The No-Brand Brand

Recently a number of companies have successfully pursued “no-brand” strategies by creating packaging that imitates generic brand simplicity. Examples include the Japanese company Muji, which means “No label” in English (from 無印良品 – “Mujirushi Ryohin” – literally, “No brand quality goods”), and the Florida company No-Ad Sunscreen. Although there is a distinct Muji brand, Muji products are not branded. This no-brand strategy means that little is spent on advertisement or classical marketing and Muji’s success is attributed to the word-of-mouth, a simple shopping experience and the anti-brand movement. “No brand” branding may be construed as a type of branding as the product is made conspicuous through the absence of a brand name. “Tapa Amarilla” or “Yellow Cap” in Venezuela during the 1980s is another good example of no-brand strategy. It was simply recognized by the color of the cap of this cleaning products company.

-Wikipedia

The sentence in bold above is an astute observation from the author of the article and reflects my sentiments exactly when it comes to “anti-branding” brands.

When you’re your own company, with your own services, your own products; you become a brand, whether you go to all the effort to promote it or not. Consumers will have an image in their mind of you, whether you give them one or not.

I can agree with these brands with regard to their “no-fluff” attitude where they attempt to distance themselves from both excesses of design and advertising, relying rather on customer loyalty and word-of-mouth. I’ve written in the past about the superfluous when it comes to design, and why only precisely what is needed for effective communication should be kept and the rest discarded.

I also appreciate the stance of NO-AD sunscreen in that it took the investment most brands put toward advertising, and allocated it to doubling the size of its products at no extra cost (compared to other brands).

The only problem is in having an issue with “branding” in general, if such companies claim to. Yes, redefine advertising and marketing; save money on packaging and put it into better products, etc. But don’t pretend that you’re not part of the branding world. As I said above, when you’re your own company, you become branded as a distinct commercial entity regardless of the effort or lack thereof that you put into doing so. In fact, “no-brand” branding can attract more attention than “conventional” branding, just because it’s unique.

Although aspirations of the companies herein discussed may be noble to some degree, we know that businesses exist to make money; and those on the no-brand bandwagon definitely saw an opportunity to make more money through the differentiation their brand strategies afforded. In addition, people like to purchase from companies who claim to be fighting for some cause; in this case it’s the fight against the conventional brand, and it definitely sells.

The point is, brand is inescapable; promoting ethics, quality of product and even “anti-branding” bolsters a brand in the minds of consumers.

And not only is brand inescapable, good branding is also a proven way to increase profits—as long as the message you’re sending resonates with the people you’re sending it to.

There are many tactics that can be used to leverage a company image; companies like Muji have simply chosen to capitalize on ways that differ from the norm.

It’s because of these things that I would be hesitant to state (although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility) that a brand which employed no-brand tactics is more ethical than any other. But I have to give them some credit for a smart strategy, because:

Amidst the crowd of those saying, “Look at me”, it’s often those who seem to be saying nothing at all who capture the most attention.

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Spec work

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Within the broad realm of Art, there has always existed a perhaps broader spectrum of opinion regarding it as a profession, more so than perhaps any other occupation.  Art can sometimes be lucrative, and other times so undervalued it can scarcely be given away.  Hence the popular term, “starving artist” and equally understood notion that artists work is only, or at least best appreciated after the artist has died.

Regardless of one’s opinion about art, particularly design, it is work and deserves compensation.  The NO!SPEC organization offers a good resource for bringing awareness to what spec work is and why it shouldn’t be a valid form of conducting business.  It’s surprising to me that there is even a debate about this issue, but the main fault lies with designers who are willing to do spec work, not with those who offer it.  Contrary to popular thinking, saying “no” to design work whose only reward is an “opportunity”, a “portfolio-booster” and “good future prospects” doesn’t hurt.  It helps.  It sends the message that work = pay, not work = a chance at getting paid (which is closer to the definition of gambling).

If you want to do work for free and pitch a design to someone, fine.  Then do it of your own accord.  The ball’s in your court; you’re willing to accept success or failure.  But if someone requests that you do free work, decline it.  This should not be an accepted practice.

And if you’ve got an extra minute, read this.  It’s completely relevant; a shrewd response to a request for spec work.

 

Why Can’t All Products Be Like Barbasol?

Barbasol1My dad and I were having a conversation about business the other day.  We were discussing how companies of late are often putting more money into marketing sub-par products, than producing genuinely good ones.

I used to think the baby-boomer expression, “They don’t make things like they used to” was just a misguided product of good memories—after all, everything that comes out of your generation is the best, right?  But there is definitely something to be said for build quality in the manufacturing of yesteryear.

Even up until the mid 1990s, build quality in select vehicle manufacturers was at its absolute best—before stiff competition among other factors forced the majority of auto makers to cheapen vehicles in order to turn a profit.  One such example of a best-in-class vehicle was the Mercedes-Benz E-Class with the W124 chassis.  Rock-solid, safe and reliable; some automotive enthusiasts have dared to call it the “Best Mercedes-Benz Ever” and even, “The Best Car of the Past Thirty Years”.  I’m sure that’s a hotly debatable topic, but from the research I’ve done on the vehicle, and considering that ultimately what defines a good car is stellar performance in every testable category, I don’t think those claims are entirely misguided.

At one point in the conversation, my dad said, “I always say, ‘I wish they could make all products like Barbasol.’”  In case you’re unaware, Barbasol is a shaving cream that’s been around since the dinosaurs—well, almost: 1919.  Since then they’ve gained a reputation for having a quality product.  One thing my father noted about Barbasol is that it’s, in my words, the Maxwell House of the shaving world: good to the last drop.  The can doesn’t clog up and cheat you out of 25% of the remaining cream.  It goes until it just can’t go anymore.  An average-sized can lasts about four months when used every day, according to my dad.

Now, while I do use a Remington hair trimmer, I’m not the shaving type so I doubt I’ll be purchasing Barbasol anytime soon.  But the point is: Barbasol coasts on its quality, not its gargantuan marketing campaign.

Marketing works.  That’s why people do it.  The more people you can reach and the more corporate seeds you can plant in people’s minds in a short period of time, the more likely you are to make a sale.  The higher quality the marketing, the higher return on your investment—just like brand identity.  But marketing products that fail easily, or even are engineered to fail, is just bunk and purely disreputable.  Market your product: fine.  But don’t market a piece of junk that’s predestined for the garbage can.

This all leads me to something many brand identity designers may not consider.  With your designs that are intended to bring in profits to the company you’re designing for: have you considered whether you’re representing a reputable company?

I know it’s difficult to tell in many instances, and there are always mixed reviews on products.  (Just browse through Amazon’s user reviews of a Black and Decker toaster once and you’ll probably see everything from, “It burned my house to the ground” to, “I loved it so much I bought three as Christmas gifts for the grandkids!”)  And I’m not advocating buying the product you’re branding every time you start a project (although, that wouldn’t be a bad idea).  I’m merely pointing out that as designers, our goal is to represent these companies in a positive way, and point as many people as possible to them.  If we wouldn’t stand behind a bad product as consumers, it doesn’t make sense to painstakingly brand and inevitably promote a bad product!  A good graphic designer makes it clear to the company s/he is working with that s/he is there to help promote and bring recognition to the company.  But the good design becomes cheapened when it’s attached to a company that can’t match it in quality.

Let’s allow the bad products and services to fossilize and promote the truly good, useful ones.  Because let’s be honest: the products that are built to last, and the services that are genuinely helpful, are the ones that deserve to keep going.

What is Customer Service, Anyway?

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Do you sometimes feel like the little lamb in the cartoons who’s lured by the crafty wolf (dressed as Little Bo Peep) into his lair?  In a world where those who purchase goods and services are termed the consumers“, it seems the only ones doing the “consuming” are a vast number of companies with wolf-pack mentalities.

“Take advantage where you can.”

Business society is filled to overflowing with companies who eye potential clients merely as instruments to be used for their own gain.

I want to share some points with you that we believe exemplify GREAT business; standards that should be the very backbone of any company.  This is nothing new or complex—one might even call this stuff a list of “no-brainers”—but it is greatly ignored.

  • A business transaction should be a mutually beneficial experience.  The quality of the service provided should be on par with the investment of the client.
  • Clients should be respected.  They should receive what they pay for.  If the designer deserves payment for his profession, then the client deserves to receive a product worth his investment.
  • Upon conclusion of a business transaction, buyers should have the kind of feeling you get after seeing the end of a well written film. They should not be left hanging with unanswered questions and concerns, but come away with satisfaction at how smoothly their project has gone.

It seems to be the fashion of the day for businesses to try to conceal the fact that they are going to profit.  Additionally, instead of focusing on providing good service to their customers, many companies pour money into advertising campaigns to bolster the false front that you, the consumer, are the only one benefitting.  There is no disguise for a lack of service toward the customer.  And of course companies are going to profit from offering their services to the public: they’re in business!  But they should be trustworthy.

Buying and selling is simply an exchange: one person’s product or service for another person’s payment.  A business’s advertisement or contract should not be used as bait on a hook just to snag customers, but as an agreement to exchange their professional labor for the customer’s payment.  The only time we should feel cheated is when we are charged a price and then do not procure a satisfactory service for this price.

I am sure you will agree that at whatever times in your life you have received good customer service from a business, you have been more than willing to pay for it.  That’s because you believed they kept their end of an agreement, and therefore deserved to be compensated for their work.

With these posts, we don’t want to write something about our business that sounds like it came from some “business ethics” handbook.  We’re simply going to be open about what you can expect from us, because we have had the same kind of experiences you have with bad and good customer service—and we haven’t forgotten.  We want to extend to you only the quality of service that we ourselves would appreciate.  I don’t want you to get served a cold prime rib sandwich like I once was at a restaurant.  I want your experience with us to be like the best cup of coffee you’ve had at your favorite coffee-house: you’re in a relaxed environment, you enjoy the rich flavor of the coffee, and by the time you’ve sipped the last drop, you are truly satisfied and at ease.

Before being married I worked in my family’s business.  Ensuring the customer came away with a good product and an easy, pleasant experience was our goal.  Naturally this is the goal we have at Dualogo.  We want to provide you with a great logo identity.  We believe that treating clients the way you treat your friends is the only thing that will or should inspire customer loyalty.

There is no faking good customer service or a job well done: we all know it when we experience it, despite a company’s verbal claims.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Well done is better than well said.”

Sarah Wentzel of Dualogo

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