Saying I cherished my time at SVA’s Masters in Branding program is an understatement. In fact, nothing can appropriately describe the year I spent with some of the most amazing design and branding talent that exists today. Much has come from this humbling experience and today there is concrete evidence of just how much was achieved during this time.
“Brand Bible” was a project initially conceived by Debbie Millman as a book that would chronicle the history of branding as well as show case some of the most successful branding work that has been done in various industries. Little did we know that a chance to coauthor this book with Debbie would be imminent.
For a solid 4+ months, we were in and out of the studio on Friday afternoons, as well as plenty of weeknights and weekends, working hard on researching, collecting and writing for the book. I was very happy to work alongside my friends and colleagues Chi Wai Lima and Jada Britto. We had a great time, to say the least. Our biggest opportunity came when we were welcomed by Rusty Clifton, Design Manager of Topical Healthcare at Johnson and Johnson’s Global Strategy Design Office to discuss Band-Aid®.
The book looks amazing and I recommend it to anyone interested in branding and design, not because I’m involved in it, but because there’s a lot to learn about the branded world we live in.
I believe I first flew on Virgin Atlantic when I was 15. I was heading to LA with my uncle back then. All I could remember was how amazing our flight from Heathrow to LAX was. It was 1999 I think, and Virgin had already implemented on-board entertainment. As a kid, it was heaven. How much conversation could I strike with my uncle on a plane anyway?
But the best part of it all was half-way through the flight when a beautiful blond flight attendant gracefully offered me ice cream! HEAVEN! Absolute HEAVEN!
I flew Virgin Atlantic a few times after that when I moved to the US. The service got better until one year when I flew an A340 from JFK to LHR. I can’t remember much of my flight, but I do remember being stuck with a non-functional entertainment system and mediocre food. I was highly disappointed. I lived in denial of that until my parents visited this May for my graduation. They flew Virgin Atlantic to NYC and unfortunately, they were as disappointed as I had been with the food and service. I tried to persuade them that they were just being annoyingly picky, but deep down, I knew there was a 99% chance they might be right.
But never fret, Mom and Dad. Richard has your back! Yesterday, Virgin Atlantic revealed a new upgrade to its economy class dining experience. Believe it, he heard ME and he heard YOU and we didn’t even say much. THAT is what makes a great brand. Listening.
The most successful relationships are those made of great listeners. And that’s why Sir Richard’s Virgin brand has succeeded throughout the years. Not only is he eager to create great experiences for his customers, but he makes sure that Virgin is engaged on a daily basis.
No contest, Virgin Atlantic remains my brand of choice. Honestly, I’m not really picky about airline food, especially that I always try to carry a sandwich and munchies on board with me. That aspect of the flight experience doesn’t make it or break it for me. But when you tempt me with ice cream, well then that equation changes. You have me! :-)
As soon as you place branding in the realm of service, it becomes infinitely more complicated. Consider the behavioral characteristics of flight attendants, or the experience of getting on an airplane. That is what distinguishes one airline from another. It isn’t the aircraft, it isn’t the product—it isn’t the time it takes. It is the environment, the seating, and the way you are treated. These things are much harder to manage. They are infinitely more complicated, and the traditional consumer goods business—P&G, Unilever, and companies of that kind—are completely incapable of understanding how much more complicated a service or retail brand is.
We all have those little pet peeves that we just can’t seem to shake off. And if you’re someone like me who’s constantly working on being a little bit more patient, you know how irritating stupidity can be.
A couple of months ago, I picked up Howard Schultz’s new book “Onward” where he talks about his new vision for Starbucks and how he pretty much saved the brand. That’s all great. But Howard, you missed one thing!
I can’t stand how many times I walk into a Starbucks, order a coffee (hot or iced) and then walk over to the sugar/milk counter only to purge about 1/8 of my drink to get some room for milk! This morning I made it a point to observe. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just me being a wasteful d*ck! 4 out of the 5 people that surrounded me did the same thing!
So much is wrong with this scenario. Customers are unintentionally being asked to purge at least 1/8 of their drink, giving them one extra task to do, knowing most of them are usually in a rush. The biggest ridiculousness is the mess that’s typically made by this action and the trash bags that become full of liquid, causing a greater mess for the cleaning staff, not to mention how it all spills onto New York City streets once that trash is taken out! And most importantly, when you add up how much coffee is being wasted, you’ll realize how much money Starbucks is losing!
Where’s the strategy in that?
The solution is very simple. All that baristas have to do is ask every customer whether they want room for milk or not. Or better yet, just leave room and assume that everyone likes milk or cream with their coffee. I’ve been asked before, but it’s a not a consistent experience.
Starbucks is back on the right track, and as someone who believes in the brand, I’d like to see these little nuances addressed. I want one less annoyance in my morning routine :-)
Brands are powerful. That’s a given. But as a designer I believe they are most powerful when you can recognize them from miles away just by their visual language alone.
Some of the greatest brands of our time have become iconic simply by owning a visual identity. Granted, that’s not enough to make a brand iconic, but it sure helps boost that status. Tiffanys owns the turquoise box. Hermes owns orange. Chanel owns black and white. Virgin owns red…and sassiness. The list goes on…
Last week as I landed back in New York, I was looking out the window admiring the planes at JFK, as I usually do. And I suddenly spotted an American Airlines plane and I began thinking about the potential rebrand that the company is looking at. Now nothing has been confirmed in terms of what will actually happen within the next 5 years, but considering that the company recently purchased 460 new planes to replace their old fleet, and considering that they solisited agencies to pitch for “cabin interiors” earlier this year, I’m banking on REBRAND.
So what would a potential “visual” rebrand of the American fleet look like? It’s hard to say. As much distaste as I have for the customer service of the airline, I still believe that the logo and livery of this brand, designed by the legendary Massimo Vignelli, is probably the best and most recognized livery of all time.
American Airlines is a brand with a strong heritage. If there were an official national airlines for the United States, it would undoubtedly go to American Airlines. What more than a brand that carries the actual name? Red, White and Blue and an Eagle on top. Could it get more American?
But now consider this. Remove the “AA” logo off the tail. Remove the “American” from the body. You’re left with an iconic glistening silver body and red, white and blue stripes. Would that be heresy? Or would it be an unprecedented approach by a globally iconic airline to stand out from the crowd and claim its right to being “awesome”?
As outrageous as it may seem, many brands have been using this approach recently, and so far it’s been quite elegant and successful. The pioneer behind this was probably NIKE who first removed the word “NIKE” from their logo and stuck with the “swoosh” instead. MTV followed suit by removing the words “Music Television” from their brand. Most recently Levi’s and Starbucks have jumped on the band wagon leaving us with mere symbols of their respective brands.
It takes time for a brand to be able to do something as bold as removing its name off it’s visual identity. It takes years of building customer loyalty and recognition. The companies listed above have all proved to be essential (at least for some) in their daily lives and they’ve gained a global audience that most importantly “trusts” them to do the right thing.
Will the American public trust American Airlines enough to allow it to pursue such a drastic change in its visual identity? Although theoretical at this point, there’s always a possibility that some crazy CEO might surprise us with the excuse of “innovation”.