As the creative director of a small creative design agency, my duties run the gamut of directing everything from print design to web development. However, my favorite area in the design and advertising world is a little niche known as brand identity. Wikipedia defines brand identity like this:
“How the brand owner wants the consumer to perceive the brand – and by extension the branded company, organization, product or service. The brand owner will seek to bridge the gap between the brand image and the brand identity. Brand identity is fundamental to consumer recognition and symbolizes the brand’s differentiation from competitors.”
The path required to be taken while developing the brand identity is always wide in scope. The brand is built or destroyed by the public’s perception of the goods or services that the brand represents. Although customer service, sourcing, quality control, human resources management and a host of other things are vital in building a great brand, my focus is primarily on the good design of the brand—namely, the logo, tagline and color palette.
So, here—in no particular order—are my picks for 10 amazing brands. Before I start, please recognize these aren’t necessarily the 10 best brands, and in several years, they might not even still be amazing. These are simply some brands with which I come in contact nearly every day, and they stand in my mind as being great.
Coca-Cola. Certainly, no one can deny the strength of the venerable Coca-Cola brand. These guys own the cola category. Sure, there are a few others, including Pepsi with the ever-evolving logo (currently a knock-off of the presidential campaign winner), but Coke is, as they say, “the real thing.” With the bright red and white colors, and the distinctive logo, it presents an image of being both classic and timeless. Now, anybody would admit that the logo is a far cry from anything that today’s designers would attempt, but in the day it was developed, cursive lettering logos were all the rage. But that is part of the appeal of Coke—nothing much has changed in all of these years, and paradoxically, that may be one of the biggest reasons it’s still so relevant today.
BMW. Out of all the great cars, particularly the European models, there is none like a BMW. Sure, there are better, cheaper values. Sure, there are flashier, faster cars. But nothing, in my opinion, says sporty, luxury and downright cool like a BMW. I’ve owned a BMW Z3, the best and most fun vehicle I’ve ever owned, and incidentally, I’m in the market for a 5 or 7 series now. Although this company doesn’t have the most spectacular logo, it’s still an appropriate design. More importantly, the brand experience is smooth, consistent and feels great.
Apple. This is one of my favorite brands by far—and I’m certain it’s not just because I work on one every day. Buying an Apple computer, setting it up and using it is such a seamless and breathtaking event that it makes you wonder how PC’s are still even sold. Of course, if you use an iPod, iPhone or any of the other “i” products from Apple, you’ll quickly realize the ultra-high priority that these guys give to great design.
ING Direct. If you know anything about ING Direct, you certainly recognize the great experience they provide across the brand. Obviously, this isn’t your grandpa’s bank—no gray, green or slate blue colors here. Anything ING Direct does is very orange, very electric blue—and very, very sweet. Everything from the website, the debit cards, the brochures, to the customer service toll-free number is cohesive and perfectly branded.
Google. This might be the least pretty of all the brands, but hey, everything they do is so consistent with their implied “hi-tech, easy-to-use” familiar face. With a literal wealth of online services and apps available, and the majority of them as free as air, Google certainly understand how to take something that is confusing to the average computer user and create a well-integrated experience. No one wonder their sites are the most visited on the web.
Target. Now, big box stores often get a bad rap, but when it comes to a mass-merchandiser, you can hardly beat the great branding that Target has. I can still remember the first time I walked into a Target store. I was immediately grabbed by the unified “feel” of the store, and I still love what I see every time I return. Makes me understand why Walmart is jealous, and why they’ve now abandoned the old wild-west logo for something that pretends to be chic. They still don’t have anything over Target in brand experience.
Starbucks. With the current economic crunch, luxury brands are particularly feeling the pinch, but Starbucks still has a strong, loyal following. Who would of thought that someone could have taken a forgotten, almost boring category like coffee, and created a brand experience so intriguing that people would pay five bucks for something that cost 15 cents to make? The power of the brand. Everyone knows to be cool you have to drink Starbucks every day—at least, that seems to be the consensus of opinion.
Burger King. I think McDonald’s might have them beat in providing a (relatively) consistent experience, store after store, year after year, but Burger King has the edge on a great design experience. This is one of the few places I go where I find myself reading the French fry box, the paper bag, the sign on the drink machine—even the sign on the door. This place is fun, smarty, and very memorable.
Vineyard Furniture. Okay, I am a little partial to this one. Not the oldest brand by far, but from the view as agency of record, and more importantly by what their customers are saying, Vineyard Furniture provides an experience that is unprecedented in the furniture industry. Right now, they are a middle player in the crowded category of wood case goods and, more recently, upholstery. However, due to changing industry and economic conditions, as well as a plenitude of amazing, fresh designs preparing for launch in the not-too-distant future, I predict Vineyard Furniture will become a major player within a few years, particularly in the upholstery category.
Nike. Probably among the most powerful brands ever, and it all started as a shoe. I suppose nearly everyone could recognize the great logo and quote the tagline, “Just Do It.” Nike has now become the name in sportswear and equipment. It only takes a few minutes of looking through the ads, browsing the website, or using the product to realize Nike is a company that values brand and design higher than the average company—and they reap the benefits to the tune of over $18.6 billion last year alone.