I recently attended a branding workshop guided by the creative leads from a number of high profile branding projects including Airbnb. Read an account of my experience below or if you're in a hurry click here to see my two main takeaways from the workshop.
Consumer Branding in the Digital Age
In recent years young consumers have radically changed the way they relate to brands. Where previous generations typically looked for quality, familiarity and trustworthiness in their consumer choices, this generation places value on authenticity. Where once consumers acquired things, now they look for unique, personal experiences. In response to this shift in attitudes brands have had to find new and engaging ways to communicate meaningfully with their intended audience. With this in mind I recently attended a two-day branding workshop in Scotland in order to better understand this change in approach.
Guiding the workshop were James and Jowey, the founders and creative directors of Koto, a London based branding agency. The pair have worked as the creative leads on a number of high profile branding projects including Airbnb and Gumtree. Over two days they took the group through a detailed demonstration of their branding process giving insights into how to construct an effective modern brand designed to cut through the noise and emotionally connect with the consumer.
Do Your Research
The first notable aspect of their approach was the sheer depth of research they undertake before even opening a design program. For Airbnb this entailed sending four agency members to four continents to stay with nearly twenty different hosts, recording in detail their experiences of the service. They also immersed themselves in the company itself, interviewing over one hundred employees and placing half the design team in Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters for 3 months.
It was from one of these interviews that a key insight into the brand emerged. When asked to explain Airbnb’s unique offering an employee replied simply that it allowed you to ‘belong anywhere’. This chance, unscripted answer succinctly described the consumer needs of their target audience and provided a key insight into how the brand needed to communicate with them. The Airbnb customer wants to stay in a real house with a real person rather than a global hotel chain. Their ideal holiday involves going beyond the well-trodden tourist trail, meeting new, like-minded people and experiencing new places on a more authentic level. This simple two-word answer brilliantly sums this up and later became the brand slogan and a central pillar of how Airbnb thinks about itself.
Your Customers Aren’t Stupid. Don’t Treat Them Like They Are.
Throughout the workshop another key aspect that began to emerge was respect for your audience. James and Jowey repeatedly stressed the importance of assuming an advanced level of visual literacy in the modern consumer. One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make when communicating is to talk down to your audience and this is no less true in branding design. These days people are inundated with a wide range of media communications throughout the day. The result is a consumer that’s extremely media savvy, with the ability to quickly process a dizzying range of different messages and discern the subtlest of cultural meanings.
This insight had a considerable influence on the development of the Airbnb brand, particularly the design of the Bélo, the curly ‘A’ logo. Eager to move away from the sky blue used in the original logo but facing resistance, they commissioned a group of academics to conduct a semiotic survey of the colour. The resulting report demonstrated blue’s unsuitability for the brand. Typically considered a cold colour, blue was antithetical to the brand values of warmth, homeliness and belonging and was ultimately changed to a rich and vibrant red. Similarly, the logo construction further reinforces these values by avoiding corners and sharp edges in favour of curves and an interlocking motif intended to convey togetherness. The final iteration is simple, highly identifiable and modern. More importantly though, it implicitly assumes a high level of media literacy in its audience.
2 key things I learned
So for those working in branding or just interested in this part of the industry, here are my two main takeaways from the workshop:
- Research is essential to understanding the core values of any brand. Immerse yourself and your team in the culture of the client company as much as possible and remain alert for that key insight - it may well come from a suprising source.
- The modern consumer is highly media savvy so don’t talk down to them. The consumer/brand relationship is built on mutual understanding and an emotional connection based on shared values so speak their language or you run the risk of being ignored.
Eamonn Hall, Graphic Designer.