The versatility and benefits of good brand design cannot be overstated. A sleek, elegant product packaging might increase the perceived value of the brand. A bold, radical logo design might in turn convey an image of modernity or disruption. And a stately, traditional typeface might give a young company a sense of credibility and establishment. Yet, all too often, B2B companies have to make do with low-quality, low-impact visual identity. When asked why, many B2B CEOs point to good brand design being perceived as frivolous spending, an unnecessary expense that could be put toward sales or R&D investment. They say customers often react poorly to new design, interpreting it as a sign of arrogance or inflated prices. These concerns are certainly legitimate, but they highlight an enduring misconception of what good brand design can – and should – be.
A company’s brand identity should reflect what the company does, what it stands for (see chapter on brand story), and to whom it sells its products or services – as laid out in your brand story. At its best, a good brand identity will highlight your strengths and downplay your weaknesses, carefully shifting the perception of your brand from current (what you are today) to aspirational (where you want to be tomorrow). Furthermore, there is a real window of opportunity for B2B companies to modernise their brand identity. It is still very easy to stand out amidst a crowd of unremarkable brands, meaning even a little effort could yield tangible benefits. And the growing awareness around the importance of good brand design, spearheaded by innovative B2B companies – especially in the tech sector with names like Mailchimp or 3D Hubs – is successfully challenging the industry status quo.
“There is a real window of opportunity for B2B companies to modernise their brand identity.”
From the Outside In
When designing new brand identities, a common mistake companies make is to look solely to their own industry for inspiration. Creativity comes from confronting the new and unexpected, and finding surprising connections and similarities between seemingly unrelated environments. Companies must unlearn what they know about their brand and their industry, and start looking for inspiration outside of their comfort zone. Take the example of Strausak, a Swiss company specialised in the manufacture of grinding equipment with over 100 years of history. When Strausak contacted us to work on their brand identity, what we found looking through their industry was that most of their peers had similar visual identities, from their iconography (product-based, with lots of close-ups on grinding mechanisms and technical drawings) to their texts and even machine designs. Dealing with such a homogenous environment, it is best to look elsewhere for inspiration. Information from the brand audit can be used to identify recurring words and symbols from conversations with employees and customers. You can then scan across other industries to see where they appear. In the case of Strausak, we found a strong attachment to elements like the respect for the tools built by Strausak machines, the choreography of the machining process, and the importance of human knowledge and know-how. Given that many of these words are also found in the branding of luxury goods makers, we chose a design aesthetic reminiscent of a luxury product and adapted it to fit customer expectations.
In the end, brand design is a refining and tempering process. Your creativity is constantly straining against the limits set by your own brand requirements, as well as customer expectations and industry culture. Within this small space, it is nonetheless possible to create something new. But to do so, you must be able to look beyond the illusive walls of preconceptions, so-called industry best practices and passing fads in order to access a brand’s essence. Only then will you be able to create a unique brand identity that both matches with your brand story, and resonates with your audience.