As most of you that know me will know. I started out my life as a car designer. That means I trained/studied/learned everything there is to know about my subject when I was at University and my subsequent career thereafter. As part of my studies, we were taught about marketing and its importance, but you could say our role was entirely on the product development side. Being a car designer meant you always had to know about the trends in the sector – in my time it was pedestrian impact legislation, hybrid power trains, modern day digital ergonomics etc. The march of progress by the car manufacturers meant that there was a never ending cycle of improvements. Mainly for the end-user. If you stand still in the car sector, you die. Simple as that. As a consequence, the cars of today are always better than their predecessors be it in functionality, performance, safety etc. Yes, todays cars may lack the character of the older ones, but this is possibly the only exception.
In terms of marketing, I was always slightly cynical. I was always of the opinion that if you have a great product, it would market itself. I now know that it’s not as simple as that. Marketing is an integral part of the process, particularly necessary to make sure that the product and its communications reach the right people. Done well, its an art form in its own right. My scepticism was never about this area of marketing, more that clever marketing should replace great products. If this were the case, Honda would have taken over the world 10 years ago with their series of stunning ads.
I bet most of you remember the ‘cogs’ ad from 2003. How many remember the car? The Honda Accord. Ads like this and the ‘power of dreams’ were stunning, unfortunately cars like the Honda Accord were not. To this day, I remain a product guy. When considering incremental innovation; don’t just look at cars. Look at the endless innovations in the smart phone or tablet markets. It is relentless.
So you may ask where I am going with all of this?
Well on Thursday evening. I attended the Service Design Network’s official Launch at the Lighthouse and a good evening it was too. I was curious to learn more about service design. In the end it’s what I expected, mainly a way of designing services and processes in a more holistic way to improve the user experience. Kind of like product design but designing services and not products. I was chatting to one of the main guys Phil before the event and we both agreed that the ‘brand experience’ didn’t end with the marketing or the communications or even with the final product or service. The brand experience should span the entire process and even touch into operations, human resources, marketing, product, after-care etc. Its the reason I am not keen on the word brand or the term ‘branding’ as, done well, it’s a lot more fundamental than that. I am not sure I am even that crazy about ‘service design’ as a profession. My reasoning is that great companies, great organisations will always innovate endlessly based on their values/vision. For example, I doubt Michael O’Leary never stops dreaming of ways to reduce the cost of flying. And that culture is embedded from the top all the way down and touches all parts of the organisation from the final customer experience to the way the staff are trained. Frightening as that may be for us the flyer. On the other hand, a company like Bowers and Wilkins are continuously dreaming up innovative ways to create the a better sound experience. There’s something greater than branding going on here, it’s more of a cultural thing.
So where does branding end? Well despite my dislike of the term branding. The cultural elements that must inform the branding process don’t end with communications or even with the final product/service experience. It should inform everything the company does.
Where there is a real opportunity for the discipline of service design is in the traditional areas of professional services. This is an area ripe for improvement and a real shake up. Like the examples I have mentioned, there are one or two companies that are really pushing the game forward, but in general, the practices haven’t kept pace in the way they should have. For whatever reason, there just isn’t the same culture of innovation. It’s a real shame, there are some real gains to be made. People want better services. But it all starts with culture. Every company’s got it lying there somewhere. It may be dormant but it’s still there. If you need some help finding it, give us a call…
For those of you that want to see the ‘Cogs’ ad again… Simply wonderful
About the Author
Benedetto runs the creative design consultancy, the loft. Based in the centre of Glasgow, the loft creates emotionally engaging brand identities.
Benedetto began his design career aged 9, sketching cars in the loft bedroom of his parents house. Even then he realised some eternal truths. Alfa Romeos are infinitely cooler than Ferraris and always have been. Time has only hardened this opinion. Since then, he has been on a journey taking him from his hometown in Kilmarnock to Coventry, studying car design aged 17, three separate spells in Italy followed where he interned, worked & freelanced for distinguished design companies – BeeStudio, Alfa Romeo, Honda Advanced design & Stile Bertone.
Setting up his own business was a natural step for somebody as independently minded as Benedetto. The loft was set up in 2008 and offers a comprehensive branding and communication service to its clients. The company combines a deeply analytical approach into the clients culture and commercial targets before engaging in creative design work to build emotive brands.