as a no-value expense, so they get the most inexpensive one possible. Ultimately, there's nothing you can do or say to them that will change their mind - these people are lost. The best thing you can do is let them hire someone cheap and avoid wasting time with them.
- Avoid designing in a vacuum. Instead of locking yourself in your studio, invest the time to really learn about your client and his/her customers - design something that your client's customers will respond to rather than what you think is cool.
- Embrace the idea of creating brands that are distinctive to the client and they're meaningful. As clients go through my branding portfolio they often make the same comment about the work, "Each one of these brands is different. They are all unique to the business you've created them for..." I reply back, "It's almost like each one of them has a spirit or a soul doesn't it?" They finish with, "Yes! That's it! I want you to do something like that for me!"
Self Assessment for Successful Designers
- Do your brand designs stand out compared to the competition?
- When you're designing brand images for your clients, are you playing it safe and designing pretty much what everyone else is?
- Do you design brands based on what you like or what you've researched and believe will work best for your client?
- Did you pattern your own look and feel off of other design firms?