Home  › Marketing › Strategies

Keeping Brand Identity in a Customized World

  |  July 25, 2006   |  Comments

What's the brand's role in a world of customized products and services?

First came Nike iD, a customization concept that enabled consumers to design their own pair of Nike shoes. Then Jones Soda offered a customization platform: bottles became vehicles for consumers' customized labels, with a guarantee the fans' bottles would be distributed in stores. Shortly thereafter, Build-A-Bear Workshop broke new ground in the teddy bear game, inviting kids to construct their own bears. The Lego Factory enables kids to design their own Lego sets. Consider Mercedes-Benz's build-your-own-car option and, of course, the hundreds of clothing Web sites that offer consumers the chance to design their ideal apparel.

These consumer lures have all been exercised in parallel with the online world where the very concept of customization is fundamental, and in which customization's potential has yet to be fully exploited.

Once we've had the chance to pick and choose, to become kings and queens of our own brand universes, product functions, and designs, there'll be no turning back. In the future, we'll be able to customize every consumer item we use. The days of Henry Ford's manufacturing mantra, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black," are long gone.

The question thus arises: what's the brand's role? Is it possible to build a brand if that brand's products can be customized by consumers?

The brand's role is to remain instantly recognizable, even without a logo. Take the iPod. Where's the logo? You may be surprised to learn the logo's hidden on the back, not prominently displayed on the front, as any marketer would insist. Yet, I'm sure no one world would confuse a Sony Walkman with an iPod. This demonstrates a crucial feature of good branding. Were Sony to remove its logo from its Walkman, the device could be identified as being a product from a number of competitors. No one would mistake the iPod for one of its competitors.

Here's more cleverness. You may claim the distinctive white of the iPod sets it apart. But an iPod in yellow, blue, or red would be equally recognizable. Fact is, the brand is so deeply embedded into the product that every square inch of it is the brand. The logo is just dotting the "i."

If you break down the Apple brand and examine each of its components, you'll realize the logo is a very small part of the whole equation. Apple owns the navigation wheel, the materials (combining steel and plastic), the rounded shape, the simplicity of design, the weight, the navigation, the navigation sound, the slow yet balanced movements (when navigating), and, of course, the distinctive white earphones.

So what's the brand's role? Steady growth in customization -- online, offline, and wireless -- requires brands to develop and maintain more coherent, stronger brand identities that emanate from the full spectrum of product and service components, not just from a logo.

This "smash your brand" theory, which I discuss in my "BRAND sense," refers to the principle underlying the classically contoured Coca-Cola bottle, which was designed to be recognizable even if smashed into thousands of pieces. The theory sums up a brand's role in the age of customization.

Assuming this trend will grow, it will be essential for a brand to be smashable to ensure its soul shines through the most customized of customizations. The brand must be visible, distinctly perceivable, to justify the consumer's choice of it for her customized product. Brands that continue to rely on a logo for credibility and distinctiveness will face tough times because, ultimately, products will need to be so well branded no logo is necessary to signal its brand identity.

Prepare yourself for an interesting future. Conduct a brand health check today. Remove your logo from offline products and online presences. See what's left. If the logo's disappearance means farewell to your brand identity, it's a warning. Time to reconsider your brand strategy. The good news is there's still time for improvement. The bad news is the clock is already ticking.

ClickZ Live Chicago Join the Industry's Leading eCommerce & Direct Marketing Experts in Chicago
ClickZ Live Chicago (Nov 3-6) will deliver over 50 sessions across 4 days and 10 individual tracks, including Data-Driven Marketing, Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email. Check out the full agenda and register by Friday, Oct 3 to take advantage of Early Bird Rates!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin Lindstrom

Martin Lindstrom is recognized as one of the world's primary on- and offline branding gurus by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He is the author of several best-selling branding books including his latest, "BRAND sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound," published by Free Press. BRANDsense.com details information about Lindstrom's "BRAND sense" and the BRAND sense Symposium, a branding conference running in 51 cities in 31 countries.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

IBM: Social Analytics - The Science Behind Social Media Marketing

IBM Social Analytics: The Science Behind Social Media Marketing
80% of internet users say they prefer to connect with brands via Facebook. 65% of social media users say they use it to learn more about brands, products and services. Learn about how to find more about customers' attitudes, preferences and buying habits from what they say on social media channels.

An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising

An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising
If you're considering implementing a marketing attribution model to measure and optimize your programs, this paper is a great introduction. It also includes real-life tips from marketers who have successfully implemented attribution in their organizations.

Jobs

    • Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative
      Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative (Agora Financial) - BaltimoreAgora Financial, one of the nation's largest independent publishers...
    • Managing Editor
      Managing Editor (Common Sense Publishing) - BaltimoreWE’RE HIRING: WE NEED AN AMAZING EDITOR TO POLISH WORLD-CLASS CONTENT   The Palm...
    • Senior Paid Search & Advertising Manager
      Senior Paid Search & Advertising Manager (Smarty Had A Party) - St. LouisCompany Description: A warm, loving, [slightly wacky] startup, we view...