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When your Brand is Superficial


The term superficial comes from the Latin word superficialis meaning,  “not deep, or without thorough understanding.” We use this term all the time – mainly to challenge ideas that aren’t fully formed, reasoning that isn’t complete, or people who put a premium on appearance over personality.

Typically, we reject superficiality in this context. The implied reason is that there has to be something deeper below the surface in order to drive connection and understanding. As a single example of this in practice, when we view works of art, we’ll appreciate the way it looks, but equally try to dig into the artist’s motivations, experiences, or history to round out our understanding of their piece.

A brand is no different. All too often, companies will put a premium on the visual development of their brand. Yes, a good “look” is important. And further, it’s fun to tangibly see things coming to life. It’s easy for that excitement to cause shift focus from strategic progress towards further visual development… things like decorating the office, making swag, and presentation templates. These all are outward statements about your brand.

But if the efforts stop at the visual – or worse, becomes hyper-focused there – the resulting customer experience will end up being highly superficial. Customers will see the product and perhaps think it looks cool, but it will fail to understand what it stands for. And worse, it risks driving customers away because once they start to dig below the surface, they’ll know you can’t back up the statement these visuals attempt to make.

Or, to simplify the above – you’re brand will ring hollow, and trust with the consumer is lost.

Complete brands need to be well-rounded both in every aspect of communication. The values you uphold. How you communicate them. The customer experience. The unique expertise you offer.  All of these and more are what ultimately is the soul behind your brand. Visualization is an important part. But at it’s best, the visualization is merely equal to these.

So, how to do this. Soon I’ll be publishing a follow up to my article About Authenticity…It’s Dead. We’ll dive into the subject matter about how to build a brand that stands for something. Yes, visuals are a part of this along the way. But by priority, they come after developing a mission; after establishing the values the company will uphold; after studying the market to understand what your brand’s unique position is within the landscape; and after determining exactly how to communicate all of this to the world. Visuals are simply one means of that communication. And if there’s nothing driving that communication, then all you’ve crafted is a shallow, disconnected visual. It’s art with no reason. It’s purely superficial.

So ask yourself…is your brand superficial? Have you placed too much emphasis on the visual aspects of your brand?

Also published on Medium.

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