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The design industry is a mirror

Simon Mannering, at The Team, discusses how a brand chooses to deliver its message is of vital importance to the success of its message and the connection it will make with its audience.

The UK’s many brand agencies have been turning out countless identities, brand campaigns, strategic positions, strategic re-positions and a myriad of other initiatives on behalf of their clients every year, year after year, and will likely continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

As businesses and the nature of businesses change, so does the output of our industry as we seek to reflect the true nature of our clients’ world, what they do, and more importantly, why they do it.

Technology changes every day, but the essence of why a tech business exists at all still needs to be captured and bounced back to its audience in a meaningful, differentiated and salient way. If a charity organisation wants to re-position itself as a paragon of dignity, justice and equality then the brand agency will reflect that back to society. The truthfulness of the reflection will have a huge bearing on if we connect with a brand or not. For sure, sometimes that reflection will be distorted to show something that may seem exaggerated or embellished, but the more truthful the reflection, the more chance of success.

It’s a kind of natural selection, if there is a disconnect between a brand vision and its reality, then any potential audience will disappear or look for something better. And also, if that brand is not saying something that is relevant or useful, then it’s not likely that brand will be around for much longer, certainly not in its present state.

So, the design industry is a kind of ‘a mirror’ that bounces back a likeness of the world as it is at that point in time. Colourful and attractive, hyper-real, but nevertheless a significant representation of all our socio-economic, political and personal worlds.

But here is the thing… do we see the reflection, or is it only the mirror? Is the only thing we consume the delivery mechanism, or the channel, or the touch-point? It’s true that in recent years there has been an evolution in the design industry that has seen the rise of the channel-agnostic brand agency. This is design that understands that it’s how you deliver the brand that matters, not so much what the brand is saying.

How a brand is delivered could be said to be more important than the content of the brand itself. 

Marshall McLuhan stated in 1964 that “The medium is the message”. This is the idea that the characteristics of the medium itself are more important than the content being delivered. For example, a film plays so much with the concepts of speed and time that it transforms the real world of sequence and connections into a weird creative configuration of structure. Similarly, when you read the news, that is not an actual representation of events, but a highly selective, highly edited, compressed jumble of words and images, maybe delivered in beautiful pixels on a highly desirable portable media device.

The same can be said for all forms of media. How a brand is delivered could be said to be more important than the content of the brand itself.

If a tech business wants to deliver its brand in a meaningful, differentiated and salient way, then perhaps it should not be thinking about old-school pull-up banners, or even just standard social-media posts… the type of brand interactions that reflect a truly bleeding edge position should be something else.

And if a charity organisation wants to stand for dignity, justice and equality then it had better get real. Recent scandals in data misuse do not sit well with these objectives, maybe Facebook is not the right place for a charity to be messaging. So how does a charity re-think brand delivery in a way that resonates?

What matters is the mirror itself, not the reflection.

The potential for brand delivery has never been greater. Never in our history have so many channels, so many touch-points, so many opportunities existed. How a brand chooses to deliver its message is of vital importance to the success of its message and the connection it will make with its audience.

Our world is changing super-fast, and for brands to stay relevant they must reflect that truth in every way they manifest our lives.

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