Beware of Copycat Branding

We've all seen them. They're everywhere. The primary colors, geometric-sans typography, and cutesy character illustrations.

The goal would seem to be reducing "noise" through a minimal design aesthetic that foregoes gradients, stylized fonts, and drop shadows by way of simple layouts with ample white space. And it's a trend that follows us, seemingly everywhere we go.

Trends are a challenging thing. Everyone wants to start them and no one wants to follow them, yet most of us find ourselves doing the latter. A trend is a general direction in which something is developing or changing. When that new direction materializes, it can be hard to stay away, particularly when it appears to be successful.

Brands are tempted by following trends all the time. Why? Because brands are made up of people — people that are faced with the direction their competition takes and what their industry is doing as a whole — and the more we take in, the more it influences us. But should we follow a trend purely because it seems favorable? Is this the road to "success"?

It seems we all know, deep down, the answer is no. And yet we seem to follow trends anyway, as it's the path of least resistance.

But the reality is, nothing of lasting value ever came from taking the easy road.

We see this imitation all the time in the world of advertising. It's tough to say who started it (was it Casper? was it Oscar? was it...?) and it may have been the right direction for the trend-setter at that moment. But now it seems that everywhere you turn, everyone is doing the same damn thing. A deluge of colorful, adolescent, hand-drawn brand identities with no unique personality.

No soul.

Rather than merely adding to this noise, we strive to work through a thoughtful process that helps brands find their true identity. Why? Because a brand should — at its very core — be true to what it is. The tone of voice, visual identity, messaging, website... all the core components should not be taken from another brand or even heavily influenced by another brand. They should be genuine to the actual personality of the organization itself and the people within it.

But this takes work. And time. And process. An approach where we listen first, strategize second, and design third, in order to uncover a brand's genuine personality.

And perhaps, therein lies the answer to the challenge of trends. If we can prioritize listening over speaking, learning over assuming, and process over pace, then maybe — just maybe — we can start a trend instead of following one.

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