The Brand Gap

by Luke Wroblewski June 15, 2005

Recent travels have taken me through Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap, an insightful justification for tighter integration of design and business strategy to enable strong brands.

In most companies, strategy and creativity are separated by a chasm that Neumeier attributes to a lack of communication between a company’s right and left-brain:

“One the one side are the strategists and marketing people who favor left-brain thinking –analytical, logical, linear, concrete, numerical, verbal. On the other side are the designers and creative people who favor right-brain thinking –intuitive, emotional, spatial, visual, physical.”

This rift, however, can be bridged through disciplined branding efforts that:

  • Differentiate –As we move from a “one size fits all” economy to a mass-customization economy, product features and benefits are still important to people but personal identity has become even more important. Creating these types of connections requires the appropriate use of aesthetics to clearly focus a brand. Brands can loose focus by trying to stand for too many things. “A focused brand, by contrast, knows exactly what it is, why its different, and why people want it.” Differentiation works because humans are hard-wired to notice the contrast between things.
  • Collaborate –mature brands require interaction between thousands of people over a long period of time. The most successful companies are the ones not with the most brains but with “the most brains working in concert.” Keeping the diverse set of top-notch talent required for effective collaboration, however, is both difficult and expensive. So Neumeier prescribes the “Hollywood Model” which enables companies to leverage a network of experts without substantial overhead. Prototypes allow this distributed network to collaborate effectively –sharing and refining ideas as “near life” experiences.
  • Innovate –“innovation requires creativity, and creativity gives many business people a twitch. Anything new by definition is untried, and therefore unsafe. Yet when you ask executives where they expect to find their most sustainable competitive advantage, what do they answer? Innovation.” Bridging the gap between security and innovation may require MAYA –the most Advanced Yet Acceptable solution. This means rationalizing how marketing and design teams envision opportunity. Marketing teams study and understand how the market is; design teams push the company to envision how the market could be.
  • Validate –“feedback turns communication into something more like a theatre performance than a magazine.” Though multiple forms of brand testing exist, direct unobtrusive observation provides unambiguous and relevant feedback that can help answer: do we have the right idea and have we gotten that idea right? All brand expressions need to score high in distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, extendibility, and depth.
  • Cultivate –your brand is not “not an entity, but a living organism.” It requires continual care from everyone within your company. Every brand contributor should precede his or her actions by asking: “will it help or hurt our brand?”