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Would you wear their name on a sweatshirt?

Lynsay Biss
May 5, 2020

I just need a logo.

This is a phrase we sometimes hear at Cousin, and it’s an understandable misconception - brand identity can often feel like the most intangible idea, fraught with jargon and misunderstanding, whereas a logo is clear to all. It’s the distinguishable mark of your company, a necessity. I get it. The idea of ‘brand identity’ is talked about so naturally and so often now I imagine people are afraid to hold their hand up and ask what the hell it is.

And why the hell do I need it?

As a strategic designer I struggle to put pen to paper or hand to mouse until I am completely submerged in my client’s world. Give me a blank page, tell me the possibilities are endless and I’ll give you a look of mild fear. But tell me who you really are and what you want to achieve, and I will create you an identity to get there. Yes I’ll design a logo, but it will only play a part in a whole suite of assets to let clients and customers know what you stand for, each and every time they encounter you.

A ‘suite of assets’…

Ok this is the problem with branding – it feels so intangible that you can quite quickly fall down a rabbit hole of jargon just trying to explain it. And this is no doubt why people can see it as lightweight, and even unnecessary. What I mean is essentially the tools to guide your behaviour – how you talk to your customers, how you talk to your staff, what your packaging feels like, the photography in your advertising, the colours you use for your website, the colours you use for delivery vans… The list is not endless but it can be pretty long.

In 2020 you just can’t afford to rush these decisions. With consumers bombarded by choice, and word of mouth the fastest route to success, you can’t underestimate the impact these interactions will have.

Just a few pages of our brand guidelines, created to help our Cousins take the company out into the world

If you think about your favourite companies, those that keep you returning, you’ll no doubt cite the customer service, the ease of use, or the enjoyment of buying a product – there’ll be certain elements that they do so well, that you’re happy to part with your money again and again. And this is down to brand. Because without a clear brand identity, chances are your interactions with them would be patchy. If companies are consistent in the way they look, the way they sound, the way they feel, then customers will return. Their staff will know how to respond with one voice as opposed to hundreds. And in fact their entire operation will become more efficient, because they won’t be reinventing the wheel with every missive.

Not so lightweight now…

If you buy into this then you can see how the logo is just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m presenting a concept the logo can absolutely make or break it – and having now designed a brand for myself, I can see how a subjective reaction is almost unavoidable. But when we think about how a customer will actually interact with a brand, we have to pay just as close attention to everything that surrounds it. Because while a logo will state your name and likely give an indication as to what you do, it doesn’t give anyone, customers or staff, a direction on how you behave.

For me, the most interesting – and perhaps surprising - thing about a brand identity is the effect it can have on the internal staff. Done well, it can galvanise teams into delivering on the common goal. It can make people feel appreciated, and considered. And the effect that this can have on the bottom line is quite remarkable. One of my favourite examples is the makeup brand Glossier who, on hearing their staff were chilly in the office, created sweatshirts for everyone to wear – beautiful of course to the last detail. It wasn’t long before word got out, and the consumer demand for the sweatshirts started to build. A limited release sold out, and now they are regularly on sale to the public. A thoughtful gesture for staff ended up cementing a brand kudos which saw people pledging allegiance in the most public way, with a makeup brand emblazoned across their chests.

Glossier’s sweatshirts, and the lovely little detail they didn’t have to include. Images courtesy of Glossier

Competition is no longer just down to the product. Don’t get me wrong, the product, or service has to be the first priority – this is after all what people are paying for. But consumers today want something more – they want to buy into the story, and trust that their loyalty will be rewarded. These brands, the consistent ones who know who they are, aren’t afraid to go the extra mile and deliver great service again and again are the ones we stay loyal to. The ones we tell our friends about.

The ones we wear sweatshirts for.

Lynsay Biss

Strategic Design Director & Co-Founder of Cousin

In her 10 years designing both agency and client-side, Lynsay has developed an exceptional talent for translating any business need into a meaningful brand. She covers all areas of brand development, from concept to execution and everything in between.

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