Industry expert

A more open form of brand

Are branding agencies still relevant?

This was a question posed by Paul Woods of Edenspiekermann in a recent Fast Company article. The article has raised a few hackles (and eyebrows) but for us it was a reflection of how the brand industry is changing, and why it needs to. The opinions on the future of brand really resonated with us, and reflected much of the way we work with brand and indeed the reason why we found it necessary to form Brand In Process.

So, we thought it would be good to speak to the author and get a little more of his insight on how he sees the evolution of working with brand.

BIP: In your article you mention that the ‘traditional’ linear method of strategy > design > application is no-longer fit for purpose in our digital age. We agree that brand is now very much more an evolutionary entity, and so a linear model in which a brand is ‘created’ and then used to sell people stuff doesn’t work. Do you use any models which help working with a brand in a more fluid way?

Paul Woods: It depends on the client / product we are developing for. With a digital product, the product can come first. The product is defined by what the user actually needs and that functionality becomes the brand core in itself. What the user actually needs is not always immediately apparent and therefore what the brand should represent is not clear either.

For example, Amazon started out as a book store and look where it ended up. Once we know what the product actually is, the way that it is ‘branded’ and marketed can be shaped around that. 

BIP: Although a brand now needs to be open to evolution, according to continual and ever-changing opinions, feelings, values, etc, would you say there is still a requirement for a brand to have a clear raison d’être? Something which people can share in – whether that be values, purpose, etc?

Paul Woods: Definitely. Every brand needs this. The question is who does it come from? What the user needs or what the strategist thinks? In the past, websites were just websites.

Now digital is so ingrained in the fabric of our lives that we can’t ignore the fact that users increasingly define what a brand means to them.

More than ever, it is a conversation, not a lecture. That’s definitely not to say that a brand doesn’t need a ’deeper purpose’, but the people defining need to accept they may not have control over the perception.

BIP: The ‘executional elements’ and ‘visual indicators’ of a brand are now many and various – as you mention these include audio, animation, physical items, amongst many more. We agree that the days of a hundred-page ‘branding style guide’ being the creation point of a brand should be consigned to the corporate identity system history book, but how would you suggest the many and varied executional elements tie together to form a coherent brand?

Paul Woods: On a practical level, PDF style guides are trash: They are instantly out of date the instant a new feature is added. In addition, they can’t encapsulate the non-visual parts of an identity (interaction, could, video, etc.). At Edenspiekermann, we worked on many ‘living style guides’, a section of a website where all the colors, fonts, etc. live in and interactive was. What’s more, these are updated automatically whenever a change is made to the respective website. An example of this is the style guide we developed for Fontshop a few years ago.

We’d like to thank Paul Woods for his time in answering these questions and giving a little more insight into working with brand in a digital age.

Being passionate about brand we are always looking to learn – whether that is from academics or other industry professionals. It is only in learning and applying that we can avoid repeating the same thing over and over again.

Edenspiekermann create digital products, brands and service experiences with attitude. Paul Woods is Creative Director working from the Los Angeles office.

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