I was reading an article some weeks ago in the Swedish business magazine Dagens Industri which made me a bit confused. The theme was branding (and design). In the article, Stefan Ölander from the branding agency Rewir says; “Today most products and services are exchangeable, it’s branding and communication that make the difference.”

I have a few objections.

My first questions is – could Apple exchange the iPod or iTunes? Could Fritz Hansen exchange the Ant chair? Could Omega exchange the Speedmaster?

My second question is – does he mean that a company can exchange most products without changing the company and its values itself? Like changing into products with bad design, of poor quality, without authenticity which are bad for the environment? Or disposable products that we are not emotional connected to? Or just some smoothed average design that are not iconic and timeless at all? Products made by child labour? And so on…

If we hold for true that a brand is (only) a perception in a consumers mind, the physical deliverance of great products will be even more important; the smell, taste, feel, look and sound. Everything that actually has to do with design. Design is like a “visualization of a business strategy” and products are the true messengers of a brand. Nothing you just replace by snapping the fingers.

Today you can’t diminish the importance of good design. Business executives (and marketers…) that don’t understand the power of design in general and sustainable design in particular will have serious problems in the future. Design is one of the strongest competitive weapons. It can give strong business advantages. Why are so many companies still neglecting the importance of design. Is it just lack of knowledge?

History wise, products were everything during the industrialisation. Later, in the middle of the last century marketing/advertising grew really strong. Then, from the eighties and onwards branding was suddenly the overall solution. I think that we in a way are coming back to where we started. With products, but this time based on the knowledge of the power of design. As an important tool to create the future. Design is even more important in a time when climate changes and injustices are growing. Design can make a difference. It’s sustainable. I don’t think you can say that about marketing or branding…

Maybe you were able to sell anything with simple marketing in the past. Even “canned porridge” as we use to say in Sweden. But it is not like that any longer. You don’t build a brand from only advertising or marketing these days. Because no one believes it any longer, they would even like to pay you to be free from it… Today people are wise and connected. You can only sell a bad product once. Then the rumour is all over. Isn’t that a better world? With the consumers behind the steering wheel?

At David report we believe in building brands with design. We have written about it in two earlier issues of our bulletin called The Credibility Loop and Communication Through Product. Both were released during 2006 but is still as accurate. Read it if you have a minute, or two…


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  1. GaTuNa says:

    Mar 20, 2008

    Like it’s said on Brand Portfolio Strategy by Aaker when studying the SONY case – among others: “We don’t spend money on brand building efforts, instead let the subbrands and products speak loud the corporate brand personality”

    If you don’t have good products to deliver your promise with, you’re out.

    Great blog.

  2. David Carlson says:

    Mar 21, 2008

    GaTuNa, thanks for comment. As you are saying, let the products be your messengers! What is a brand without them? Empty promises…

  3. G. says:

    Mar 22, 2008

    Respect David! Even if one can discuss further weather “design will save us all” it is crystal clear that (brainless) branding has done us no good at all… Hopefully designers will soon regain their brains and know better with whom to collaborate and with whom not to do it. This will definitely make a difference.
    Look forward to your upcoming bulletin.

  4. Ralf Beuker says:

    Mar 29, 2008

    Hi David, thanks for sharing your valuable insights!

    I fully agree with you and part of the ‘mission’ of Design Management clearly is to keep the level of awareness of design in management high.

    In the context of the correlation between design, branding, and innovation your might want to have a look at the blog of my business partner Erik over at:

    Feel free to drop me a line with your comments if you’d like to 😉

  5. David Carlson says:

    Mar 29, 2008

    Hi Ralf, thanks for your positive words. Thanks for the info about Eriks blog. I will take a look asap!

  6. erik roscam abbing says:

    Mar 30, 2008

    good posting david, and I couldn’t agree with you more! I cover quite an extensive ‘history of the brand-product relationship in my 2005 dissertation on brand driven innovation (see page 27 and I am also posting a new DMI paper today at driven innovation dmi 08.pdf
    which looks at the matter up close.
    again, thanks for the insights!

  7. David Carlson says:

    Apr 4, 2008

    Erik, thanks for comment. The proposed reading is really interesting. Thanks for the insights yourself!

  8. fritz beuker says:

    Apr 21, 2008

    […] … Comment by Ralf Beuker. Saturday 29 March 2008, 11:11. Hi David, thanks for sharing your … der Jugendarbeit in die PolitikZur&252ck zur homepage von Pastor Dr. beuker … fritz Ekelhoff […]

  9. ana says:

    May 4, 2008

    hey — i think that what is meant by the statement “products are exchangeable” refers more to the exchangeability of products within a product category (i.e. MP3 players), rather than the exchangeability of products within the brand itself — as it seemed to me that you were referring to. I do believe that products indeed are interchangeable, and since they are such, there are brands to distinguish them — but I tend to equate brands with design. Design understood in the broadest sense, to incorporate the brand concept/philosophy + experience of people who are going to use a product = design of look & feel. This is probably along the lines of what you are already saying, but needed to comment on your interpretation of the sentence above.

  10. David Carlson says:

    May 6, 2008

    Ana, ¡Hola!, you are of course correct when you say that look-a-like or generic products are interchangeable between different brands. But unfortunately I don’t think that was the only explanation in this case. So many brand and advertising people are lacking basic and common knowledge about the power of design. Design according to me is – a visualisation of a business strategy – this means that design as the touch, look and feel is the true experience of a brand. The products ARE the brand (not that cool to say in a time when branding is everything…and billions of dollars still are spent on useless advertising) But maybe this is what you are saying as well… 😉

  11. ana says:

    Jun 24, 2008

    i completely agree actually — and the main problem for me in today’s marketing is that development of marketing message is separate from development of the product itself. now, since people interact with products and now can also interact among themselves in a much bigger scale than ever before, it is this interaction (rather than a message) that shapes brand experience. so i find it interesting to start thinking about advertising and branding beyond communications, and think of them as design issues.

    and i am serbian 🙂 (not spanish … but thanks for the hola!)

  12. David Carlson says:

    Jun 24, 2008

    Ana – hvahlah lehpo!

  13. ana says:

    Jun 26, 2008

    ha, that’s more like it: the correct version is hvala lepo. but i am impressed, that was very close!!

  14. […] Comment on Design vs branding by ana …ha, that’s more like it: the correct version is hvala lepo. but i am impressed, that was very close!! […]

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