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Invoking Cliches Gets You Nowhere - But the Alternative Takes Guts
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It was over five years ago that Iomega began running the ads that paved the way for their wildly sucessful Zip and Jaz removable storage products. The image of a young business hipster, shot in steeply descending wide angle from above, helped the firm destroy their competition, Syquest, even though the Syquest product was regularly deemed the superior performer of the two by the technology press.

All manner of high tech equipment manufacturers rapidly followed suit, placing ads in which their own dot-com dream kids were photographed from above, their wildly distorted and bespectacled faces beaming upwards in smug assurance. Various other industries adopted the look to try and appeal to the NetSet, and so it is that to this day, even insurance ads employ the same tired, old device.

E*trade ventured into uncharted territory with its launch of a corporate logo that used electric purple and slime green to represent a type of financial service that had previously upheld a starchy tradition of IBM blue and pinstrip gray for decades.

But even before the sharply contrasting colors had stopped pulsating on the retinas of net surfers everywhere, a whole host of online outfits were sporting a near facsimile of the heretofore outrageous color combination. Marketing directors at all sorts of companies have actually been heard asking identity designers "Can we see a version using E*trade colors?"

Quit Aping Your Competition

Why are companies allowing their brand image to be reduced to a monkeyshine? More criminal yet, who in the marketing communications industry is promoting this sort of meaningless bandwagonism to their clients? For whatever reason, both clients and agencies can be startlingly spineless when it comes to developing truly creative material for advertising and collateral, even though the proof of its efficacy is there.

The corporate marketing VP needs to be brave. The fear of bringing new and seemingly outrageous ideas to top management runs deep, but taking the easy way out and presenting ideas that are safe "because everyone's doing it" immediately relegates the company's brand stature to second tier. Branding can definitely add to the bottom line, but only if it makes the company stand out as opposed to letting it blend in. Getting the brass to come to an understanding of the power of a fresh, compelling look is difficult, but it is the key to getting your firm noticed. Settling for a cliche means settling for a diminished brand identity, and that could lead to reduced revenues.

How to Get Good Ideas Past the Keepers of the Eternal Dust

Statistics are the key. If you can define your branding disucssions in terms of rates of response and retained impression, there will be little to no room for the kind of personal preference dismissal that generally sinks somewhat offbeat ideas. In other words, suppose you tromp into the CEOs office with a truly remarkable brand identity that would define your company in an appropriate but proprietary way. If you simply ask what the CEO thinks, you've just put the whole project in the balance. A much more effective tack is to remember that it's not a question of the likes and dislikes of the internal audience as much one of what does or does not work with your target market.

Now take that same scenario, only the first thing the CEO gets is polling and testing data showing the market's perception of your company or product, while your design team keeps the new identity under wraps. Then, show the positive polling results after customer exposure to the brand identity he's about to see. Explain how the identity, unusual as it is, leaves the target market with a definite, favorable impression that moves them into a mental environment that is conducive to sales. State that the new identity is REALLY PUSHING THE ENVELOPE and that you're not so sure...then have your design team unveil the new brand developments, and let the CEO correct you by saying he thinks it's a little edgy, yes, but will definitely make the firm stand out from the competition.

"Run with it," he says. Try and not show signs of elation until you get out of his office.


Tony Wessling is a principal in the San Francisco-based technology branding firm, Plexus5, and president of the firm's parent company, the Wessling Creative Group, named one of the SF Business Times "Top Branding and Design Firms in 2002." Wessling has over 17 years professional experience in the creative services industry, with a background that includes design, web development, copywriting and photography. He served as the chair of the San Francisco Partnership's Digital Media Task Force from 1998-2000, and holds a BFA from the University of Michigan.

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