David Brier, a brand expert, knows what's killing your brand. How to ensure that the brand, the heart of your business, becomes more impactful, influential, relevant and interesting? You will find that out at SEMPL.
David Brier runs his own branding company in Wisconsin, USA (acknowledging that he occasionally misses his native home of Brooklyn, NY), where he lives with his wife. For more than thirty years, he has been devoted to design and branding and has received more than 330 industry awards for design, branding, package design and editorial design. He is known for his statement: “Clichés can kill more businesses than a room full of politicians. It’s our job to prevent clichés from gaining access to our client’s branding solutions. Think of us as the ‘brand intervention specialists’.” He also emphasized this in the interview before the November SEMPL conference, where you will have the opportunity to listen to him twice – in a session on ‘what kills brands’ and a special power breakfast, where you will be able to ask him everything about branding.
You have never been part of the corporate world and have always been an independent designer and consultant. Have you ever wanted to become an art director in an advertising agency?
When I was in the last year of the Academy of Visual Arts in New York, I ran into a magazine that just blew my mind. I didn’t realize the craft of design up until that moment. I occasionally saw nice packages and designs, but they did not touch me. That’s why I decided to start off by publishing a magazine that would be beautifully designed, and named it Graphic Relief.
At that time, I didn’t see any agencies that I would particularly like to work with. Bigger brands felt limited; they didn’t feel like they were going to embrace discovery and explore what was possible. I did not feel that I could change anything.
There was one designer, though, the only one I wanted to work for, whose work I found really exceptional. I got an interview with him, but soon afterwards his health began to worsen, so unfortunately we did not manage to go through with it. I could have worked with his partner in the studio, but he was more like he was the only star and everybody else was underneath him. Later, I worked with several designers, among them the famous typographer Tony DiSpigna.
How did you become a brand expert? What is so appealing in brands that you devoted your time to their development and advising clients about branding?
Early in my career I also did editorial design. I appreciated relevant art direction, the importance of words, typography and space. When you’re dealing with the editorial setting you’re dealing with all of the components of design, message and story. Even though I was initially focusing on logos, I started to expand quickly. Because I liked what all of the pieces could do together. I almost compare it to music. It’s kind of like if I learn to play one instrument but then realise that there’s so much more that happens with a full orchestra. I consider branding very much in the realm of telling stories. I started to really look at the role of design, art direction, colour, texture, feeling. Each of these are tools to achieve the bigger purpose of branding.
Why does branding matter and why is it much more than a logo? We have been talking about this for decades but it seems that for some companies the brand is still just a logo.
Branding is the art of differentiation. If you are just blending in with your competitors, and you are not being seen as distinct, you do not have a unique voice and your story is unclear, you will just be another product on the shelf. If you’re blending in, you aren’t branding. The biggest enemy of branding are clichés, unoriginal ideas or over used ideas, things that we have heard a lot of. If a company uses cliches, it promotes only its product category, but not its own brand. There is a huge difference. And that’s why branding is important. Branding breathes life into the product and gives it meaning.
Your book Brand Intervention: 33 Steps to Transform the Brand You Have Into the Brand You Need is an Amazon bestseller. What’s the difference between the brand you have and the one you need?
Most companies, like you made reference to, still think that it’s all about the logo or the slogan. They think that what they’ve done matters. It’s like they may say: “We’ve made this tea. The tea is the best. We’ve spent years finding the right sources.” But the tea doesn’t matter by itself. What matters is, what does the product or service make possible? The product needs to make life better, faster, simpler, easier, more fun and less painful. There’s a difference between what a company makes and sells and what the consumer buys. What the consumer buys is the relevant part. The brand that you need is the one that makes a difference in the world. That difference needs to be clear, short, succinct, unmistakable and not sound like someone else’s.
Is the most important part of branding process the brand values that make consumers feel close to the brand? Or is it something else?
Shared values are certainly vital. If a brand really authentically embraces values, then the seller almost does not have to sell the product. Does Nike even sell sneakers? “Just Do It” was not a slogan about their product, but a slogan about you and me, a call to do something for ourselves. And people identify with this.
But something else is very important – a story. If someone tells you a good story, you will remember it and probably share it with your friends. Such stories are like invisible gems that go through society.
What do big brands, masters of branding, have in common?
Brands such as Harley Davidson, Nike and Apple understand their culture in-depth.
These companies did not just see a business opportunity. They started out of passion and enthusiasm and transferred it to people with whom they shared the same values.
At SEMPL, you will have two sessions. What will you talk about?
That’s right; there is going to be a Thursday session and Friday morning power breakfast. The power breakfast is going to be Q & A and the people can ask me everything they want in a relaxed environment, which is going to be awesome.
On Thursday I will cover “what’s killing your brand”. I will use lots of visual examples and show what is eating away brands’ ability to have an impact, to be meaningful, relevant, and interesting to your target group.