As we finally move on from 20th century branding and gloss...  

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...it's time to realise that the work you produce IS your brand - you can't just put expensive lipstick on a pig (or a poor product) and expect to make it into anything other than a pig. As someone somewhere recently pointed out.

You'd think it would be blindingly obvious to say that when you're in a creative business the first and foremost matter you need to focus on is the quality of your product. If you're a musician, are your performances/recordings good enough and original enough to draw a following? As a writer, how do you stand up against the best around in your field? If you are an artist, do your images stand out, are they beautifully realised and emotionally moving, do they have the kind of meaning that audiences respond to? And - close to my heart - if you design products, are they distinctive, well-made and both fit for purpose and desirable? Do they last and give pleasure beyond the first flush of ownership?

All the time I see discussions - on blogs, forums and other on and offline venues - in which presentation, branding and promo/marketing are the focus and the actual product is ignored. Maybe this is because I mostly follow design and craft conversations - perhaps it's different in music and literature (if so, I'd love to hear your comments and experiences). But again and again I read and hear advice telling people to promote more, take better photographs, work on their logos and brand style, think more about their packaging... almost anything but "look again at your product".

Is this because it's hard to critique someone's work without causing offence? Yes, to a large part this may explain it. It's a lot easier to tell someone that their photos are poor than to tell them that the world really does not need, for instance, yet another piece of badly made beaded jewellery. But I suspect it's also because we live at a period in the world's history when presentation really has taken precedence over content and substance. You see it everywhere - from the US Republican campaign decision to run with Sarah Palin because of her "story" to the belief that what many countries need right now is not so much real change as a rebrand - hey yes, that'll fix it.

But maybe, just maybe, we're coming to the end of this odd obsession and swinging back to placing more value on the thing in itself, rather than the way you show it and market it. If so (and I hope it's so) then it's a particularly good time to look at what you're producing and ask yourself how you can improve it. Simple, obvious, but now more true than ever.

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