Brands as Patterns
Thoughts on creating coherency, not consistency
We all know that brands are increasingly accessed digitally. However, a less considered consequence is that the interface through which that brand is accessed has itself become a primary identity element.
This of course requires that a brand's identity should not only be defined statically or dynamically, but also iteratively through successive releases and behaviorally through interactions. The brand has become irrevocably linked to the behavior of the interface.
If we agree the brand has become the interface, its value isn't just derived from consistency gained through repetition. A brand's value is also defined by its relevance and continued usefulness to the user. A brand needs to be iterative and must be responsive.
It is very clear that the world in which we create our brands has changed,
yet the tools we use to manage them have stayed the same. In today's world,
adherence to the 'big idea' and repetition of centralised, fixed rules make a brand seem unresponsive, inhuman, and out of step with its audience. The frequency of social media has evolved the ownership and authorship of your brand forever.
So, how do you retain brand consistency in an iterative social medium that is more controlled by the user than it is by you?
How can a brand be consistent but stay relevant? Patterns.
Patterns are unique in the fact that they create consistency around difference and variation. Creating a consistent brand capable of existing in today's agile and iterative environment begins with the formulation of coherent patterns. And a brand's strategy, identity, products, services, and user experience design must be interdependent in order to create this coherent pattern.
Six tools for creating a Brand Pattern:
1. Create a story
Your brand's success is connected to both how consistent you are and how relevant you are.
'Too much familiarity is retread or kitsch, too much uniqueness is jarring and difficult to appreciate.' - Jeff Hawkins
Narrative or musical structures contain analogies that help us understand how to create balance between repetition and variation. Successful stories, music, and brands are built through the right combination of what is expected and something new.
Begin to organise your brand as a sequence: What was the inciting incident that spawned the creation of the brand? What world does the brand live in? What is the nature of the brand's relationship with its consumers/customers? What or who are the brands characters or characteristics? What does the brand desire? How does the brand behave to meet those desires? What are the values that motivate the brand beyond money? What are the sources of conflict that keep the brand's story interesting and engaging? What is the brand challenging? Where is there a human truth the brand can build on?
The relevance of your story to both the brand and the user should begin a conversation, not end a sentence.
2. Always be coherent
As a rule a brand must be True, and that Truth must be made legible to the audience, but it is now mandatory that your brand be relevant to the audience and that relevance must also be articulated in an interesting way.
Most brand stewards care about 1 and 2, but most customers care about 3 and 4.
The arrival of utilities like Facebook Timeline mean that you need to define your brand backwards through time as well as forwards. We now have to connect our past to our future. Coherence through time is a sign that you knew what you were doing, were True and haven't changed your story, yet you have evolved to remain relevant.
If you have been incoherent, people will know.
3. Set your brand's frequency, organise its sequence
Remember: you are designing your brand through time. What is setting your brand's pace? Are you able to keep up with the beat of social activity, do you have a team that can respond quickly enough? If you can't, don't promise a conversation. But if you can, it will make your brand feel more responsive and human.
Begin to design for behaviours, reward activity, create motion, and think in frames, not pages. Think where objects were and where they will be rather than static definitions.
With all of the apps individuals can add to their iPhones and iPads, Apple allows users to interact with and update devices without disrupting them through aggregated notifications in the App Store as well as a fun interface for reorganizing apps. This allows the brand to set the frequency and pace of updates and users to adhere at their own pace while still retaining an Apple brand-centric interface when the user wants to update.
4. Create autonomy
Rather than policing 'what' and 'how' your brand is represented, begin to articulate the 'why' of your brand. The why creates an understanding, which means that the person applying your brand in context can have autonomy and be more relevant to their location.
Every Apple Genius Bar is proprietary to Apple, however its success is in that the Geniuses are knowledgeable and autonomous enough to actually help their customers. In contrast to reading off of a script, this autonomy allows Apple to form personal relationships through their support staff, who are enabled to create positive interactions.
You don't own your brand; it's a relationship. Your user's ability to inform the brand will outstrip your ability to control it.
As a result, the brand is no longer the proprietary tool for the company that founded it, but an ongoing negotiation among the founding company, its own workforce, and the customers who have invested in the end product. Recruit them, and help them understand the 'why'.
Utilising Twitter, JetBlue has been able to translate its friendly customer relationship experience into a real-time online medium. In addition to providing corporate updates,@JetBlue responds directly to customers to acknowledge issues and directs potentially frustrated or confused customers to resources. And while it can't control the conversation, it allows JetBlue to play a part in it.
6. Know that the rules will change
Remember, you are now designing your brand through time, iteratively. With the pace of innovation, no-one really knows what is going to happen next year, next year, or even tomorrow. Your brand's position is relative; we need to continuously plot it through data.
Make iterative guidelines that are query based, that surface the relevant content, and tools that are specific to the user. You must always reinforce the 'why' when you show the 'what' and 'how'.
And, don't buy a four-year strategy unless it comes with a receipt.