"A BRAND IS NOT A LOGO" - Sound familiar?

It's a line often used by designers when trying to convey a foundational fact - that the primary focus when designing should not be on the logo (as a product) alone, but on the real problem that needs a design-solution.

This well known quote is from the book 'THE BRAND GAP' by Marty Neumeier. If this book is in your reading list, you're set to get a bang for your buck.

Below is a summary of the key points I picked up from the book. I share my personal takeaways and perspective on the reading experience, rather than a conclusive review. Dissimilar to an in-depth commentary of the read, this is a quick overview of its contents and insight on how I, as a logo designer, adapted and incorporated them into my design process.

Introduction

Just as the title hints, this book talks about filling 'THE BRAND GAP'. The author tries to explain the 'GAP' present between the strategic and the creative side of a branding business, and offers solutions to the common problems in the modern design business world.

It's a rather short read; and presents a lot factual explanations, making it easier to navigate the book.

The author starts off by explaining the definition of a Brand and what it isn't. Diving deep into the process of brand building, with 'Verisign' as an example, the author elaborates how and why a brand happens.

The Gap

After covering what a brand should be and what it isn't, the author highlights 'THE BRAND GAP'. This is where it starts to get interesting. This is where the gap is explored - the gap between creativity and strategy.

Strategists are referred to as those who favour left brain thinking - analytical, logical, linear, concrete, numerical, verbal and all the theoretical mumbo jumbo 😉 Designers, however, are cited as right brain thinkers that favour intuitive, emotional, spatial, physical and visual elements.

"Unfortunately, the left brain doesn’t always know what the right brain is doing. Whenever there’s a rift between strategy and creativity—between logic and magic—there’s a brand gap. It can cause a brilliant strategy to fail where it counts most, at the point of contact with the customer, or it can doom a bold creative initiative before it’s even launched, way back at the planning stage." - Marty Neumeier (In his book, THE BRAND GAP)

Although the mentioned 'GAP' has more to do with companies having both the strategists and creatives working together, I began relating it to my process and how I can analyse my design business based on the points mentioned by the author. Being a creative, we tend to ignore the aspects of strategy and focus only on design.

This would have worked a few years ago, but not anymore. It's true - 'TALENT GETS YOU WORK', but not over the fact that the market keeps changing. And with such recurring change, our approach towards the business should evolve and adapt too. This was an eye opener for me - someone who only focused on the creative aspect of the design business.

In the first couple of chapters, the author talks about the 'PROBLEM', i.e. the gap between strategy and creativity. The following chapters are a discourse about the 'SOLUTION', and constitute a major chunk of the read. His take on the solution is quite an interesting one. He speaks about something he calls a 'CHARISMATIC BRAND', which sets the scene for his proposed 'solution'.

"A charismatic brand can be defined as any product, service, or company for which people believe there’s no substitute." - Marty Neumeier (In his book, THE BRAND GAP)

Disciplines

There are 5 disciplines mentioned in the book, which, if effectively applied, will help you build a 'charismatic' brand. I won't get into the details, but the disciplines are as follows: Differentiate, Collaborate, Innovate, Validate, Cultivate.

Let's look at how we, as designers, can implement these 5 disciplines in our design businesses:

1) Differentiate: How can you be differentiated from amongst your peers? What is it that you have, that makes you unique? Do you have a voice of your own? It ought to be more focused on 'who we are' than 'what we do'. If answering these questions is hard for us, we need to go back and start from scratch.

2) Collaborate: The 'one man army' game is over. Brands don’t develop or thrive in isolation. Trying to be a master of all trades will prove to be counterproductive. If there's something you aren't efficient at, ask for help. Get out of your comfort zone and interact with people who can help you in that area, hence contributing to the building of your brand.

3) Innovate: To achieve originality, we should venture out into uncharted waters. That would require us to abandon the comforts of habit, reason, and the approval of our peers. Don't be afraid to try out new trends. Take on a new approach. Learn new techniques. You stay, if you innovate.

4) Validate: Today, we can no longer afford to blindly put our work out there, cross our fingers and 'hope' that it hits the target. Ask people for their opinions - constructive criticism is always good. Make the necessary changes, embrace the differences, and learn from them.

5) Cultivate: Business is a process, not an entity. Successful businesses are those that continually adapt to changes in the marketplace, the industry, the economy, and the culture. And being a process, it is something that can be learned and cultivated. Keep educating yourself even when you're at the top in your field. Never stop learning.

Personal Takeaways

Here are some of the key points I have outlined from the book:

  • A brand is the target audience's gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s not what YOU (as the designer/owner) say it is. It’s what THEY (the target) say it is.
  • Branding is the process of connecting good strategy with good creativity - Not good strategy with poor creativity, poor strategy with good creativity, or poor strategy with poor creativity.
  • The foundation of a brand is trust. Customers trust your brand when their experiences consistently meet or beat their expectations.
  • Become the number one or number two in your space. Can’t be number one or number two? Redefine your space, or move to a different tribe.
  • It’s design and not strategy, that ignites passion in people. And the magic behind better design and better business, is innovation.
  • Make sure the name of your brand is distinctive, brief, appropriate, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, likeable, extendible, and protectable.

The book got me to introspect and repurpose my outlook on the design business I run. The disciplines suggested by the author certainly helped me improve my approach and re-position myself better as a business owner, rather than just a 'designer'.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who owns a creative business/brand, and finds it hard to sell their service/product. Although our products may not be tangible, we nevertheless are selling services that are of value.

I hope this summary is insightful, and helps you read with intention. Feel free to share your take on the book. Would love to hear from you.

Happy reading 🙂