Differentiating Your Brand By Design

Last week I wrote about corporate culture being a powerful branding differentiator. I mentioned IBM, one of my almamaters, in this context and also alluded to their alliance with Paul Rand in developing and policing the corporate brand.

That triggered my memory of an idea Tom Peters advocates in his book, Re-Imagine. He devotes a chapter and a lot of passion to DESIGN. He begins by speaking to product design but then expands his “rant” to cover design in all its aspects.

I agree with his passion and his all-encompassing approach to design. To me design is a definite differentiator of a brand, or at least it can be. Certainly the design of the Dyson vacuum cleaner is the thing that differentiates that brand and demands a premium price. And I’m not just addressing the exterior design and color, I’m writing about the inherent product design here.

When Jack Trout (with Steve Rivkin) wrote the book, Differentiate or Die, he (they) did not allude to design as a differentiator. They did identify “new” as a differentiator, but not design per se. Yet today design has become probably the single best and most appreciated differentiator fore consumers.

Look at two obvious examples: Target has embraced design as their major reason to be. People have come to associate Target with fine design at an affordable price. The furniture maker, Ikea, not only designs unique products, this Swedish company has also designed a unique shopping experience. I’ve not personally shopped an Ikea store, but I’ve heard that it is a unique activity that is memorable and stimulating.

Now in its broadest sense design can be interpreted much broader than product, logo, and store layout. As Mr. Peters declares, design is present in almost all functions of a company. It can be good or bad design, even unconscious design. It can be more than visual, too. Service companies design their offerings. A Wolfgang Puck’s recipe soup is designed. A DVD player’s manual is designed. The financing of a new plasma HD-TV is designed.

Tom Peters advocates that the chief designer within a company should have a seat at the director’s table, or at least participate at the chief executive level. The designer’s input is a strategic activity as much as a tactical one. She or he will help shape the design approach, establish standards, educate employees at all levels and functions, and police the environment to make sure the standards are met consistently.

I for one would like to hear about an insurance company putting a design advocate in a position to influence the various products as well as the way the company communicates, administers, sells and finances their brands.


Martin Jelsema

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