Recently, my wife and I were visiting with some friends who own a business (and no, it wasn't Ford). We got talking about what’s going at their office and in that conversation, I learned that they had just completed a visual rebrand: logo, photography, website, print materials, etc. Up to that point, they didn’t know that I was a brand consultant, but once they found out, we started to look at all the materials that they had developed with their agency.
In short, they had done an excellent job of working with their agency to create an authentic, compelling, relational brand image, centered on story-telling. I shared in their excitement over how great their new brand image is, and all the opportunity it presents for them going forward.
But what I came to appreciate as the conversation went on was that we were excited for somewhat different reasons. Their reason was that they were extremely happy with how unique their brand image looked to them - that there was no one else out there with a look-and-feel like theirs. Conversely, the thing that excited me the most for them, is that they operate in an industry where branding isn’t generally valued, and as a result, the potential for them to be the first to establish an extremely strong brand position in their market is significant. But I wasn’t struck by the uniqueness of the brand image.
Why? Because there really isn’t a lot of unique design out there. Everything has been done before and it’s evidenced by numerous logo projects that I’ve managed where our designers will dream up logo concepts for a client from scratch, and almost without fail, someone will look at the logo and say, “that totally reminds me of [insert company name]’s logo.” And although some people can vastly overstate the similarities, often there are parallels.
Kirby Ferguson is a filmmaker who gave a particularly fascinating TED talk in September of 2012 on the idea that there are no new creative ideas, but that we need to redefine creativity. The talk is called, Everything is a Remix, and you can watch the approximately 10-minute video here:
So if everything creative IS in fact just a copy, where is the value in design, creative copywriting, and photography, and what value do branding agency’s offer?
I think the answer to that is two-fold:
The first answer is quality.
Anyone can copy someone else’s work, but only the true master can put it together well: artfully, compellingly, seamlessly. In the video above, Ferguson quotes Henry Ford as saying, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work…” Perhaps Mr. Ford didn’t ‘invent’ anything new, but the act of conceiving and acting on the impulse to combine the work of others into the automobile were, if nothing else, an incredible and world-changing bit of creativity.
The second answer lies in context.
What made the rebranding of my friend’s business a great success, was it’s context. Their brand image, applied to a Harley Davidson dealership would fail miserably, and not just because of the brand recognition that Harley has. Even if it had been the Harley brand right from the start, it wouldn’t have worked - it’s inconsistent. This is where branding agencies bring invaluable expertise. A good agency will find your brand - they’ll find you, and they’ll find your customer - and then they’ll start designing from there. Our job is to open and grease the lines of communication.
That work, done well, requires an incredible amount of creativity and carries with it immense value.