“Brand” is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in use today. “Branding” is perhaps even more misunderstood. Many people confuse the myriad elements of brand identity with brand or branding. PowerPoint critic Edward Tufte, for example, has referred to the simple (and admittedly annoying) act of placing logos on every PowerPoint slide as “branding,” implying that branding doesn’t go much deeper than catchphrases and identity symbols. A logo, though, is but one visual symbol of a brand. The logo is an important part of the outward expression of a brand (part of brand identity), but the meaning of brand and branding goes far, far deeper than simply making one’s logo as recognizable as possible. Though logo placement itself is not branding, I do share Tufte’s distain for logos/trademarks appearing on every slide of a presentation. If you are presenting for an organization try removing logos (and other clutter) from all except the first and last slide. If you want people to learn something and remember you, then make a good, honest presentation. The logo won’t help make a sell or make a point, but the clutter it brings does add unnecessary noise and makes the presentation visuals look like a commercial. And people hate commercials or being sold to. We don’t begin every new sentence in a conversation by re-stating our name, why do we bombard people with our company logo in every slide?
It’s about them, not about you
Branding is not about how hard you can yell, how much you can interrupt people, or how much you can manipulate the market to look in a certain direction or think and feel in a certain way simply because you tell them to (over and over and over). More than anything, to me a brand is a promise and it is built on trust. And trust takes time. No brand can be built overnight no matter how much money is spent on media and marketing communications designed to get the message “out there.” Over the three-day weekend I read Brand Gap and Zag by Marty Neumeier. These are now two of my favorite books on the subject of branding (I love the simple presentation of the material as well — excellent!). I highly recommend these two books for anyone in an organization and especially for entrepreneurs and those in start-ups or small firms. Neumeier sums up “Brand” in this way:
“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s not what you say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.”
Organizations, then, should worry less about advertising and spend more effort in making insanely great products and services that are worth talking about. That is, they should show us (prove to us) how great they are rather than just telling us how great they are through expensive media buys, and placing their identity graphics in every conceivable place, including PowerPoint slides.
When brand identity substitutes for content
No wonder logos and other visual brand identifiers have gotten such a bad rap. Just look around you. Perhaps the worst offenders of putting “branding” (using the term in the most superficial and largely incorrect sense here) and logo placement ahead of actual content are the cable news programs. For example, here is an interview (below) on The O’Reilly Factor (Fox News) with the program host Bill O’Reilly and guest Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is an Oxford professor and the author of The God Delusion. He is a very famous author in the world these days and a very popular speaker. Dawkins spoke at TED a couple of years ago (see video of TED presentation).
When (self) promotion gets in the way of content
Presumably, if you fly a bestselling author like Richard Dawkins to your show and want to discuss such a deep, complicated issue you would allot more than four minutes and forty seconds for the interview. And if your were necessarily limited to such a short segment surely you would like the guest to get a chance to do most of the talking. If the host’s objective was to get a better understanding of the guest’s ideas and arguments and allow the viewers to see those arguments then we’d have to conclude that the interview was a failure. In fact the host spoke about 75% of the time. If the goal was to promote the host and his show (and presumably sell more ads) then we can conclude that the interview was a success.
At no point during the 4:40 interview did you not see either Bill O’Reilly’s face or his name displayed in three large signs hovering around the guest. Why not just have guests wear Bill O’Reilly sandwich boards or at least “Factor” T-shirts? By placing guests between two large “O’Reilly Factor” signs (above) they have introduced visual elements that do not help viewers better understand the guest speaker; they have cluttered the display and turned it into a commercial. Obviously this was no accident. According to the design principle of Ockham’s Razor if we have two functionally equivalent displays — such as the display of Bill O’Reilly (right) and Richard Dawkins (left) on the TV screen — we should select the display with the fewest visual elements. One would assume that the intended function of the displays is to provide an aesthetically pleasing setting for presenters to appear and have their words heard and understood without visual distraction. But if the function of the displays (including backgrounds) are equivalent, then why not frame both presenters in displays with the fewest extraneous visual elements? Which presenter above appears in the display with the fewest visual elements?
A bit better
In this interview (below) on CNN with Paula Zahn, Richard Dawkins gets more of an opportunity to make his case. This time Dawkins spoke for about 75% of the time. This may be a better (albeit far too short) interview compared to The Factor appearance, but CNN largely suffers from same fluff and promotion-over-content problems seen in the other cable news networks. Moreover, the first time CNN’s Paula Zahn moderated a discussion about atheists and discrimination in America in January of this year, they neglected to put an atheists on the panel. Not good journalism, perhaps, but the set looked fantastic!
Get that clutter off the screen
One of my favourite comedians is Lewis Black. Below watch this short clip of him appearing on CNN and getting fed up with the extraneous graphics on the display.
See Cleaning up our act, a post I published on August 20th last year for more on the issue of on-screen clutter. You can also see the full Lewis Black interview there.
Where do we get this stuff?
We learn bad habits from many places. How many people still put two spaces after a period, for example (an old habit left over from the era of the typewriter)? I'm not sure where we learned that putting logos and other superfluous elements on every slide was a good idea; perhaps the slide master in PowerPoint made it too easy. Most companies with a PowerPoint template certainly insist that their employees use the company logo on every slide. But is this good advice? Slide real estate is limited as it is, why clutter it with logos and trademarks, footers, and so on? I don't know if the visual clutter found in many TV news broadcasts is a cause or just a symptom of a decline in visual literacy in combination with shorter attention spans. But one thing is for certain: if you want people to hear and understand your message the answer is not to add more clutter but to remove it all. As Lewis Black says, "Get that %$#@! off the screen!"
• Richard Dawkins interviews the Bishop of Oxford (34 min video)