Designers Yasushi Kusume and Neil Gridley have helped lead design and brand management for the likes of Philips, Electrolux and Tesco. They are also the authors of Brand Romance, a guide to building a loved brand – we asked them to share their advice on keeping a brand relevant.

Keeping a brand relevant starts with understanding your audience. If you don’t understand and adjust to the future needs and desires of that audience, and of wider society, your brand can rapidly erode. But like cliff erosion sometimes you don’t notice it until the cliff starts falling into the sea.

We can probably all think of brands that have lost their relevance, and this applies as much to small businesses as big corporates.

Once the leading name in film rental, the last Blockbuster closed its doors in November 2013

In his guide to avoiding brand erosion for small businesses the Houston Chronicle’s Jared Lewis advises firms to ‘develop a long-term mentality for preserving your brand.’

That mentality is on show at the other end of the business scale with Reuters recently revealing that Apple is exploring of bio-sensing technologies in response people’s increasing appetite to use technology to improve their health and wellbeing. To this end Apple is building a team of senior medical technology executives, offering a hint of what the iPhone maker may be planning for its widely anticipated iWatch.

With the UP wristband Bluetooth headset makers Jawbone have taken their first steps into the health market

In our book, Brand Romance, we look at the importance of understanding the short and long-term needs of your audience. Whilst many companies consider the short-term satisfaction of their customers, we believe they also need to anticipate their long-term happiness in order to become a loved brand.

Here design is able to contribute significantly – helping you understand your audience’s desires, articulating possible options and then creating the roadmap to turn these into commercial reality.

It’s applying human insight that ensures innovation is meaningful to customers

Most brands will need to continuously innovate to ensure long-term sustainability. And whilst it’s technological progress that often drives this, it’s applying human insight that ensures this innovation is actually meaningful to customers.

Google Glass has been praised for its innovation but is yet to receive mainstream adoption

These insights are usually gleaned from research into the long-term aspirations of your audience. Doing this research you’ll quickly discover that it’s a challenge to ask people to think so far ahead, but it’s vital to determine two things:

  • What are your audience’s unmet or undiscovered needs
  • What would they find socially acceptable in order to meet these needs (and how this is changing)

For example, we think it’s fair to assume that one of the long desired unmet needs of human being is to manage long distance communication. Many people harbour a secret desire to be Superman, able to be anywhere at any time (it is partly this desire that has made him such a popular character). During the last century, the telephone, and later the mobile phone, were innovations designed to fulfil this need.

1966 Magazine ad, AT&T Bell System, ‘Long Distance’

If we talk about the need for long-distance communication, people’s unmet needs are rather obvious. But hand in hand with new solutions go changes in society and culture. And you need to consider these too.

As we have all seen over the last twenty to thirty years of mobile phone development, society has continuously developed and adapted its behaviour and manners around the way they are used. For example, not so long ago someone walking down the street talking to themselves would have been regarded with some suspicion – today in the age of Siri and the hands-free phone it’s an everyday sight.

As the hands-free headset has become ubiquitous, so the fear of appearing to talk to ourselves in public has faded

So we wonder what the reaction would be to a company that offered to implant a microchip in our bodies that would let us make a phone call without us having to lift a finger to operate any device at all?

CNN tech writer Kieron Monks claims that research is moving beyond wearable tech and that the era of implanted tech will be soon upon us: ‘For these dedicated blue-sky enthusiasts with stated goals that include eternal life and learning to fly, the paradigm for technology has gone beyond wearable, to implanted.’

But will implanted technology enable us to meet some of the short- and long-term needs of people? And if so, is our society ready to accept this solution?

Developed by Google[x] the smart contact lens is designed to help diabetics manage their glucose levels

A recent Pew survey suggests only 26% of Americans would get a brain implant to improve their memory or intelligence – for the moment.

You may also say that most people would never tolerate such an implant. And you might be right. But you would also have to admit that plastic surgery is something now far more accepted in society now than it was in the past. And there is one place in our bodies where nearly all of us accept implants without any hesitation: our teeth.

People’s desires vs. Social acceptance

The point we are trying to make here is that although a solution sometimes perfectly fulfils an unmet need, it may not always be accepted by society. And this is why it’s so useful to use a design methodology to address these needs, helping shape a solution that customers will not only accept, but welcome into their lives.

About the authors

Yasushi Kusume and Neil Gridley are authors of Brand Romance, which will tell you how to create a truly loved brand by design. Neil Gridley is a Design Council Design Associate, one of our team of experts working hands-on with companies as part of our business support services.

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