Category: Design
Should Designers be Sector Specialists or Does Success Lie Beyond the Niche?

Should Designers be Sector Specialists or Does Success Lie Beyond the Niche?

Simon Wright, MD, Greenwich Design and Co-founder of The Chemistry Works

We’ve always had a varied client list, but lately we’ve won a number of projects in what is a fairly new area of interest for us – the luxury sector. When I think of luxury brands, images of stylish opulence and iconic design come to mind, but when I started talking to luxury marketers about their needs, it became clear that they were looking for a different way to set themselves apart.

That was certainly the challenge for one of our clients, a high-end electronics and tech supplier to the Superyacht set. When they approached us to look at their brand design, part of our appeal was the variety of experience we have across many sectors–luxury or otherwise. They appreciated the freshness we brought to the work that other design agencies hadn’t been able to find. This got me thinking about the pros and cons of having an established niche. You may be the first point of call if you’re known for work within a particular area, but can being too mired in one particular area blind you to what makes a brand stand out? All brands need to be loved, so it’s all about knowing what the triggers are that make that happen, both new and old.

If you’re approaching a project from outside the sector, the advantage is that you don’t necessarily know what the norm is and are therefore not restricted by traditional thinking. Of course, you need to do your research to make sure you’re not coming at it from completely the wrong angle, and you also need to make sure it’s not so different that the client is going to reject it.The challenge is finding an approach that represents the brand, its values and its customers while injecting a unique sense of energy and excitement into the sector.

Our work across industries has proved invaluable over the years. We were once tasked with designing ready meal packaging for an oil company – a brand that didn’t sit comfortably within the food industry – to be sold at their service stations.  We were able to combine our experience of working with high street retailers with our longstanding knowledge of the client to provide packaging that felt fresh, appropriate, yet totally in line with the brand’s values. (We took it as the utmost compliment when another high street brand came out with almost identical packaging for its own ready meals!)

This cross-sector experience allows us to approach the brief in a slightly different way. Our ethos is to look at everything with a fresh set of eyes so that we challenge conventions. Think of Walkers, who turned the widely accepted convention that Cheese and Onion crisps should be in a green bag and Salt and Vinegar in a blue bag on its head. Sure, there may have been dissenters but it certainly hasn’t done any harm to the Walkers brand.

When we worked on an aviation project we deliberately avoided planes and the sky because that’s what all the client’s competitors were doing. It was a calculated risk that paid off. Of course, it also helps if you have a client who is willing to be open-minded and take some risks. We’ve been in a situation where we’ve presented a selection of designs to a client who hated them all, but when presented to their bosses, who were one step removed from the process, they loved them precisely because they were so different.

So how do you combat ‘better the devil you know’ syndrome? When trying to convince a client to go for something really different, you need a strong rationale that explains why it’s the right thing to do. Generally, we try to offer one safe route and two more risky options – then we encourage the client to take that leap of faith – even with a rationale and evidence to support a change, it does still require a leap of faith. It doesn’t always work, but nine times out of ten, if we can explain the thinking behind the design and demonstrate why it has the potential to be more successful than a more pedestrian option, our clients are willing to listen.

Returning to luxury brands, my dream brief would be to shake up the perfume sector, which hasn’t really moved on for decades. With celebrity perfumes in decline, it’s the couture, luxury brands that are keeping the industry afloat, but despite the expensive, quirky TV ads, there’s no sense of surprise – you know the ad’s for a perfume within the first couple of frames. The designer who dares to turn that upside down by convincing a client to do something completely unconventional will not only separate the brand from the crowd but will also have the opportunity to redefine the whole sector.



BRANDING: What’s in a name?

Simon Wright, MD, Greenwich Design and Co-founder of The Chemistry Works

Choosing the right name for your brand is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make. Whether you’re a small start-up business or a large corporate, it’s likely that every stakeholder will have a strong opinion about what the brand should be called. But before coming up with a bold and unusual brand name, there are two key things a business needs to consider:

  1. Will my target audience understand my business/product/service from the brand name?
  2. If not, how much time and money do I have to invest in helping them ‘get’ who we are and what we do?

The alternative, a ‘descriptive’ name, can often seem quite boring. However, the benefits of not having to invest significantly in advertising to explain what you do can outweigh the downsides. In fact, we have calculated that for a large corporate business, choosing a non-descriptive name can cost as much as £30m in advertising to educate their audience about their product/service. Clearly, the sums will be less for a small local business, but there’s still an extra layer of work in educating customers.

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues with descriptive brand names too. As they are often based around words in common usage it can be difficult to ‘own’ a name and there can be confusion with other brands, even in different categories. It’s also increasingly difficult to find a descriptive name that hasn’t already been taken.

Whatever you choose, a short snappy and notable name is a good place to start. Part of the challenge is to make a name memorable. Think about why someone should buy from you and what you’re offering. Sometimes this can be summed up nicely in someone’s name; if the head of the company is well known it can be a neat way of encapsulating a company’s brand values.

When do you know it’s time to change?
Although there may seem few reasons for a company to change a brand name – and strong reasons not to – activity such as repositioning, expansion of services, merger or acquisition may make it necessary.

Having built up your brand in the eyes of the consumer, it rarely makes sense to abandon that investment and start again from scratch. Norwich Union (now Aviva) is one of the few companies that have made it work.

A couple of big name brands – Post Office / Consignia and Kelloggs Coco Pops/ Choco Krispies – even returned to their original name following public outcry.

What can be useful – or even essential – is a brand refresh. It’s imperative that brands remain relevant and interesting to their target audience. This is about the visual imagery of the brand rather than a name change. A great example here is the RAC which changed from a traditional, establishment-looking logo and branding to a modern, contemporary look and feel that resonated with both existing and new customers, keeping its name the same.

Whether you go for a quirky or descriptive name, longevity is key. This is the foundation from which you’ll build your brand in years to come so, like RAC, you need to be in it for the long-haul.