Here’s something that gives a nice summary of what I’ve been up to lately. I first shared this little model last friday during the two lectures I had the honour to give that day (great planning eh?). One lecture was for brand managers and was called ‘why brands need products’. The other one was for product designers and was called ‘why products need brands’. Both presentations ended, albeit via a somewhat different route, on the same note: product and brand need each other like body and soul, and both are in precisely that area where organisation and end user meet. Here we go:On one axis we have brand and product. Easy. Organisations have a certain place on this axis: they can be product focussed (R&D are leading, investments in IP, strong belief in technology) or they can be brand focused (marketing is leading, investments in brand building&communications, strong belief in brand narrative) or anywhere in between. It doesn’t matter. The statement here is that no matter where you are on the axis, a natural tendency is to move toward the extremes (centrifugal forces). And that it’s worthwhile to consider the opposing force. (centripetal forces)
Because when you become too brand focussed you start to loose the proof for your claim; you start to make promises without being able to fulfil them anymore. And if you become too product focussed you start to lose soul. You become a technocrat, forgetting that it’s people you’re dealing with and that it’s meaning you should be looking to offer, not features.
Then there’s a second axis. Of course.
On one end we have the organisation and on the other we have the end-user. Again, organisations (with their brand and products) have certain place on the axis. And again, the natural tendency is to grow toward the extremes (centrifugal forces): to become either very outward focused (strong focus on consumer research, user centered design, follow market trends, strong belief in adaptation) or very inward focused (strong focus on own strengths, heritage and tradition, follow own direction, strong belief in corporate culture). And again my statement is that it it wise to consider the opposing force (centripetal forces). Because when you become too inward focussed you tend to loose relevance. It may be quite a feat you’re performing but….who cares? On the other hand, when you become too outward focussed you tend to become a slave to the consumer poll. You run along with every new opinion, losing all sense of authenticity in the process.
It’s fun to position companies (yours, your client’s) in this grid, or to see where they’re moving or where they’ve come from- when you’re a model nerd like me, that is.
Anyway my view is that for brands to inspire design and innovation they should be balanced between promise and fulfilment on the one hand, and between authenticity and relevance on the other. Organisations have to look for ways of recognising the centripetal forces guiding them towards this balance. A big part of what I do is developing methods to facilitate this process. We are helping brand managers to understand what NPD can do for them. We are helping product designers and engineers to understand how they can benefit from brands. On top of that we are confronting those involved with design and innovation with end users, and let them come to ‘branded end user insights’ together through the use of design research techniques.
Not a small challenge. Or as the Indigo Girls so eloquently put it:
So maybe all that we need is to meet in the middle
Standing at opposite poles
Equal partners in a mystery
via Brand Design Innovation