“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook
Branding and brand identity as we all know it
A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or other feature that distinguishes an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer. Branding itself began with ancient Egyptians who engaged in livestock branding as early as 2,700 BC. Branding was used to differentiate one person’s cattle from another’s by means of a distinctive symbol burned into the animal’s skin with a hot branding iron. From where it all began brands today have evolved from what is mine to who I am.
Branding is the action required to create an identity for a brand. Hence the brand created by the branding effort becomes the tool for marketing communications across platforms for business, marketing, and advertising. This is how people identify, perceive and recollect a brand. Brand identity is the collection of tangible brand elements that together weave a brand image in any medium.
“Thorstein Veblen introduced the term conspicuous consumption in 1899 in his book “The Theory of the Leisure Class”. This term is described as displaying wealth through spending unusual high prices of one product type or service.”
Conspicuous consumption is one of the oldest concepts in consumer behaviour. Researchers have shown that people prefer products to communicate desired identities and characteristics. Brands instigate this signalling process by using visible logo designs and distinct patterns. For example, Apple’s logo, Nike’s Swoosh, Starbuck’s siren or Channels’s double C, all of them expedite communication and allow others to make the desired deductions about the user. Such explicit identifiers are especially common among luxury brands.
Consumers may have wanted to exhibit an expensive purchase from a luxury brand but may not want to publicise a cheaper purchase from an ordinary store. Hence one might assume more explicit branding from upscale brands in the form of large logos and prominent brand names. This means a direct proportionality between price and brand signalling explicitness. Hence, as price increases, the brand signalling becomes more evident.
Studies over the past decade have suggested otherwise. Research indicates a rise in subtle signals emanated by brands. Some products still portray themselves using large brand logos and design patterns. But some other more luxurious brands have migrated to discreet patterns or details. Subtlety is the understated way of identifying a brand.
Inconspicuous consumption implies that brand signals are subtle, or not readily visible to most consumers. Therefore, the overt display of social status is undermined. Such a trend in branding is steadily on the rise, and perspectives suggest that consumers may now have tendencies to avoid products with explicit brand identifiers because they reject pompous status symbols.
The term has emerged to become a democratised luxury or luxury for the common masses. New luxury means affordability and expansion into the mass market. Brands act on it but at the same time without compromising the brand’s original luxury status. Some lower-end models of luxury automobiles exhibit such contemporary new luxury. For example, Denza which is an understated electric car from Daimler marketed the car without a logo in China. Some high-end fashions brands often market some low priced accessories. For example Dior sunglasses or even brands like Tom Ford with strategically modest branding on its premium fragrance collection.
Many established luxury brands are now making their logos less visible, if at all.
Denza Electric car by Daimler
Reasons for the shift
The rise of high-quality counterfeits has also diluted the essence of “luxury”. It is making brand logos signalling wealth less meaningful than before. Luxury consumption is no longer a label of social class. It is now more about meaningful objects and pursuits that customers might endure as a luxury rather than conspicuous brand names.
Studies have shown that in an anonymous urban society where luxury fashion items, cars etc. can be easily rented or leased temporarily the distinction between owning luxury brands and using it momentarily becomes unrecognisable. Alison Broadhead, the chief commercial officer of Jumeirah Group mentioned in an interview that “there is still an appetite for conspicuousness in emerging markets, but it’s shifting quickly”.
The rise of social media has enabled niche brands to make their impression in the markets. This empowers people of any socioeconomic status to send subtle signals to each other.
Studies mention that “BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, which suggests that there should be a shift from conspicuous to inconspicuous consumption as these nations become wealthier and shed their “Second or Third World” images.” In China, the shift is very evidently taking place for half a decade now. Europe and The United States has cultivated this trend well till now.
How will brands adapt to new trends?
In trying to cope up with the shift, brands are trying to focus on immersive strategies. This indicates being “visible and available” for their customers whenever customers need them.
It is true that the branding is unique for every brand and reveal a certain brand heritage. But still, even those brands with really strong and loud signals are actively trying to downplay them. Some notable brands, for example, are Louis Vuitton, Dior, Micheal Kors, Tiffany etc. Some are also making this trend as optional.
Revisiting the idea of adding empathy to branding for a better experience can also help brands to sustain this shift. Luxury is becoming more personal than social. Hence brands are looking to rebranding strategies where they can focus on “rebranding around experience, artistry or utility“. A modest presence to highlight the artisans behind a product and its high-quality customer service and elegant stores are rapidly growing in China according to studies.
Does this mean the end of brand logos?
Even though there is a rise of inconspicuous consumption among the luxury brands but still many popular brands today are recognised by consumers because of their logos. A logo helps in identifying a brand in its minimalist form with the use of an icon or a symbol.
For instance, IKEA’s logo underwent frequent modifications in the first couple of iterations. It remained fairly consistent since 1967: changing only colours and preserving shape and typography. Today’s blue-and-yellow colour blend signifies trust, reliability, friendliness and, affordability at the same time. Together with the bold, rounded lettering, and the oval framing of the name, this brand builds the impression of being a strong, organised and inclusive brand.
In trying to address every kind of market consumption across the globe, brands are trying to find the right balance of offering something for everyone. The geographic market and the target consumer group are the two factors which should be considered while creating a brand portfolio according to researchers.
Brand logos continue to evolve…
Shaughn McGurk, creative director, Incorporate: “This looks like a graveyard of typographic personality to me. I know a brand is more than a logo, but a logo is meant to be a trigger to an emotional response – and a lot of the emotion has been eradicated, especially from an ordinary person’s point of view.”
Logos have always evolved and will continue to do so. Design trends and brand identity conceiving from consumer needs are factors contributing to this evolution. Mass popular brands like Ikea, McDonald, Coca-Cola, Google, Airbnb and even Pinterest are just some examples of brands who have diligently invested in having logos that match the design trends and are unambiguously recognised by their customers.
The notion of showing your brand logo or discreetly hiding it really depends on the product you are delivering. It also depends on the market economy and the kind of audience you are reaching out to. It is important for startups, especially who are looking to create a market for their products and services. Branding using logo is important for mass consuming popular brands as common people often tend to relate and identify brands based on their logos.
We at graphility help you identify your needs. Based on your requirement if we conclude on conspicuous consumption, we design logos for you which are unique and enunciates your brand identity. In case our research directs us towards inconspicuous consumption we establish rebranding strategies to find subtle ways of representing your brand to your consumer.
What approach are you considering for your brand and why? Let us know in the comments section.
Also published on Medium.