Branding is the emotional positioning of a product as perceived by its customers. Successful branding requires skillful crafting of a product image, and is not achieved just through product logos and color schemes.
Branding is the emotional positioning of a product as perceived by its customers. Product branding is achieved through a combination of factors, including the product name and logo, use of color, text, graphics, and sound, the style of various other design elements, marketing, and most importantly, the attributes of the product experience itself.
Successful branding requires skillful crafting of a product image, and is not achieved simply by plastering a product logo on every surface and using the product's color scheme at every opportunity. Rather, meaningful and high-quality branding that enhances users' experience will be much more successful.
In a competitive marketplace, companies brand their products to help differentiate them from the competition. It would be naive to suggest that product branding in general is wrong or should be avoided, but it is fair to say that software branding is too often executed poorly. The goal of software branding is to associate the brand with the style and quality of the product and its experience. Too often, developers attempt to achieve this by drawing attention to the program itself. The result is to distract users instead of delight them.
When well done, software branding has these attributes:
By contrast, poor attempts at software branding have these attributes:
Successful software branding starts with the design of product itself. A well-designed program has carefully crafted functionality aimed at an appropriate target audience. Unique functionality and extraordinary attention to detail make powerful branding statements. For more information, see How to Design a Great User Experience.
Great product names drive strong brands. A great software product name is memorable and concisely conveys the benefit of the product, providing distinction in a crowded market. Hire a branding professional to help you choose the right product name. In the long term, a well-chosen name is far more important to your branding effort than details like logos, color schemes, and control theming.
Software branding elements can be categorized as follows:
Primary branding elements tend to draw a lot of attention, so they should be used with restraint. Limit your use of primary branding elements to a few strategic experiences. Product-specific sounds aren't recommended for most programs.
Secondary branding elements tend to be more subtle, and because of that, they can be used more often. While some of these secondary branding elements may not have much impact individually, when taken together they can give your product character and style. Transitions can have more impact than fixed graphics, which users learn to ignore over time. Prefer the secondary level of branding over the primary level.
Finally, there is another category of branding elements to be aware of.
While it's appropriate for certain types of programs (such as games) to create a completely distinct, immersive experience based on custom controls and windows, most programs should use the standard varieties. Having your programs look and act weird doesn't make for a strong brand identity. Rather, your goal should be to create a program with character—a product that stands out while fitting in.
Not everything needs to be branded. A few strategically placed branding elements can make a more powerful impression than slapping uncoordinated branding elements everywhere.
Focus your branding effort on the special experiences in your program. These are the places that have the most emotional impact, such as:
While you can potentially use any element in your program as a branding opportunity, don't use the Windows desktop (including the work area, Start menu, Quick Launch bar, notification area, or gadgets) for branding.
The desktop is the user's entry point to Windows. Leave the user in control. Use these entry points appropriately—never view them as ways to promote awareness of your program or its brand. For more information, see Desktop.
Branding is a specialized skill best done by experienced professionals. It is far better to expose your users to minimal branding than to use extensive branding that is annoying and ineffective. Work with your branding and marketing team to create a good end-to-end branding experience.
If you do only five things...
1. Start with the product design. The most powerful branding statement is to satisfy your customers' needs especially well.
2. Choose a good product name that is memorable, distinctive, and concisely conveys the benefit of the product.
3. Think of branding in terms of experiences and making an emotional connection, not product logos and color schemes.
4. Prefer secondary branding elements. Limit your use of primary branding elements to a few strategic experiences.
5. Get help from a branding professional.
For more information, see Sound.