Identity Conveys Your Brand’s Message… Or Does It?

Building a positive aura around your brand is the ultimate goal of every marketing campaign you launch, every product improvement you make, and the reason why things like design even exist. Apart from usability issues, customer problem-solving properties, your product, and your brand have to appeal to people on sensual levels. However, perception is subjective and you might be surprised by the actual impression your content produces. Increasingly, things might get sketchy once you go international.

One thing to remember here is that the meaning you put into your brand identity is the result of a process and rarely a flash. The perception, however, is almost always a flash. Are you confident that flash will work in your favor?  

Brand Identity Package

Once your brand has reached the level of viability where it can start presenting itself as a complete business entity, it’s inevitable that your focus on identity becomes more and more evident. You might have had an initial logo drawn by a friend with an idea you had been carrying around since high school or a professionally created one. You can’t, however, rest on it for too long. Recharging a brand’s visual presentation is an essential part of its lifespan and the means to maintain relevance through decades.

Brand identity is not something you can draw in Photoshop. It’s a dome that covers multiple assets from graphics to the voice and tone your brand has when it produces content. In a nutshell, a brand identity package includes the following:

  • Logos. Your brand’s unique sign. Includes:
    • A primary logo.
    • A secondary logo.
    • A trimmed-down version logo.
  • Color palette. This is your corporate color scheme, like a sports team historic identity colors.
  • Typography. The typefaces and fonts your brand resonates with.
  • Stationery. All sorts of printed media and handout stuff designed in the context of the previous 3.
  • Word design. Often referred to as UX writing, this is the voice of your brand. Consistent, individual, and specific.
  • Brand moodboard. Some sort of a guide that can help designers create your brand’s products within some sort of an emotional and ideological framework.

All these are set to contribute to one goal – single your brand out of the swarms of the alike by means of the aesthetic impression.

Naming Gone Wrong

Sometimes aesthetics goes south and your brand starts sounding a little bit out of tune for someone representing a different cultural and social layer. Having written my graduate thesis in cross-cultural communication, I was constantly stumbling upon the ridiculous cases of brands misusing concepts to convey their identity in some cultural contexts.

Whenever a brand goes international, the first thing you need to check is whether the same things transmit the same meaning in different regions. Best case scenario – a brand’s statement looks ridiculous. Much worse is when it gets misunderstood and projects offensive context to some easily offended demographics. There are examples of some famously messed up naming:

“Pocari Sweat”. This is a mineral water brand from Japan, that went international, without changing its name. Apparently, what they wanted to emphasize is the rehydration properties of the water, giving all the minerals and electrolytes lost as the result of sweating. I love the irony. The bottle’s clean and simple design does not project any irony though.

“Pschitt”. A soda brand from France is hardly marketable in any English-speaking country.

“Fucking Hell”. An Austrian village called “Fucking” where a pale pilsner called “Hell” in German, is apparently brewed has a history of being rejected of granting a trademark due to the obvious reasons.

“Fartfull”. Ikea claims to have a secret taxonomy behind its weird names that are deliberately being universal internationally. Fair enough, this was doomed to result in puns and blunders. This is the case with a Fartfull item Initially, the root word fährt lost the umlaut turning the word into a completely different one.

Logo Dissection

A distinctive feature of your brand logo is the first thing that sticks out once you see the logo. You may spend hours on iterations and polishing the details, but the trait that will define your logo may be beyond your perception. 

A couple days ago Signs.com did an amazing study of how people remember famous logos. I think a lot of designers and business owners would be surprised to see what people actually remember as the core features of their logos. To illustrate the point, here’s what over 150 people drew when they were asked to recreate the Starbucks logo out of their memory.

Identity Conveys Your Brand's Message... Or Does It? | Shakuro

The bottom-right corner ones are actually pretty accurate but the majority, however, is hilarious.

Identity Conveys Your Brand's Message... Or Does It? | Shakuro

I think the Starbucks logo is brilliant. Their entire branding and the home-away-from-home demeanor created a special niche for modern coffee shops. At the same time, their example is very representative of the way the human brain works in terms of imprinting vivid features of the visual aspect of products and services.

Startups can learn from it and only accept the pathways of their brand recognition that are positively affecting the company image.

Rave of Color

The color identifier has been used by humans as a primary means to separate things and establish order since the early days of civilization. Colors pierce through our minds through generations and cultures and no doubt, the visual tool as powerful as that could not have been neglected by the design craft.

Considering the Newtonian approach that color is not inherent in objects. Rather, the surface of an object reflects some colors and absorbs all the others, we perceive only the reflected colors. Applying colors to a brand is where art meets science. Colors have to appeal to a customer’s heart because this is where your brand is born, not on the billboards and packages, or pens and t-shirts.

For that reason, you have to pay attention to the cognitive load different colors carry in different countries if you are determined to go global. For example, using a green pallet in the Western world culture profile is associated with health and nature, while for many Latin American countries green is the color of death. For this, designers have to be culturally educated.

An important thing to keep in mind, there is no uniformity in the naming of colors, so when designing the identity, all the colors have to be coded according to the Pantone Matching System most of the designers are familiar with. This will ensure the carefully selected colors of yours will be the same in any country regardless of the nomenclature.

Typography Trap

Colors and shapes carry visual and subconscious meaning, conveying mood and tone of your brand. But there is more to it than just visuals. If we are talking about an informative media that sets your message in stone, we mean writing. And reading as a means to pick that information up.

Words themselves come designed in a specific type of delivery method – typefaces. The legibility of your brand’s message relies equally on its visual appeal and general symbol recognition. One of the mistakes brands make is get pulled into the depths of fancy typography where it’s only them keeping track of what is being presented as identity. A perfect example is the style of metal band logos. Once you get seriously into that music – no doubt you’ll be able to read and remember most of these bands’ names.

Identity Conveys Your Brand's Message... Or Does It?  | Shakuro

However, for a person from a different side of the world, even the most obvious logo might look what these metal band logos look for most of us.

Writing Relevance

As for the writing part, product localization might be a huge pain in the neck. Linguistic styles are unique for every language and often times they do not coincide. One of the recent trends in web design is UX Writing and it addresses the issues of possible meaning discrepancy behind a brand’s voice.

A lot of marketing texts involve heavy context, puns, allusions, etc. It’s good when you can find a similar equivalent in a foreign language, in other cases you either have to work around it or build an entirely new cognitive structure that will still convey your brand’s message and speak to people in their native notions.

As a general rule here, we can apply the following: avoid calque. This will save you from the embarrassment of the situations these major brands ended up in at some point:

American Airlines introduced its new leather first-class seats in Mexico with a literal translation of their tagline “Fly in Leather”, which in Spanish means “fly naked.”

The Coors slogan “Turn It Loose” became “Suffer from Diarrhea” in Spanish.

Pepsi’s Taiwan launch of their “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” became “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

The Perdue Chicken tagline “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” was translated into a much more…intimate…meaning on billboards all over Mexico.

The Balance

Every large brand starts somewhere and most likely, they don’t look further than over the fence. By gradually building their identity in an isolated environment, they might get caught in between Scylla and Charybdis of stagnation and irrelevance, where changing things up means losing some recognizability while copying identity is not an option.

One of the ways to avoid that loop is to develop a 360-degree approach to building your brand identity. Intuitively, having an international business experience is great for this. Also, having employees of different cultural and social backgrounds might help broaden the horizon.
And of course, there is outsourcing as a powerful integration tool and economically beneficial as well.