Designing brands: think 'screen', be seen

Brands are increasingly being designed from Instagram up, says brand building specialist Jonathan Sagar.
It used to be that we would design brands to be seen. Now, we build them to screen.


The branding world today is a very different place from what it once was, and at Voice, we’re increasingly building brands from Instagram up. It’s a mobile world and whether you like it or not, all brands are fundamentally digital. No longer an add-on, ‘nice to have’ at the end of the project, it’s imperative that digital is part of the brand blueprint from the very beginning.

With Instagram now the place that most brands and product releases are seen first, what something looks like on a mobile device has become an increasingly important—and in the case of adidas’ Deerupt sneaker, the most important—design consideration. But there’s more to it than simply making stuff look cool and garnering likes. Consumers are looking for brands that have something interesting to say, but sadly these days, too many brands ring hollow with all personality and no substance. “Marketing professionals have been lulled into accepting reassurances about their brand’s online performance that don’t stand up to scrutiny,” says Matt Rowe, founder and MD of digital agency Uprise Auckland, a long-time collaborator of Voice whose business is in visibility and measurement.

To build a great brand requires not just a design toolkit, but a clear and distinctive brand strategy that solves a real problem people have. These days it also requires a digital strategy and robust content. Attention spans are short, content is increasingly delivered to mobile channels and consumers are besieged with competitor offers. All this has fundamentally changed how people become interested—and what they take to heart. “What we do at Uprise is directly linked to the acquisition strategy that most companies are following in order to hit their growth goals”, explains Matt. “Our work focuses on analysing the content experience. We look to optimise the effectiveness of content across the full range of digital touchpoints so that it seamlessly meets the needs of consumers.”

Warby Parker is a great example of a company whose brand strategy and digital strategy work seamlessly together. They know who they are and what they stand for, and use content to reinforce their commitments, respond to and re-engage customers. It’s this sort of digital savvy that makes brands grow—and last. Polling interest—often in real time—digital agencies can act as a listening post: assessing what is then being picked up by search engines and on social networks and providing feedback to brands on the subjects and ideas they should be looking to amplify.

“We look to rigorously assess the presence that a brand is building, and we approach that in a scientific way” explains Matt. “It’s easy to be impressed by the numbers, but what we’re constantly examining is the power of the reaction that a specific piece of content is getting. What is getting people’s attention? What are they acting on? What are they sharing? What are they prepared to advocate for? And what does that mean for the brand in terms of buying behaviours? We’re measuring the effectiveness of brands in digital spaces using metrics that provide marketing managers with meaningful data rather than just ‘vanity’ metrics.”

The do or die of strong brands today is their ability to be competitive and engaging—visually and in conversation. For that to happen effectively, brand agencies need to form alliances with smart and effective digital agencies, engaging in new conversations about what our businesses can achieve together for our clients. Where Branding companies create and express stories, digital agencies take those stories public in the digital space—and in doing so, help bring a brand to life.

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“Brands need to be made to ‘screen’ and are increasingly designed from Instagram up.”

Jonathan Sagar Voice, Principal