Branding: Perception is Reality

by Eric Tsai

As I scan through my daily dose of Marketing Charts, I found some interesting data on how companies that lower the price of their products or services may risk damaging long-term brand perception.  According to “Big Price Cuts Linked to Long-Term Brand Damage” story, 64% of consumers assume that “the product is extremely popular,” if a brand does not lower its price during economic downturn and another 64% say they assume that “the product is already a good value.”

While some may argue that branding is overrated (which I disagree), the truth of the matter is perception is reality especially in marketing.  Branding is a form of marketing by reinforcing the idea or concept while creating awareness simultaneously to generate brand recognition in the minds of the consumers.   That acknowledgment of a brand often gets associated with the impression resulting in some form of emotional driver that leads to curiosity, desire, and interest.  Obviously if you do a good job on branding, you’ll create positive emotions just like creating buzz so you appear as if you’re “everywhere.”  However; good publicity bad publicity at the end it’s all publicity, it gets the word out and adds to the story – more opportunity to be talked about, linked, and circulated.

The most important step for branding is turning marketing into sales, it could be selling a product or selling an idea to get buyers to follow the call-to-action into the sales cycle.  It is a propaganda with a cause in a wide spectrum of context. What marketers must realize is that the reality has to fit with what’s been advertised, the hype must come down to earth at some point.  Great sales people can sell ice to an Eskimo but at some point the Eskimo will discover that there is nothing special about that ice, fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on the Eskimo .  Great products do sell itself but branding and marketing act as the enabler allowing room for errors and price flexibility (margins).

This is why consumers are willing to pay 30-60% more on a Lexus over a Toyota even though it is basically the same car.  Although it wasn’t the original intend when Toyota launched the Lexus brand, it was so well received and marketed that now Lexus is being sold as, well, Lexus in Japan!   With the success of Lexus, comes Scion, another brand targeting the youth market, Toyota knows their market and does a good job of connecting their product with their customers.  Brand positioning is extremely important, knowing your customer and deliver what your promise can have a lasting impact for a brand.

A brand is as powerful as consumers are willing to pay, and  price cuts should be utilized as a long-term strategic move not a short-term financial solution. Another great example on Apple:  when all other PC/notebook manufacturers are launching the hot-selling new netbooks left and right, Apple refuse to come out with a low-end low priced laptop to compete.  Instead it lowered the price of its higher-end laptop sticking to their core value aligning to the brand equity they’ve carved out for themselves. They are consistent with their product positioning which generates great value for the brand while keeping current customers happy.

Everyone wants to be unique – you are what you consume, from the food you eat to the car you drive, the clothes you wear to the hair you style, it’s real if you believe it.

Responsible and Sustainable Designs

by Eric Tsai

technology-entertainment-design-ted-logo-bgAs a member of TED community, I am constantly inspired by the ideas and concepts from all the individual TEDTalks, themes and TED Blog posts. It’s got great resources, excellent ideas from different perspectives from global key opinion leaders.

Recently I’ve been watching some of the Architectural Inspiration videos and as a result I found new respect in the creative process that goes into architecture. Especially Cameron Sinclair’s Talk on Open-source architecture to house the world.

I immediately thought of a television episode that I watched awhile back on the San Francisco Federal “green” building by Thom Mayne. The building was created with many energy saving features in mind and encourage wellness for the occupants working in the building.

sf-federal-courthouse-image-05-thumbFor example, the cafe was placed outside of the main building to encourage employees to walk outside the building to stop by for food and the elevators are designed to have stops on every third floor so there will always be some walking require at some point. The buildings is positioned perfectly with massive windows allowing optimal usage of sunlight into the building to reduce electricity usage to light the offices during daytime. In addition, the top 13 floors of the Federal Building do not have air conditioning since the building automatically opens the ventilation windows each evening and admit cooler outside air into the building. Heat energy stored in the building’s exposed concrete structure is removed by the cooler night air.

There are more energy saving technologies that goes into the entire project and as a result it appears to be very sustainable and eco friendly.

The idea is that the future of architecture must incorporate  sustainability in addition to all the fundamental of design as well as “responsibility” to deliver impact solution to address social issues.  Design should improve, perform, and solve problems.

The New Design Focus – Eco Spirit

by Eric Tsai

I remember when I was a kid my family used to recycle bottles and cans all the time and my mom would take us to the local grocery store monthly to the ‘recycle machine’ for some pocket change.  Back then I always felt that money was the incentive that drove people to recycle even though it’s not going to make anyone rich doing it.  It just seems like the right thing to do especially in the early 90s but it was not yet a way of life, it was just recycle.

After Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and President Obama’s focus on alternative energy and sustainability, there has been a steady increase in both awareness and momentum in the environmental friendly design category.   Having done product design previously I’ve came across some real creative concepts being developed in the area of sustainability and eco friendly space.

c77dd_logoOne of my favorite weekly newsletter/ blog, DesignDirectory has some real cool designs and innovative concepts.   Since last year I’ve started thinking about creating more ‘green’ designs and it can be as clever as the  biodegradable bag – 60 Bags or as fascinating as the PeePoo Bag:  a plastic bag-cum-toilet for the developing world.  What’s up with all the bag?

While eco green is the ‘hot’ new thing now, it still carries the same design principals as with all successful design solutions – connecting users to products and aesthetic is just one intrigue part of the overall objective. Good design speaks modern languages, communicates solutions, and addresses problems.

I am excited about the opportunities to contribute in solving a world problem, in many ways eco designers will require to be more embedded in the business strategies to drive success for this market. This will involve collaboration, new working methods, knowledge transfer and a new attitude to design research.

Building Brand Trust with Design

by Eric Tsai

Today I came across John Gerzema‘s article on The Trust Virus outlining the correlation between trust and brands. It mentioned the current fear and uncertainty in this recession is due to the lack of trust, thus our current economic meltdown was accelerated by the distrust in the failed banks, unregulated financial system, Bernie Madoff, and unproductive automakers.

I believe emotion trumps logic and trust is comfort (an emotion) but needs facts to support that logic. This is why design always has a function, a goal, a need to earn that trust.

iPod ShuffleThe perfect example would be Apple, which ironically released its latest iPod shuffle today with half the size of the last generation but with twice the capacity.  You can always expect something new and uniquely different,  Steve Jobs never fails to fuel the brand with brand awareness, effective marketing and yes, trust – trust that Apple will deliver a sexy product with style and functionality.

Apple focuses on the ultimate user experience to build their brand equity by creating products that their customers don’t even know they need, that’s trust.  Trust that Apple will give you an exciting show, the unique style you want, the engaging experience you deserve, all for a price tag to set them (and you) apart from the rest.  Even if the product falls short in some ways, the faith in its brand is enough to overcome the logic.

Form and function are no doubt the fundamentals of design, but marketing and branding are the next barrier to compete for consumer trust.  Design is conceptualizing the idea then deliver the user experience to earn trust for the desirable outcome – selling the idea while creating awareness.  At the end you are the best sales person for a brand, wouldn’t you recommend ‘your trusted brands’ to your family and friends?

Working the Press

by Eric Tsai

I’ve been stylizing my new template working the php and css.  WordPress is pretty amazing consider how everyone uses it as either a basic blog tool or a full featured website with CMS.

Come to think of it when I started web development in early 2001 having a CMS was such a big deal and I was manually updating my blog in html regularly.  I hope the progression of tools will enable for more creative freedom and more focus driven on quality.

Designdamage Transformation

by Eric Tsai

I realized that it is difficult to keep up with my creative outlet aka designdamage,  so I’ve decided to transform it into something more practical but with the same intention I had when I started in 2000: to share my creative approach and ideas in design, marketing and business.