Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Designing for Retail Brands: 6 Key Considerations

September 12, 2010, 11:20 AM

An article written in collaboration with Adam Rotmil — a fruitful exchange of ideas and a refreshing experience. Also available on the Adam Rotmil Partners blog.

Companies that have a strong retail presence require a powerful, memorable, and positive brand. It must be different from the competition and visible in the urban space. These are six things we have learned.

1. HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
Even with the most visible, most advertised brands, it’s about a positive experience. Big media purchases may bring a spike in sales, but does that equate to positive reputation? Brand engagement with company employees has shown more long-term value. Having your own mini-army of proud, confident and helpful employees means connecting with customers at the most vital touchpoint: human contact. While price is one major element in customers’ decisions, most of us would rather go where we feel we are treated better, even if it costs a little more. For this to happen, employees must understand the brand and feel like part of its culture. Take for instance Apple. With rare exception, they’ll do almost everything to earn your satisfaction. Even if that means bending rules. It is a proven axiom that the most effective advertising is positive word-of-mouth. With the advent of social media, this is even more the case.

2. PLAN FOR TRAFFIC WITHIN THE RETAIL SPACE.
Where do you want customers to go first? Graphic elements are valuable in wayfinding, helping the customer get what he wants faster. But think about why grocery stores put the milk in the back. It’s so you’ll spend more time inside, discovering more, and buying more. Think about IKEA and their amusement-park approach to retail spaces. People who shop there feel that the space is meant for them, that they can stay as long as they like, and have everything they need.

3. COMPETITION INFORMS COLOR CHOICES.
Choosing colors requires first investigating the brand’s competition. What’s the most used color? the second? What’s the primary color of the biggest competitor? For food products, red might be the easiest color to spot. If everyone else is using red, doing the same thing can be a missed opportunity. Using blue often makes sense, since it is liked by men and women and implies trust. But, it may not help you stand out if most other brands are using blue. It is an important balance for the brand to look like what it is (whether coffee or life insurance), and to stand out. Some of the most memorable brands, such as Kodak, have colors that same-class competitors do not. And when I say Kodak, you instantly recall the Kodak yellow. When you think Cisco, you recall the Cisco teal.

4. THE BIGGER, THE BIGGER.
Does size really matter (in retail)? Many clients ask for “the bigger, the better strategy.” These people are smart business owners. And big does work, at least in theory. But, check if it really helps. Urban spaces are extremely crowded most of the time. Imagine a completely white fascia or a large mesh ad on a building. Everything around it would be all images and big type. But you’d be the quiet space everybody would turn to. You’d stand out because you’re different: you’re not shouting. Designer Bruno Monguzzi reminds us, “If you continue shouting, you are not communicating better. You have simply removed whispering from the system.” Think about the Beatles’ release of The White Album. When it hit retail stores, it was an oasis.

5. ARE YOU IGNORING SENSORY CUES?
Best-in-class brands have cues that can be dialed up or down. These cues include the senses. Everyone can recognize a Tiffany’s box. Failing to integrate lighting, color, shape, touch — even smell — means missing opportunities. Developing brand properties, or attributes, is the best way to gain top-of-mind relevance in your customers’ minds. It also gives customers a beacon toward the brand. The shape and color of Sephora’s striped entrance, for instance, makes it easy to recognize from far away. Lighting is sometimes more important than the logo outside or the posters in the windows. The flooring is an opportunity to connect with customers emotionally. How does it feel: cold, soft, textured, solid, reliable? These attribute choices will influence how the customer feels about the brand, and how they will remember the retail experience. Remember stepping inside an Adidas shop. You know the smell, you recognize it right away. Memory takes many forms. It starts with specific experiences and gradually crystalizes to a general association with a bundle of promises and expectations. Triggers to recall these memories include scents, music, materials, lighting, furniture, being offered a cup of tea, and more with a well-thought retail brand.

6. BATHWATER GOES. BABY STAYS.
New brands usually start from zero, with the luxury of getting it right in the first place. Redesigned brands, however, are much more complicated and require caution. Unless a brand is toxic, don’t throw out the brand’s entire DNA. The core of its visual identity has gained years of equity. The essence of brand properties (colors, symbols, a mascot,…) may be of great service to the revitalized brand. With Cisco, the bridge-in-a-box became a more open and abstract symbol. But the core DNA of the bridge, all of its implications, and the literal connection to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, remain. Reinventing a brand, while keeping the merits it has earned, helps ensure customer loyalty, while expanding the customer base.

Many of the general principles about brand strategy and design apply to designing for retail. But these are some considerations we think you should bear in mind. These are just starting points. Talk about these issues with your colleagues and your clients. We hope this helps you build a better brand expression.

Iancu Barbărasă is an experienced graphic designer specialised in brand identity design. He has previously worked for the leading Romanian branding and design company Brandient, taking part in large rebranding projects like Dedeman and CEC Bank, internationally awarded (Best of Awards and Merit at Rebrand, 2009, Rhode Island, USA). His experience covers a multitude of design fields, from identity, retail, packaging to print and web design. As of September 2010, he is living and working in London, UK. Iancu believes that good, idea-driven design means good business and a more enjoyable life for everyone.

Contact Iancu via E-mail
Visit Iancu on the web at www.iancul.com

Adam Rotmil runs the Japan office of Adam Rotmil Partners, specializing in brand strategy and design. He has 15 years of brand and design experience with companies of all sizes. He held a senior creative position at Marsh and McClennan Companies, the premier global services firm. Adam later designed at Brown Brothers Harriman, the largest private bank in the United States. Adam lives in Japan and partners with experts worldwide, sharing projects and talent. His singular vision is to improve brand value through strategy, exploration, and discovery. Adam knows good work implies social awareness, dedication, honesty, and integrity.

Contact Adam via E-mail
Visit Adam on the web at www.adamrotmil.com

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Comments:

I would add 7. Design the ID for production. The key elements (wordmark and symbol at least) should be _fasciable_ (sorry for inventing a word) or they become part of the problem, not the solution.

Nice article!

True, having a strong logo that is easy to produce on a fascia, as a big outdoor sign or even as a landmark certainly goes a long way. Shorter names are ideal, but they’re rarely available, so most of the times you have to find a good typographic solution to achieve good visibility.

Glad you liked it :)

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As Steve Jobs use to say: You’ve nailed it!

Interesting & comprehensive, especially for someone not directly involved in this area of design but still being a designer :)

If I may add something, I’m just curious, how this designing & branding strategies are applied when you have to do it for a brand/a shop/company that only exists online?

I’m only experimenting from time to time with identities/marks, but I would like to know how is the branding process changing when you’re designing identities and branding programs exclusively for online.

Thanks Dragos, glad you liked it. Design writing is often too caught up in its own smartness to be easily understood from somebody not directly involved.

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@ Dragos
Online brands have their specific requirements and rules, but all in all, it’s pretty much down to differentiating. Observing the competition, trying to see what they do well and where they fail — it’s a lot like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, branding :) That’s what makes it so interesting and rewarding.

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Thx for the answer. About that though, doing some work for brands that live exclusively online takes a different approach in communication, right? I’m mean, you get in touch with your costumers through a totally different way – you have interactivity.

That’s a whole new area of communication, everything happens faster, there is a lot of feedback, there are more chances to make fast mistakes but also good chances to do better and rise up faster etc.

Well, online is still a “wild west” in many ways. Some things work extremely well, others surprisingly fail. There are less certainties, like in retail design, a field that’s been around for more than a century, compared to the barely two-decades-old online.

I think the online is more about speed and getting what you want right now, rather than about interactivity. And it’s also getting more and more about “moving” content, dynamic, real time exchange of information.

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True, thx again!

Btw, I like how your comments are displayed. :)

I’m glad you like them, I designed them the best I could, following the same line as the posts.

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