Opinion

Design is disruption. Design is democracy

Asparsh Sinha | Updated on April 12, 2021

Design builds long-term brand value. It also has the unique ability to make a brand world class from day one. All it needs is a person with a big idea and the intent to create an authentically exciting brand

When the less than two decades old Tesla became the most valuable automobile brand, beating century-old behemoths, a change that has been gradually happening got its symbolic big moment.

For the longest of time, brands were built like fortresses. From manufacturing to distribution to media, the biggest brands in every category created a stranglehold in their markets that made it nearly impossible for new entrants to build anything substantial. Especially when it came to brand building, the game was about creating attention monopolies.

Then the tide started turning. Several factors, most notably the coming of digital media opened up things. Anyone could sell to anyone, anywhere. Anyone could also reach their audience anywhere. This was a fundamental change. It was the shift from a game stacked in the favour of big boys, to a game that started giving a fair chance to anyone who could make something new and exciting.

While this shift has changed the way brands operate, the real implication is not as widely understood. In fact, the only people who seem to have understood this intuitively are the ones who benefit out of challenging status-quo — the entrepreneurs. They are creating a new playbook — one builds brands not to defend but to create a more desirable and compelling world.

Traditionally-built brands struggle when their much-loved campaigns live awkwardly with their not so-loved service and so on, because the brand idea often, is nothing more than a tagline.

But a brand is not a name or the logo or the advertising, it is a point of view on the category. Brands which are genuinely creating fresh ideas in a category, they build from the inside out. Milk Makeup was born out of the insight that most make-up products were designed to be applied at home, and it is a struggle using them on-the-go.

In a traditional marketer’s hands, that insight might have ended up as an ad campaign. But instead, the founders, coming from outside the category, created a radical new range of products, designed for on-the-go application. From the name to the packaging to the imagery, everything signalled a fresh take on an old category. Everything works harder then, the art of turning touch-points into brand mouthpieces. The better the job of expressing the unique point of view, the richer the dividends.

A media game

Brand building, when seen from the mental model of the fortress, becomes largely a media game. Which explains why brands bafflingly use stock footage to save a little production money after spending a fortune on super bowl spots. It reflects the implicit value equation they have in their heads.

But entrepreneurs believe in the strength of their disruptive idea. They come in with the belief that when expressed well, the idea will draw people in. They put all their strength in bringing alive the idea. Often it means the kind of investment in designing the brand experience which might baffle the traditional marketer.

Like Airbnb investing in photography to an extent where apparently it, and not a media company, is the largest employer of photographers in the world. It is not because Brian Chesky, as a good designer is passionate about brand experience. It is because Brian, as a good modern marketer understands (and has data to prove) the big value differential attached to the quality of imagery.

In a study done some time back, it was found that 20 per cent of the top-funded start-ups in the Silicon Valley were founded by designers. It is not a co-incidence. It signals the importance of design as a strategic business tool.

Design builds long-term brand value. It also has the unique ability to make a brand world class from day one. All it needs is a person with a big idea and the intent to create an authentically exciting brand. The kind the world comes asking for.

The writer is Managing Partner, Open Strategy and Design

Published on April 12, 2021

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