Improving the branding process with user-centred design

Waiting for that

In early 2009 the drinks company Tropicana undertook a complete overhaul of their brand.

They had decided that they needed to rejuvenate the drinks sector, which meant a move away from their rather 'traditional' identity, towards something sleeker, more contemporary.

They had identified an opportunity, and they went for it; developing a new identity, applying it to the packaging of their products, and rolling it out to the cartons on the shelves in a deliberate, meticulous way, backed up by a ubiquitous and persuasive advertising campaign.

The updated Tropicana packaging

However, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong.

Sales dropped by 20% in the 2 months after the launch of the rebrand; customer feedback illustrated an anger and confusion at the change to what had become a familiar part of their day; and people couldn't differentiate it from the other products on the shelves.

Tropicana had underestimated their customers' attachment to the existing identity.

Inevitably, it was an expensive and very public failure, and it ended up costing the company approximately $33 million by the time they had scrapped it and reverted back to their original brand.

The question is, why did this happen?

Ta-da! design

Since the early 20th century, branding agencies have employed a methodology called 'ta-da! design' (as we call it) to create brand identities.

It begins with a fairly collaborative period of research, analysis and measurement, followed by the development of a brand strategy (the objectives of the rebrand).

Once the strategy is in place, the creative team take themselves away for a period of design, utilising their experience, intuition and skill to craft a new identity which is then presented to the team (the ta-da! moment), before being launched.

It's an exciting, creative-feeling process, often grounded by thorough, comprehensive research and strategy.

However, it has an achilles heel; the lack of meaningful engagement with the very people the brands are being designed for - customers.

The 'ta-da! design' branding process
The 'ta-da! design' approach to branding

So, if 'ta-da! design' is prone to failure due a lack of engagement with customers, what's the alternative?

Iteration vs Intuition

The user-centred design methodology is structured around a central, unifying objective - to ensure everything produced works with real people in the way intended.

It has been used to shape products and services for decades, rising to the status of mainstream best practice in the digital industry since the turn of the century.

A typical project involves the input of customers throughout a programme of work, with design being produced in an iterative manner, using the insights gained from regular user tests to help guide and validate creative direction.

The user-centred branding process
The user-centred branding process

We've moved to a user-centred approach to our branding projects, mainly in order to reduce the unnecessary risk that is an inherent part of the 'ta-da! design' methodology.

And so far, it's proved to be a no-brainer.

Continually validating assumptions

An example of this approach in action is the work we’ve been doing with SACO, one of the world’s leading providers of serviced apartments, with over 33,000 apartments worldwide.

They asked us to help relaunch their brand, to reposition themselves, moving away from their previous B2B focus towards one that would appeal for both business and leisure customers.

Our user-centred approach enabled us to continually test assumptions the team had made, rather than taking a punt on intuition, by testing our work with customers.

For example, during one of the regular rounds of testing it was found the aspirational tone initially mooted wasn’t ringing true with customers. In order for the experience to resonate in the human, luxurious manner intended, a core part of the brand aesthetic needed to be reevaluated, resulting in the introduction of a suite of warm, engaging photography as a key focus of the identity.

An example page from one of our brand testing reports

The user-centred approach enabled us to unearth this insight, react to it, and then test the efficacy of the solution. The result being a redefined SACO that was launched with confidence, rather than trepidation, a stance confirmed by its subsequent popularity and ongoing adoption within the SACO organisation (supported by the statistics in the 6 months since launch, with a 50% rise in online apartment bookings and a 66% rise in conversions).

The relaunched SACO brand
The relaunched SACO brand

A viable and proven alternative

We’ve seen, time and again, how the user-centred design approach enables teams to deliver digital projects of all shapes and sizes with every confidence they will succeed.

As the digital industry matures, increasingly providing the primary touchpoints between customers and brands, it would be sensible to question how we approach the shaping of the brands themselves.

So if you’re planning a rebrand, or are part of the way through one, ask yourself and your team; "what proof have we got that this is going to work?"

Chris is an esteemed former member of the cxpartners team. His articles are still here to enrich us.