Successful branding is due to consistency. Much like a Haiku, good marketing requires establishing a form, then excelling at being creative within it.
I remember back to high school English class and the exercise of writing a Haiku. A traditional form of Japanese poetry comprised of a 17-syllable verse consisting of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. It’s very specific and the rigid form forces the writer to be creative with their execution. Composing a Haiku seems easy on the face of it because you have a clearly defined plan your poem must follow and fit within; a recipe if you will. The topic can be anything, but if you deviate from the form you can’t call your resulting poetry a Haiku. I would guess that this rigidity is what gives a Haiku a certain grace. But, back in high school I distinctly remember lamenting to my teacher that I didn’t enjoy searching for the freedom within the form of the 17 syllable verse. I also remember my Haiku, which I’m still quite proud of:
The cold mountain streams
Tumble over the high cliffs
As the dark clouds lift
My poetry skills aside, the analogy that good branding is akin to a Haiku came to me as I grew in my career. Something I’ve dubbed the “branding Haiku,” which is not meant to be a Haiku about a brand, or even articulating your brand as a Haiku. What I mean by a branding Haiku is simply a brand that has first established a form and then stuck with it to find the freedom and creativity within the confines of said form. I’ve witnessed that consistency can often be more important to success in the long-term than the short-term gain of constantly changing to suit the whim of a message or medium. Marketing efforts that are fluid and constantly changing may still be a form of poetry, but not on par with a branding Haiku.
The best example of marketing I think carries the mantle of a branding Haiku would be the Absolut Vodka print campaign that ran from 1979 until 2007. An impressive run by any measure, it’s perhaps the best example of a client challenging their agency to be creative and find a freedom within the form they created for their brand. The power of consistency that started with a seemingly simple ad named “Absolut Perfection” took on an epic life of it’s own as the distinct vodka bottle morphed into a myriad form; from ski slope to building, swimming pool to island with ample embellishment on the bottle itself. I admire both the client, Absolut and the agency, TBWACHIATDAY that created these ads. I imagine the decades long partnership of creating these iconic ads was punctuated by naysaying by both sides – that the campaign was tired, they wanted to try new things, or it would be better to go in a new direction. However, they stuck to their form and the freedoms they found within are truly amazing.
In my own experience with clients, I know that some of our best work results when we stick to our own rules. Whether my agency has a hand in creating a design standard and style guide for a client or one is bestowed upon us by a corporate parent or brand manager, sticking to the rule book makes sense. While the confines of a brand’s trade dress and look and feel may seem limiting, it is through the consistent application that the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. This elevation of a brand’s stature in the mind’s of your target audience is really the payoff to the branding Haiku. When all the work that your marketing efforts have produced are laid out before you, they should be cohesive.
Sticking to the established form also applies to a multiple partner strategy, and is perhaps more important in this case. Your customers should not be able to tell which of your marketing partners produced which piece of creative or collateral, or if it was produced in-house. When you challenge yourself and your agency to revel within the form you collectively establish, creativity will result. Strive to maintain a consistent form, view your marketing holistically, be the advocate for sticking to the rules with internal stakeholders and with your agency. As the client, you ultimately have final say over the marketing your company puts out and the work your agency produces. Trust that your brand’s standard is there to help and stay the course to create marketing that would be worthy of the certain grace that results from finding your own freedom within your form.