Creating a brand identity for a global company can be financially lucrative, but the commission will bring its own kind of design challenges. Digit investigated how best to approach design for mega brands.

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Branding is big business. And when a brand is recognized internationally, it becomes a big deal for the designers who work with it. The creation of a visual identity can take months to plan and deliver, pushing the resources of design teams to the limit. 
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Even a single campaign or branding exercise can take a great deal of time and effort, involving strict adherence to corporate style guidelines and endless travel for client sign-off meetings. Travel, that seemingly attractive perk of the designer on a global account, is actually one of the biggest gripes. The Byzantine nature of the marketing departments of world-class corporations isn’t conducive to a stress-free life either. 
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“If you’re working with an international brand and doing international work, by necessity you’re working within a very process-driven, tightly controlled environment – you’re certainly working with a lot more people than you would need to deal with on a domestic basis,” says Ciaran Deering, managing director of Tribal DDB London. 
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“An account director in an international piece of business probably spends two and a half weeks out of every month out of the country. It’s time consuming. Domestic clients are slightly more self-contained and can be run with less people, which means communication is easier and the work is quicker. International sign-offs can take ages. If you need to get someone in Amsterdam and someone in NY to say ‘yes’, it takes time, as opposed to getting approval from one person in Milton Keynes.”
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“There are those that say it’s hard to do international work that’s really exciting. But that’s not necessarily true. Some people prefer one, some the other and I think it’s good for an agency to have a balance of both. You develop a lot of different experience, and from a financial point of view, the international business can often be quite lucrative. There is that much more work and international companies normally have more money to invest.”
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Tribal’s creative director Ben Clapp prefers national clients. “The British market is so large, it often doesn’t make a difference whether you are dealing with a global audience or not,” he says. “Many of our (British) clients are so big that you’re working on that international level even if they are not a global brand. But I wouldn’t enjoy working on non-national brands. I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between dealing with a big brand in Britain and a global brand, apart from the translation issues and travel issues. Either client will work the same way. There’s more of a difference between small national and big national clients.” 
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Working with a big company can catch the designer up in office politics. “Each component globally, quite rightly, focuses on its own territory and making money and being successful,” says Paul Thurlow, design manager at Oyster Partners. “So there isn’t necessarily a need for them to think from the top of the pyramid down. There are all sorts of arguments to do with territorial identity.”
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“It’s like what all designers learn when you get out of school – you start out thinking that design is a highly personalized vision thing but then you quickly find out that all that work only makes up about 20 per cent of what you have to do,” says Oyster creative partner David Warner. 
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“The rest of it is the consensus building, the meetings, the talking, the letting people feel that they’ve been heard enough times. There are lots of tricks like ignoring when they ask for changes until they get tired of asking, because you know it’s for the better. But sometimes you have to concede something in order to get something bigger through.” 
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<b>Back to basics</b>
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Global brands don’t suddenly come into existence, unless they are an amalgamation or evolution of existing brands. They’ve all grown up from small companies, often with a quickly designed logo in the early days or the name of the owner instead of a word loaded with a corporate message.
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Now however they are much more. We asked some designers which global brand had the best identity or campaign. Google, Nickelodeon, and the Sci-Fi channel were all quoted as brands with good design representation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple came out looking particularly rosy. 
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“Apple’s products are their communications. They represent completely coherent design,” says Jonas Hallberg, creative director of Strobe. “The Think Different TV campaign is memorable, and their activities now, such as educational Mac stores and conferences don’t even feel like marketing. They create content that gains them more PR than they could possibly pay for. Mac and iPod users are all ambassadors. That’s smart.”
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“Coca Cola springs to mind as a brand that’s changed a lot recently,” says Ben Clapp. “They always used to be ‘the real thing’ and they were very consistently American. Now they’ve changed with the polar bears and other things and I think it’s confused people, whereas Pepsi has stuck to its youth image with MTV very consistently.” 
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According to Pearlfisher creative partner, Jonathan Ford, the best visual identity is an iconic one. “This is comprised of several parts,” he says: “a powerful idea, a timeless quality, consistency, strong symbolic power, in-built versatility and brand relevance. A combination of these elements communicates and creates desire and builds a strong connection with the consumer.”
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Lars Hemming Jorgensen, creative director at Large, feels a strong brand primarily needs a distinctive and easy to remember logo. It has to be effective in all media. “As we’re all exposed to tens of thousands of brands every day, the brand also needs to convey messages and values immediately and efficiently,” says Jorgensen. “It’s fighting for your attention. If it manages to get it then passing information to the viewer has to be immediate.” 
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Does a brand’s identity or logo really need to convey a message? Most designers think so. “The old British rail ‘arrows’ logo describes exactly what the organization does while creating a unique and instantly recognizable graphic image,” says Simon Crab creative director of Lateral.<BR>
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<b>Getting the message</b>
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“All the best work conveys a message, or at least an emotion,” agrees Michael Berthron, creative director at English & Pockett. “However it’s a mistake to try and force a logo to carry complex or multiple messages. The best logos are simple and timeless, leaving the identity campaign to convey the brand’s full personality.”
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Logo and brand are not interchangeable though. “The logo, like brand values, is nothing in isolation,” says Jonas Hallberg. “Logos are about building recognition and the brand is how the products, services and communications are experienced, and thus perceived in people’s minds. <BR>
Too many logos and no substantial experience can be detrimental to the brand.
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“It’s a balance between brand fame and personal experiences that brings the brand meaning. Just throwing about logos in as many places as possible does not create a brand. It often irritates consumers because it gatecrashes their personal space. But if it is relevant and credible to all, then the communication is unique to the brand and will be welcomed and even sought out by the consumer.” 
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However big they are, all companies need to communicate effectively to their clients and customers. It’s well recognized that it’s easier to re-sell to existing customers rather than finding <BR>
new ones, which is why when trying to build brand loyalty, the brand also needs to be loyal to itself. Consistency is the key.
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“If, every time you bought a can of coke it was a slightly different size or a slightly different colour, you would start to lose trust in that cola,” says Graham McCallum, director of design and branding agency Kemistry. “Consistency in a brand is what makes people trust it. If you keep chopping and changing and throwing away things, people begin to lose faith. You have to be very careful when you’re tinkering with things.”
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Jonas Hallberg feels the brand has to be authentic, and integrated in all communications activities. “Most communications fail to maintain brand relevance that is credible to the target group,” he says. “Most brand activities could be easily exchanged with another brand. This is because the key creative elements are not integrated with the brand meaning or with each other.
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“The identity often needs to be the foundation of the company, the rock,” says Lars Hemming Jorgensen. “Product development is so rapid that it’s difficult for an identity to try and convey what it does in its brand. It will be better off communicating more timeless values.” 
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As an example, Jorgensen suggests that Orange does not communicate anything about its product or services in its identity. “However, there are strong values attached to it,” he says. “Its prominent colour and shape makes us remember it.” One of Large’s clients also comes under scrutiny: “Bang & Olufsen does not display any musical notes or other references to its products,” says Jorgensen. “However its brand is seen as a mark of excellence.”
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<b>Building the brand</b> 
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When commissioned to create or work with any brand – global or not – there are several ground rules that designers need to be aware of. “The key element with any brand is to have a very strong idea of who it is and who its customers are,” says Jim Boulton, MD of Large. “Once this vision is in place then a design studio can build a strong visual identity for a company that reflects the value at the heart of the brand.” 
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“We talk a lot about designing the invisible,” says Jonas Hallberg. “We define those key elements first, such as what opportunities we are offering the target group, how can a campaign demonstrate the product benefits.
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“For us the communication has to add value, or enrich people’s lives in some way, and in doing so demonstrate the value of the product, and draw people to the brand – instead of the brand continually chasing their target group. When we have defined the core intent of our campaign, all other elements have to be coordinated to support that main idea.” 
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“There are a series of processes and exercises that a good agency would go through with a big brand to get under its skin,” says Ciaran Deering. “This is to understand what its core positioning should be and how that is to be interpreted in its marketing communications.
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“A lot goes on before anyone sits at a computer and starts building ads or developing a Web site. There will be creatives involved in the process. The best-case scenario in those exercises is that people will be cross-disciplinary. Someone will be a planning boffin, another will be the media person, another will be a creative, so you get a rounded mix of views.”
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So although the look of branding is very important, it’s also about the tone, the style <BR>
and the values. 
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“It’s like trying to describe a personality,” says Nicky Owen, senior brand consultant at Dragon. “If you think of a person, they may dress the same as someone else, but their personality may be quite different. In MacDonalds, they don’t just all dress the same. They all speak the same language; they all have something that’s shared. They all learn what is ‘true’ to MacDonalds to make sure that it is carried through. It’s not just the visual element.” 
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Also, before you think about media, colouring, or typography, think about the emotion. 
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“If I am a member of the target market, how should I feel when I experience the brand or see the logo?” says Christian Hoper, creative director of Design UK. 
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“Everything starts with human feelings and works out from there. The media, colouring and typography then falls into place. This is the essential skill of the designer. A great creative talent intuitively understands which colours, fonts, and other devices to use to convey the right emotions – or to allow marketers to place the emotion on top of the logo via clever juxtaposition with other design elements. 
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“Great brand design cannot be created by following a rule book,” continues Hoper. “It is easy to explain after the design event has happened – once the logo exists – why a piece of design is great. But the rules of how to create the next great piece of design do not and cannot exist.” 
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However, Hoper says there are many practicalities that need to be taken into consideration. “We are producing visual elements for huge commercial organizations,” he says. “So designers need to know, for instance, that for a logo to be extremely successful it needs to look established, be simple and adaptable. If it doesn’t work in black-&-white or can’t stand up to extreme scaling (from clothing tag to billboard), then there is something fundamentally wrong with the visual elements. It is not a great brand.”
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“Intelligent simplicity always triumphs over detail and complexity – we try to express the client’s message in the purest possible form,” states Michael Berthon. “Simple marks are more likely to retain their relevance in different international markets. Originality is key – we try to avoid clichés and formulas and instead say something about what makes our client different.”
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All design functions should support the original transparent brand intent, according to Strobe’s Jonas Hallberg. “For our Levi’s ‘anti-fit’ campaign on 501anti-fit.se we created a new design profile, because we wanted to differentiate the project from the TV ads.
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“The campaign design profile was based on an idea of ‘no design’ – quick reproduction techniques like photocopies, rubber stamps, default fonts, and almost naively honest language. The adverts show people just being themselves, not trying to be anti-fit. So the communications itself had to be very basic, or ‘anyone can do it’, because that is what the anti-fit message is about.” 
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From the smallest online shop to the biggest multinational, it’s also important to inform all involved about the project guidelines, once they’ve been established. “Just one cheesy element can destroy the credibility of the entire project to the target group,” says Hallberg.
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Brand guidelines give the agency the ability to focus on a message that will be consistent with the overall corporate communication. “There is no point having your online communication radically different to offline,” says Ravi Damani, director of Imano. 
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In the end though, every campaign has to be based on a great idea. “Consumers need to ‘love’ the campaign not just ‘like’ it, “says Damani. “If you can develop this emotional connection with consumers, you will see them turn into the strongest advocates of the brand telling everyone from colleagues, friend and family.”
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<h2>CASE STUDY: Umbro</h2>
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Agency: Swamp<BR>
Project: Umbro.com
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