OFF-BRAND: breaking the rules to get ahead
Being an architect, turned bike builder, turned product designer – I’ve always loved making things – but just making beautiful things is simply not good enough anymore. The difference between being a good designer and a successful designer, is not in the quality of the product (which goes without saying, need to be top notch) but in the clothes we decide to dress them in. These clothes are your brand and I chose Buster + Punch.
A brand is a platform to stand out, be heard and shape identity. It defines who you are and if all goes to plan, your brand can grow into an amplified self. Your brand is impossible to replicate, as opposed to product, which is easy. The authenticity of a brand cannot be bought. Ultimately good branding is good for business.
The largest companies in any industry have been growing their brands for years and abide by the general rule of thumb – that great branding is all about saying ‘No’. It’s about discipline, sticking to a course and consistency. Saying ‘No’ to ‘risky’ products or ‘projects’ that might alienate your customers. Saying ‘No’ to incompatible deals, no matter how lucrative. Saying ‘No’ to off-brand opportunities. Saying ‘No’ to emotion.
Creativity, on the other hand is all about saying ‘yes’ – ‘yes’ to emotion, ‘yes’ to breaking the rules and ‘yes’ to drawing outside of the lines. This is often why creative people don’t make the soundest businessmen. It’s hard to tell the kite where to fly. So how do young creative designers compete in this day and age – can David really beat Goliath in a world where money can buy you anything?
In recent years we have seen a massive transformation from offline to online, print to digital. The playing field has well and truly changed and in turn offered up a unique opportunity for the young, creative and reckless to stick two fingers up at the established
Nike, Coke and Gucci are no longer the largest brands in the world. Today the most powerful brands are people – flawed, unpredictable, creative and at times, wildly inconsistent. You know them by name: Kylie, Kanye, Kim and even Donald Trump, the further he strays from developing a cohesive brand, the greater his audience (not “greater” as in making America “great” again!)
Authenticity and transparency are still important. Yes, we want to meet the designer or company founder and track his or her values. Yes, we want to understand the care and process in making a certain product. But, we also want our products and brands to be alive, we expect them to be human, freethinking, exciting and open to change. As consumers, it’s uncomfortable when a business veers into a different product lane, but, as people, we allow our peers the freedom to change hairstyles or do stupid things.
Brands can be heavy, obstinate and move slowly. People, however can adapt, are quick to reinvent themselves and can move faster into new opportunities. When we buy products we want them to be associated with the fast moving future, rather than slow moving baggage of the past – we want them to reflect who we are and who we want to be. This is why for me the future of Brand is people. It is no longer concerned with being superficially ‘on-brand’ but with being authentically ‘off-brand’.
You no longer need millions of pounds of marketing spend, instead you just need creativity, a great product and a mobile phone.I have embraced the unpredictability of being ‘off-brand’, more by mistake rather than on purpose – I have used people (friends & customers) and the sub-cultures of my city to disturb an industry obsessed with staying ‘on brand’ and constantly saying ‘no’, to anything that poses a risk.
At Buster + Punch – When everyone was in love with lightweight Scandinavian design, we opted for heavyweight urbanism. When the norm was to plate metal, we only used solid. When others were making side tables, we made door handles. When no one cared about light switches, we poured our hearts into them. When the only way to drum up business was to appear at interior trade shows, we did a fashion show. When large marketing budgets finally started to work with bloggers, we made a music video with a rapper and launched it on Spotify.
For the young, talented and cashless to succeed, you have to constantly challenge and provoke your audience, you have to excite and rebuff in equal measures and by being unpredictable you will grab new followers at an amplified rate and ultimately more customers. Your company culture will be more alive, your products will live your lifestyle and your community of admirers (or haters) will be far more invested.
My passion for design lies somewhere between the product and the brand. There is a reason why the film industry is in freefall, whilst that of television has sky-rocketed – an hour and a half is not long enough anymore. As customers, if we like what we see in the trailer then we want to follow the journey for longer, your products need to be relatable, your brand needs twists and turns and the ending needs to be unpredictable, otherwise people will turn-off.
Massimo Buster Minale
Founder and Creative Director