PSFK talks to designer Marc Shillum about how a brand must have multiple, smaller iterations of a single big idea in order to achieve relevancy in the digital age.
PSFK is excited to welcome designer Marc Shillum as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO. Marc is a Principal at Method, where he works across disciplines to manage brand coherence in today’s iterative environment. Marc is the author of Brands As Patterns, which posits that creating a believable and consistent brand begins with the creation of coherent patterns. On November 1st, Marc will discuss what it means to consider brands as patterns and how that method can help build dynamic relationships between brands and customers.
At PSFK Conference San Francisco, you will talk a little about thinking of brands as patterns? How did you reach this conclusion?
I grew up in branding agencies understanding that consistency was king—and the most valuable thing you could have in any brand engagement.
But, after working within digital companies and startups, I became aware that relevance has become more important, perhaps even more valuable than consistency. What can you make, and how quickly can you get the product to market?
I realized that relevance is a powerful force that challenges how you organize your brand, because relevance is iterative. Inconsistency is something that is pretty difficult to manage, but you also don’t want to keep sending the same message at the same time at the same place, because it’s going to make you look mechanical.
Knowing that consistency is related to value for a business, the question became: How do we achieve consistency while also being relevant and differentiated?
I started out as a music major and art major at school in the UK and I saw how this was done through music; it was easy to remain consistent over time and remain relevant. In music, this is achieved through the organization of a pattern; e.g. you play the music, but each time you vary it a little bit. To me, thinking about brand consistency as periodic variance is the way I came to the concept of branded patterns.
Where does that process begin?
I began by looking at what makes a pattern a pattern, which requires certain level of symmetry and a certain frequency of repetition; it does repeat, but it doesn’t repeat all the time. There is also a certain level of variance. How far can it vary and still remain a pattern? I began to look at this in the abstract and then I applied it to business.
If you think about frequency, the question becomes, how do you manage your brand coherently over time? The world around your brand has a frequency, including the decisions of your customers. Their likes, dislikes, and levels of fear or willingness to take risks all occur with a certain frequency. As a result, you’ve got to think about your brand as a frequency. In that same vein, your communication has a frequency as well as your ability to actually create content.
In other words, your ability to deliver a brand, product, or service to market relies on some interconnected frequency of demand, delivery, and production. If you create the wrong level of demand or production, you can flood the market with your product and people don’t want it anymore.
Can you think of an example to help illustrate?
Take the iPhone 4 as an example. I knew it was coming and I knew I wanted it, yet I hadn’t seen an advert. It was about the frequency of the product. I knew when to expect it.
If you look at the world just in terms of frequency, you know the customer has a frequency. There is a frequency of purchase, a frequency of consideration or interaction, and a frequency of information consumption. If you look at publishers, they have traditionally had a frequency, and now they’re jumping into channels that have a much faster frequency, and they are struggling keep up.
Consider the development of your product as a frequency, which asks: How quickly can you generate ideas, how quickly can you prototype, and how quickly can get them to market? If you start to think about all those overlapping frequencies, if any one of them is not aligned, it is going to create dissonance. As soon as you create dissonance, it affects the quality of your intent.
Organize your operation to get the best out of each one of those frequencies. If you only create messages at a certain speed, or create a product at a certain speed, then think about the kinds of channels of communication and the kind of content that you need to make that coincide with it.
What is the challenge to maintaining Patterns?
I guess the simplest challenge, is to say, “We’ve always done that, haven’t we? We’ve always varied who we are. We always vary messages.” At Method, our answer is to say, “OK, let’s do an audit. Let’s look at what you actually said and see how much you do and don’t.” A big challenge is contending with a subset of people who think this is the status quo.
Another challenge is people who find no value in brand thinking at all. They say, “I’m just going to make a good product and I don’t need brand to do anything.”
As companies grow up—look at Facebook, Twitter—they’re all having to deal with the problem, which is that as your product portfolio and offering gets bigger, you have to start changing. You realize there’s a core, fundamental challenge to you, which is how do you scale your belief? How do you maintain the quality of your product? Suddenly, you have to organize a brand.
At that point, you can have a powerful product, but unless it creates a deeper engagement, it doesn’t really deliver on its potential value. That is something I learned from advertising. Making a product interesting and connecting people to it on an emotional level is paramount. Taking systematic minds that live in the engineering world, or interaction design or product design world, and helping them understand the power of storytelling and the power of emotional connection is the key.
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I looked at the landscape six or seven years ago, and in terms of brand development, no other branding company had even considered thinking of brands as patterns. I am thrilled to be exploring the idea with Method clients.
Please join us on November 1st to hear Marc discuss rethinking of brands as patterns in the digital age at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO.