Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Spiffing Up Your Brand

BrandChannel's annual "Readers' Choice" awards were just announced for 2004.

The top 5 winners included Apple, Google, Ikea, Starbucks and... (huh?) the controversial Arab-language news station, Al-Jazeera.

What do these brands have in common? (Except for Al-Jazeera; more on that later.)

I'm going to say, "design."

Apple is renowned for the sleek, user-friendly design of all its products. They feel good in the hand and are easy on the eye.

Google is notable for its LACK of design. In a cluttered world, in which we are barraged by too much damn information, Google's lack of pretense has made it a favorite. Old-time Net users may recall that Yahoo rose to prominence with a similarly uncluttered site. As its homepage swelled to "Life Engine" proportions, it stumbled. Have you noticed, as I have, that Google's actual results are not as spot-on as in the past? Don't matter, folks. It's so damn clean, its popularity persists.

Ikea? Wide-open aisles and store displays designed to show you how rooms in your own home might look, if you bought all their (pretty cheap) stuff. It just feels good to walk in there.

Starbucks? How cool do you feel walking into the mahogany clutches of overpriced caffeine? It's not because the coffee is soooo good, my friends. It's because the experience has been designed to evoke that special feeling.

In my own experience, I can't tell you how often I've told an enterprise software company that their user interface is so "kludgey" that it's a PR embarassment. Few of these engineering types like to admit it, yet even these gearheads like to go to Starbucks; they all use Google and have an iPod strapped to their belt.

It's not a matter of "Style Over Substance" (as they defensively suggest), it's "Style Suggests Substance."

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