Brands as Patterns, 12th Oct 2012
Brands are no longer definitive. They are temporal. Brands are informed by multiple voices, and they exist in multiple mediums and through multiple contexts. The media that a brand inhabits is no longer fixed or linear, it is iterative, with no beginning, no end, and little permanency. Adherence to a big idea and endless repetition of centralized, fixed rules can make a brand seem unresponsive, mechanized, inhuman, and out of step with its audience. But without repetition, how does a brand create consistency? And without consistency, how does a brand maintain value?
We all know that brands are increasingly accessed digitally but a less considered consequence is that the interface through which a brand is accessed has become a primary identity element. This requires that a brand’s “identity” should not only be defined statically or dynamically, but also iteratively through successive release and behaviorally through interactions. Through this iterative interaction, the brand becomes a constantly shifting relationship between the company and its customers. Through the interface the customer assumes the right to some control, ownership, and authorship of the brand.
As the digital world evolves, the customer’s ability to inform the brand will outstrip the company’s ability to control it. As a result, the brand is no longer the proprietary tool for the company that founded it, but an ongoing negotiation among the founding company, its own workforce, and the customers who have invested in the end product.
The added dimension of interface reveals an unparalleled breadth of a brand’s characteristics and gives access that is perpetual and immediate. Therefore, the customer expects the brand to be as responsive and real-time as any medium through which it is accessed, while maintaining consistency no matter how it is experienced.
Through the interface, it is increasingly easy to see how a company behaves, the actions it takes, what it says, and how it responds, reacts, or hides. This transparency demands that a brand becomes more consistent, responsive, communicative, and social. As a result, the brand becomes more dimensional and, in effect, more human.
To maintain a brand’s value in the future, one must begin by understanding basics of cognitive psychology — how people judge human consistency and anomalies of character, and how people perceive human relationships. This reveals greater understanding of how to achieve consistency beyond repetition.
Consistency is still at the heart of a brand’s value, but in this fluid and agile world, repetition cannot be the only rule. Consistency in human behavior is not derived from repetition alone; it is about the formation and recognition of coherent patterns. Patterns are the way our brains perceive actions, thoughts, memory, and behavior to ultimately inform belief. They allow for differences while creating a whole. Patterns are unique in the fact that they create consistency around difference and variation. Creating a believable and consistent brand begins with the creation of coherent patterns.
Instead of adhering to a single, centralized big idea, a brand must create coherence around multiple, smaller ideas. Embracing small ideas is a powerful way to navigate a rapidly evolving, connected world. Small ideas are fresh and immediate. Flexible and accurate, they can be defined in the immediacy of the present context, allowing brands to respond quickly in moments of crisis or celebration.
Creating a pattern around smaller ideas generates deeper recognition than repetition does. The pattern ensures clarity on the why, not just the what. And, it makes people an active participant in the how. By building both autonomy and consistency, brands are better able to respond in realtime and at a local level. To succeed in a more agile world, a brand needs to think less about defining a fixed identity and more about creating coherent patterns.