Read any branding related blog and you will see authors shouting ‘the future is all about data’… and to a certain degree, they are right, but they are not completely right. There is, and will always be, a place for that unexplained magic, the art of design. The talent that takes data and turns it into something with feeling - something that induces an emotional response.
In the old days, ‘strategic design consulting’ were the buzz words of the design industry. What this meant, in reality, was designers legitimizing their creative work but conducting limited research, interviews, and audits of client businesses with the goal of moving creative decisions from the heart to the head. Did this really work, or was it smoke and mirrors? It is possible to argue either way - for instance, I have been stood with an eminent designer and multiple award winner who proudly told me he had ignored the design strategy, looked out of the window and been inspired by road markings on a roundabout when he created one of the best-known brand marques in the Middle East. Not exactly what the Strategists had in mind I think! But did this really matter? No, it did not. My colleague was able to extract the magic something, the feeling, and capture that in a brand. Something no amount of data can capture… for those that may require a more of an explanation on what I mean, think about the sound of a motorcycle, the smell of freshly ground coffee, the sight a turquoise blue ocean - try to think of brands you associate with these experiences - Harley Davidson? Starbucks or Costa Coffee? The Maldives? In each of these examples, the brand creates a powerful feeling beyond the brand marque, name and look. An experience that goes beyond that which any data can ‘model’.
Having said all this, there are few designers with the talent of my colleague, added to the mix the common need of non-creative people (normally clients), to understand and ‘justify’ creative decision-making that is grounded in data, and you get what I call ‘New World Branding’… and it is extremely exciting.
New world branding is a heady mix of the data-driven world we hear about so often, mixed with informed and disciplined creativity. Designers are no longer forced to make decisions based on a gut feel alone - we are easily able to gather data on every aspect of our customers behavior, their likes and dislikes, their likelihood to buy etc… and then feed this data into the creative process to create brands that are unique and have a greater propensity to succeed.
Yet, with all this data available to designers, why are businesses still struggling to hit the spot with their brand and customer experience? Having asked this question of a number of my clients, I am now convinced that harvesting the data is not the problem. The problem comes in how to interpret the data. Like anything that is new, there is a feeling amongst some clients I speak to that data has all the answers, it does not. Data cannot be creative, data cannot interpret a situation, deliver a unique experience or give you the feeling you get from riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle… only us, human beings can create that special magic… experiential brands.
Here are my 10 tips to help brand builders understand when to use data to inform their decisions and when not to:
Always ensure your data is clean. If you feed poor data in, you get poor decisions out
Ensure data is gathered from relevant locations, covers your target customer, where your competitors are active and winning
Harvest data over a long enough period of time to show trends
Remember there is plenty of data available free of charge
Trust your instinct - if the data looks or feels wrong, check it and gather more
Be prepared to adapt your brand as trends change. Look for micro-segments and try to understand them - including the propensity for each to align to your brand
Look for changes in trends and be prepared to adapt fast.
Don't just use data to look back, use it to look forward
Trust creative people to be creative
Remember you will not find all the answers in the data