2015: The year of the simple in branding

Branded v/s Non Branded Coffee

-by Samir Kumar (Creative Strategist)

Why Simple

Simple is everything

The advent of social media age has left people with less time and lot of information. It’s impacting our lives in ways that we are still grappling with. There’s noise. And there are self-created compulsions. All of us are creating, posting and consuming content: a lot of physical world social behavioral aspects are mutating in myriad ways. We are keeping ourselves awake, attached and addicted, in many cases, to our screens. It’s but natural for marketers, and those in the business of branding to act swiftly and adapt even faster to reach out to our audience out there. It appeared as if there are colonies of consumers, neatly segregated, with every detail of their likes and behaviours out in the open and we could just go and feed them with the right content and engage them in a richer, more interactive environment. But no. It’s not that simple. To do that is a must. But that’s just the beginning. Imagine yourself at a dinner table. There are a bunch of likeminded people seated together and everybody’s talking. You are one of them. How do you get noticed, stay relevant and interesting, get liked, get them to talk about you…maybe just take your name once in a while? The answer, truly, lies in having a good narrative, a good story, being interesting, come what may…but there’s something that’s more fundamental. And the year, 2015 could actually be a movement in that direction. It’s simplicity. The problem is that the table is too large, too many people are interesting, there’s too much talk and too much interaction. So the need actually is to first be simple.

And that goes all the way back to the fundamentals of branding. Identity, naming, logo, concepts, even the way to do good: every aspect of what a brand stands for will perhaps have to be seen through the prism of simplicity.

It’s there, already: examples of simple

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Let’s look at some of the big and small developments that have been happening around in our world with some of our most iconic brands. These seem unconnected on the face of it, but let’s see if there’s a thread. Apple has dropped the iconic “i” naming convention. We now have Apple TV, Apple Watch and Apple Pay. Starbucks simplified its identity design to the simplest possible. Cathay Pacific just kept the wings and the swoosh in its design and dropped everything else. Ryanair, that stood for everything customer unfriendly (read posts like, “you won’t get a refund, so fuck off!), has suddenly reduced the number of clicks to book a flight from 17 to five clicks! Maersk is sharing some real cool ship-in-action images on Twitter. And Google recently adopted an elementary naming approach in its extensions – Google Glass, Google Wallet and Google Play.

Simple: in naming & design

Apple-TV-Logo-iconSo what’s at play here? Naming, for one, is really getting simple. There are no layering in the way brands are calling themselves out: it’s Apple and it’s TV; it’s Google and it’s Wallet. Ditto with design. In 2011, there was a visual joke floating around about the future evolution of Starbucks identity. And when you are sharing posts, it could be something as simple as well-shot ship-in-action images. The common thread is that, fundamentally, brands are becoming and behaving simpler. And while most of us have been talking about how the number of clicks and taps need to be lesser, give visual signals, make it easier to find the content on your website, etc…what we are moving towards, is brands becoming simpler fundamentally; and it touches every aspect of every aspect. We have already covered two important aspects of naming and logo design. As professionals and practitioners, I think that when the time will come to choose between concept-names like ‘currents’ or straightforward names like ‘newsstand’ we will choose the latter. And create more such examples. In design, we will try and explore the simplest narrative possible. And because naming and the logo design is just the tip of the iceberg, we will mostly be looking at creating some really simple narratives, too.

Tone of voice

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Simplicity is reflecting in the tone of voice, too. “I’m-someone-like-you” is the new brand speak. The oral care line Hello Products has rocked the hygiene market by making toothpaste and mouthwash sound utterly friendly and inviting. And while simplicity in naming and identity will get us noticed, understood, it’s the way we say ‘hi’, that’ll really get us invited to the table. We will have to be chatting up, the way our customers do: because social means people, and brands need to be like people, to be social.

Packaging

coffee_three_ways_by_stone_creek-600x428The simple approach to branding is also redefining trends in packaging. Stone Creek Coffee’s popular Lab Series includes the elevation, harvest date, and name of the farmer who grew the beans. Packaging is being driven by exemplifying the meaning and values behind the brands. With label reading, facts-up-front, brand origin stories, brands are transforming their packaging to make it quick, clear, and easy for consumers to learn all they can about their products.

Brand Portfolios

iVgqK2vT1yBISimple, is further defining the way we look at structuring our brand portfolios. P&G is scrapping 100 brands. It’s a drastic shift in approach for the world’s biggest advertiser, which had been focused on expansion that had seen its products cannibalise one another’s sales. Now P&G can focus more on the brands that remain.

And action

And perhaps the most important aspect of driving simple, is in action. When HUL innovates a product that enables me to save buckets of water while rinsing laundry, it’s an action that I relate personally to. Addressing global water crisis is an abstract idea, saving buckets is simple. So is the impact of enabling more school days through hand wash. As brands and practitioners, we will have to look at dethroning CSR from a hallowed abstract “we-save-the-word” space, and bring it down to simpler, more tangible expressions and interactions.

So, when Lana Del Ray shares simple gif images on Tumblr, Maersk shares ship’s images on Twitter, Google goes elementary in naming, Stanford teaches business on Tumblr, P&G goes for leaner brand portfolio, HUL burns hand wash messages on rotis, the essential thread is of simplicity. Authentic, honest, relatable and approachable – with simplicity taking the lead in 2015.