The New Age of Adaptive Branding


"The consumer now appears to believe that the brand should earn its public attention the way all of us must. Say boring, repetitive stuff and you suffer the punishment that every bad conversationalist faces. First, we ignore you. Then, we exclude you."

- Grant McCracken, Harvard Business Review (from "If you Love Your Brand, Set It Free;" Smashing Magazine)

Since the post-war industry boom of the late 40s, the brand has been regarded as the holiest of holies - the sacred virgin that is not to be tampered with, exploited or cheapened. Standardization, by way of brand guides and borderline aggressive intimidation from brand managers, has kept the masses devout and on their knees praying. Up until now.

Today's professional business marketing culture has embraced an influx of varied platforms: the internet, smartphones, tablets, video, social media, 3D television and on. This means there are umpteen more ways to market your brand, and therefore more ways to play a part in the consumer's everyday life. This also means your brand needs to be flexible and adaptable to multiple scenarios. In our current marketing culture - if you're stogy, you're obsolete.

So what does adaptive branding look like for businesses looking to gain awareness and brand loyalty? Limitless possibility. Unshackled from intimidating brand standards and guidelines, companies can now interface with consumers in more unique and meaningful ways. Examples of companies and organizations that have embraced this practice include Google, IBM, Oreo, Dove, Coca Cola, and Wikpedia.

Adaptive Branding - Company Image Example

As you may have noticed from the examples above, a major player in this movement is fluid identity, or dynamic logo design. Many veteran companies are reinventing themselves by "bastardizing" their logos, further emphasizing just how antiquated strict brand standardization has become. As a result, brands have become more accessible, less intimidating, and more "human" (ie. imperfect). Does this mean that brand standards need to be completely eliminated? Not entirely.

Businesses still need a voice - a soul, a sense of self. This is usually shaped by some kind of absolute statement, which in turn becomes the blueprint for standardization. But rather than building an impregnable fortress upon these blueprints, businesses need to create an open arena through which ideas can ebb and flow. Standards should lead but also let go.

Moving forward, it's my sincerest hope that businesses stop looking zealously inward and start looking out to its customer base for cues on how to engage. This sort of practice can only lead to groundbreaking campaigns and strengthen brand loyalty. Personally, as a designer, I am excited to be a part of it.

Erin Behrenhausen

Erin Behrenhausen is Art Director for Carbon8, and has over 15 years of experience as a designer in the Denver area. Erin is passionate about strong, clean design that creates an emotional impact, and believes that typography and balance are the foundation of good design.

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