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A New Era of Design-Centric Branding is on the Rise

INDIVIDUALITY is the prime casualty of consumer driven, data-centric marketing. We are being segmented and targetted as increasingly complex extrapolations of social, political and economic groupings, rather than identified as singular individuals.

Nowhere is this consumer-driven orientation having more impact than on brand marketing. The current philosophy is to use data to better define consumer behavior and preferences, then simply regurgitate what this data says they want back to them in the form of “personalized” profiling.

One of the most significant effects of this model has been to take the work of developing a unique brand out of the hands of creative professionals and put it into the hands of data-wonks concerned only with such reactive consumer response.

But not all is lost. Creativity and originality are still alive and well in the modern world. In fact, a newly-revitalized design-centric brand model is emerging, based on an increasing need to work with people, products and companies from the inside out. This model recognizes that rather than catering so slavishly to customers’ vacillating whims and fancies, we now need to build individualized identities that most effectively and authentically communicate who we are, what we do and how we are differentiated from those around us.


First, consumers have little experience or expertise in branding, so what they bring to the table basically boils down to opinion. And this type of opinion most frequently appears in the form of things like onsite reviews.

Second, as has been demonstrated by the self-serving banality of such reviews, the aggregate of such opinions leads to the lowest common denominator in thought and perception (insert emoji).

And third, consumers typically do not know what they want until they actually see it. Thus, reliance on consumer data as a pivotal element of forward-looking decision-making has left us in a backwash of me-too mediocrity.

As David Brier states in a recent Fast Company post, “The worst thing a company can do to its brand is have a product that IS different, yet pitch in a way that sounds the same as the competitor’s.”

One needs to look no further than the pharmaceutical industry to see this in action.

Constructed to by-pass the medical profession with a direct appeal to consumers, a laundry list of drugs, from Victoza, Brillinta, Invokana, Latuda and Humira to Tudorza, Abilify, Pradaxa, Symbicort and Aubagio all have the same style of naming conventions comprised of one part indecipherability, one part whimsy, and two heaping shots of vague pharmacological mumbo-jumbo.

In the automotive industry, legacy brands such as Ford and Chevy once the subject of animated conversations about their relative merits have been relegated to a generic stockpile of colorless brands long since overshadowed by a host of more exciting and aspirational entries such as Tesla.


A quick glance at the difference between Airbnb and Habitat or Yammer and Facebook shows the same paradigm at play in the visual as well as verbal space. Like a host of others, logos for these companies are hopelessly oversimplified and under considered, designed as if by a typewriter rather than conceived as the end product of virtually endless possibilities the modern digital process offers today’s creative professionals.

While the link between me-too mediocrity and reliance on consumer perception has only begun to be explored, the general direction in which this is heading can be seen in the de-evolution of social media language to its most numbingly pedestrian level.

Now, if all this seems copacetic to you, then so be it. I won’t pull any numbers to determine how many agree or disagree with this opinion and/or the infinite number of ways these findings can be extrapolated and monetized.

But be aware. As a result of the overuse of consumer-based metrics, we are now entering a new era of design-centric communication which is starting to pose a fundamental challenge to the fading chimera of data-driven marketing.

In our media-saturated marketplace, survival depends on more than number-crunching and aggregated analytics. It depends on emphasizing clear, compelling aesthetics over collective landfills of information by letting creative brand professionals do what they do best—establish unique, individualized identities for their clients that stand out from the crowd and compel consumers to sit up and take notice.

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