The fast and slow pace of brands

The fast and slow pace of brands

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In a market filled with possibilities, there is power and focus in constraint. I pressed this point home recently in a discussion on why brands can’t just continue to add to their visual language. The argument I was getting – we need an extended palette to show the diversity of what we do and to prevent our brand looking monochromatic. My view – that adding layer upon layer of visual language to a brand doesn’t free up anything. On the contrary, it adds complexity that make no sense to buyers and that end up looking confused in the shopping aisle.

There’s always a reason to add more detail for those who want to find one: “we need to tell people this”; or “that snippet is interesting”; or “they won’t know what to do if we don’t explain this in detail”. But marketing is not about an outpouring of information, at least not for the sake of it. Marketing is about clarity and simplicity and giving people reasons to engage. Cluttered brand language systems are not clear to anyone beyond those who designed them. The consistency of brands, and the discipline that requires, is what gives them their power and equity.

Marketers struggle sometimes to pace brands to the speeds of consumers. There’s a tendency to believe that everything must change, change, change – and that brands that aren’t always adding or shifting will lose attention. All the talk of innovation and customer impatience fuels that. The reality is something different. Buyers need brands to be familiar and interesting, not one or the other.

Change happens at different speeds

In an address at an Evernote conference last year, Stewart Brand made these observations about societal change that are equally relevant, albeit within much shorter timeframes, for those contemplating changes to brands. Society, he says, moves and changes at different speeds and those layered paces of change are healthy: “the fast parts learn; the slow parts remember. The fast parts suppose things; slow parts dispose things and keeps things that are important. The fast is discontinuous (moves in quick cycles); the slow is continuous. The fast and small instruct the slow and big with accrued innovation and occasional revolutions. At the same time … the slow and big parts control the fast and small with constraints and with constancy.”

Brands that change too quickly out-pace consumers’ ability to re-learn.

That mix of change and memory is a wonderful articulation of the power of pace, and a reminder to all of us that we need to carefully and patiently manage the two-speed nature of the assets we work with. Brands that don’t adapt die. The attrition rates prove that. But brands that change too quickly out-pace consumers’ ability to re-learn. Working within finite resources keeps brands focused. It keeps palettes within recognisable and manageable boundaries. It keeps language within a certain tone. It ensures that the strategies driving the brand don’t become distracted or diluted. It keeps brand ranges and extensions within confines that make sense.

The challenge for most brands is not in piling on layer upon layer of change and ideas. It is in moving at the right paces at the right times in ways that take people with you. The impact of talking and sharing is utterly blunted if it is not paired with the judgment of timing.

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