Being as good as you can be, within the realms of what is expected, will take you far in any industry. But to really stand out, you have to do the unexpected.


“Imagining solutions that haven’t been seen before” is something that creatives should excel at, and yet even in our field so much brand design plays it safe, content to follow a trend in the knowledge that it worked before rather than trying something new. This might be because the designer wants to deliver something that isn’t likely to rock the boat, or because the client wants to duplicate success, but whatever the reason, playing it safe never changed anybody’s mind.


This idea plays out again and again across the branding and advertising industry. The ideas that, on the surface, take the bigger risks, are almost invariably the ones that make the biggest waves.


The overarching reason behind this, beyond the attention grabbing ‘shock of the new’, is that people are intrinsically irrational and are not attracted to what might appear to be the safe option. Over the course of the last few decades, psychologists (particularly Daniel Kahneman) have shown again and again how our behaviour, although sometimes logical, acts to a large extent on impulse, based on incomplete information.


Organisations that recognise this truism have a huge advantage in all areas over those that do not. From rationale defeating pricing strategies (buy one get one free is the classic example), all the way through to brand design, accepting that the audience is irrational, and will actually respond to irrationality, is, ironically, a highly rational organisational approach.


Customers base their decisions on irrational, emotional impulses rather than on rational choice. Brand designers can take advantage of this by creating work that (in the words of Marty Neumeier), ‘Zags when others Zig’ and by providing visual clues to the emotion grabbing story behind the brand. That great left field thinker Seth Godin has it about right when he said that:


Stories and irrational impulses are what change behaviour. Not facts or bullet points.”


If an organisation truly wants to reach up, rather than be satisfied treading water, they need to broach this across all aspects of their brand and embrace the irrational.


By Oliver Brown