Today, I’d like to share something I have come to realize over the years of doing branding and brand design work. I hope it will help some readers get a new perspective on branding, find inspiration, and apply this approach in practice — both for marketing and design.
Here’s an experience most people will be familiar with: you visit a place of business that looks good and is properly branded. You get serviced, leave the place — and immediately forget what it was called.
Why does it happen? What did they miss?
They failed to make their brand cohesive, valuable, and memorable.
Brand cohesion is formed in people’s minds.
A successful brand is always cohesive. But a lot of people don’t really understand what brand cohesion is. They’ll say it’s about a consistent corporate style, cohesive advertising, or cross-platform recognition. However, these are merely parts of a greater whole.
The brand as a mini-universe
Think of video games and how addictive they can be. What is a game? It’s a world with its own rules, setting, and tasks. The player pursues an objective and gets rewarded for achieving it. All the players interact, compete against each other, and try to win. The more unique and cohesive the game world, the more addictive and immersive it is. The number of players grows, and the profits of the creator gods skyrocket.
Approach your brand like game developers approach their games, and you will see some astounding results.
So what can gamedev teach us about branding?
1. Build a unifying a world
The processes, people, and objects in our world are interconnected and united by a common goal: to live and continue. It’s the same in any other world. Unity between a company’s management, employees, customers, and partners is what sustains it. Management problems directly affect the cohesion of any project. (This is useful to know even if you’re not a manager.) Disunity trickles down and affects teamwork. Can you expect anything cohesive as a result?
A brand begins with an Idea. Whatever your concept is, use it to unite people, both in your company and outside.
Each sector of a cohesive brand has:
- unifying values and ideas;
- common strategy;
- common rules;
- common vision;
- common motivation and incentives;
- communication, interaction, responsiveness;
- pride in achievements and victories.
Cohesion at the basic level ensures the right branding development vector.
2. Strive for visual cohesion
A unity of style is absolutely necessary for any brand, and not just for aesthetic reasons. A unified style builds the brand universe, differentiating it from competitors. That’s what creates the feeling of cohesion, order, and harmony in people’s minds. It makes people trust the brand and the quality of its products.
Branding is laconic. It thrives on symbols and metaphors. Like in a game, where opposing teams are designated by flags and colors, good branding is deliberate. There are no random palettes or metaphors. Logos are battle flags that broadcast the right messages to the audience.
Strive to achieve a unity of style to build the brand universe.
This is achieved through good, professional design.
3. Prepare an introduction strategy
Consumers take a brief contact for granted and quickly forget about it. Games are a perfect example of complete and lasting immersion.
A smart, catchy brand enters a person’s life and becomes part of it. Not only does it make every interaction enjoyable, but it also makes people want to repeat the experience and spend their precious time on it. This is where brand strategy comes in. It’s not about posting flyers on every street corner. A brand introduction strategy is about introducing the brand into a person’s mind and everyday life. It starts with stimulating a desire to own the product and ends with a habit of owning it.
A habit forms when the customer interacts with the brand frequently and regularly, but not intrusively.
A cohesive brand (mini-universe) is committed to immersion. Solving the customer’s problem is not enough. You need to retain the customer by creating enjoyable experiences: communication, motivation, support, new information, inspiring ideas, visual aesthetics, pleasure.
Look for ways to cement your brand’s long-term presence in your customers’ lives.
4. Focus on the customer’s image
A mediocre brand tries to stand out by focusing on its own brand image. Effective brands work differently: they focus on their customer’s image. By using X brand products, the customer becomes better: healthier, more successful, better-looking, stronger, etc. The product doesn’t just solve their problem, it elevates their status and self-esteem.
“A good housewife always buys X” and “X is the best” are examples of different focuses.
In video games, the player identifies with a character. They have an image of their successful self: intelligent, strong, attractive, deft, brave, smart. Successful brands use the same tactic of increasing the sense of self-worth.
Give your customers the image they want.
Transform your customer into the character they want to identify with! Ideally, this image should be visualized: a visible image is emotionally engaging, memorable, and easy to own.
5. Boost the sense of significance
There’s nothing we humans love more than being in control. It’s an integral part of any good game. Branding is more limited in this regard than gamedev, but you should use every available chance to put the customer in control. Make them feel that Product X puts them in charge; that it helps them improve, upgrade, solve, or manage some aspects of their life.
“Lawnmower X will help you make your lawn look better than your neighbor’s” is an example.
Freedom of choice is just as effective. An ability to choose tells the customer that the brand respects their tastes and is trustworthy.
Control means situational awareness and the ability to make decisions in order to reach the desired goal. A brand must always strive to satisfy this desire.
Make your customers feel significant.
6. Involve your customers in your mission
A brand needs to maintain a special, trust-based relationship with its customers. This implies an in-depth knowledge of your audience and a constant monitoring of its desires and attitudes.
There are many different tools of engagement, but that’s a subject for another time. Right now I’d like to emphasize the brand mission as an important social cause. People want to be involved in a mission. They like being part of a common cause, they enjoy the feeling of unity. Games have missions and alliances, and that’s more engaging than anything else.
Give your customers the opportunity to show off, to share their experience of brand interaction across different platforms.
Offer people more than just the product.
7. Reward winners
The goal of a game is to win, to get a dopamine hit. And again, and again. This is another similarity between branding and gamedev: buying the product of your dream feels good. But how do you boost that dopamine release?
Winning in a game is deserved. Branding doesn’t offer any obstacles to be overcome, but it does use the deserving theme: your customers deserve to live better or have better things.
In a game, a perk is something that makes the player stronger. This can be efficiently used in branding, as well: we should emphasize a specific improvement for the customer.
Perks and rewards are a great way of reminding customers about the brand and emphasizing that they have earned it.
Make your customers feel they deserve rewards.
8. Engage emotions
Games excite human emotions, which is why they’re so addictive. Branding can do it too.
These are positive emotions, as a rule. Yet the most common gaming emotion is frustration. Smart marketing exploits this feeling. “I’m frustrated because I couldn’t solve my problem. If only I knew about Product X!”
Fear is a different matter, to be approached with caution. Strong brands target some specific and fundamental human fear, then offer an antidote. “This is your pain. This is our medicine.”
Many games have enemies you need to fight. Crafting an image of the enemy can be useful in branding, as well: dust on the furniture, flu, a pimple on the nose… Create a convincing enemy, and the customer will enjoy fighting it.
Excite your customers’ emotions!
9. Stimulate accomplishment
Games make players feel a sense of accomplishment. One victory is followed by another. A good brand stays dynamic, constantly offering the audience new victories and new opportunities.
Beating a level in a game creates the illusion of improvement. Branding likewise emphasizes improvement for the customers and their lives. The important thing is to make it clear that the accomplishment is entirely theirs, while the brand is merely a means to an end.
Give your customers a tool for improving themselves or their circumstances.
Brand cohesion is the sum of all your mini-universe-building efforts. In this universe, the customer protagonist fights enemies, creates and destroys, pursues a goal, improves his or her skills, becomes stronger, and wins rewards. The use of gaming methods in branding is a way to ensure popularity and achieve phenomenal success.
“Cohesive” does not mean that the brand is complete and final. It must live and change, adapting to the latest trends and audience preferences.
In conclusion, some food for thought:
“What is a unified style?” The answers to this question will vastly differ depending on who you ask. Something like this:
Businessman: A unified style means that the company follows a clear set of rules, so everything is organized and purpose-driven.
Employee: A unified style shows that we’re a team. It’s our uniforms, products, packaging, office design.
Marketer: A unified style is continuity in advertising. A cohesive brand image makes it instantly recognizable and viable.
Designer: It means cohesive and harmonious visuals adapted to various platforms.
Customer: It’s a guarantee of the product’s quality: logo, colors, styling, popularity.
All five are correct, each in their own way. But to achieve a truly cohesive corporate style, you need to satisfy each of them and prevent any misunderstandings between them. 🙂
That’s something to think about and work on!