The Fine Art of Balance When Branding A Business, City or State
Thanks to the state of Oklahoma and the city of Oklahoma City, branding is getting a lot of attention these days. Both entities released new branding this month to considerable attention, both good and bad. Branding is, and always has been, subjective as far as the public is concerned. As a branding expert, it’s been interesting to watch the process of introducing an entire city or state to new logos, cutlines and concepts that represent the entire city or state. Two different approaches have resulted in two very different end results. Both have fans and detractors, both for very different reasons. That’s the nature of branding.
Last March, Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell spoke to OVF about the his role in the re-brnding process for the state at the request of the new Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. This involved an short, open process involving literally hundreds of volunteer marketing, design and communication professionals. The best branding typically doesn’t come from “design by committee” but the new Governor and Lt. Governor wanted to involve as many opinions as possible in the design process, including representation from metro read, rural and tribal voices. The ending result was a multifaceted, multicolor round logo surrounding a negative-space star in the middle above the state name in a simple but modern font. Also included was the new slogan “Imagine That”. Opinions ranged from love to hate and everything in-between. Imagine that!
Just one week later, the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau launched an all-new branding campaign. The city a took a more direct approach by working with a local design agency being directed by the City officials and staff. OKLAHOMA CITY - The Modern Frontier is the new slogan for OKC regarding promoting the city for tourism, attracting residents and economic development. New multimedia campaigns will follow with the new branding attached to graphics, photography, video and multimedia assets to tel the story of OKC as the modern version of a frontier or the frontier version of modern living. Take your pick, it’s all up for interpretation.
The first rule of great branding: The new brand cannot be everything to everyone. Designing for “everyone” ends ups pleasing no one. A great brand needs to be identifiable, memorable and easy to connect to the subject it represents. The trick is balancing what and how much can be represented in the total branding package. In the branding process you can try to do too much, which ends up with a hard to read, understand or relate to brand mark. But you can also play it too safe and not move the brand forward in an effective way. Take it from someone who has designed hundreds of brands and identity packages, the magic is somewhere in the middle.
When branding the state of Oklahoma, there is a lot to consider. People, places, heritage, terrain, weather, and perceptions of the residents and non-residents. To that end, the state “branding by committee” process was not as successful as it could (and should) have been. The new branding is better than the old, tired material but that’s not good enough. OKC was smarter in approach, but didn’t push new boundaries in the final work product. I’m sure there was bureaucracy involved in the final decision. Both were due an upgrade, so no matter your opinion on the new branding it’s a welcome change.
So, what are the take-aways from all this? Branding is hard. Everyone's a critic. Trying too hard is just as much of a sin as not trying hard enough. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to. Better doesn't always equal great. You can have too much of a good thing. Balance is the key. Leadership leads to the best results. Oklahoma is more than OK. We’re all in this together.
Bonus: Branding is big picture, intended to be used for a very long time. Ideally 10-100 years. Never less than 5 years without a major (public) change event as the catalyst for a new identity. Take your time to get it right, because you’re living with it for a good while.