Santoro Design, LLC
Branding & Design For Small Business and Start-Ups

The Process Book


"Off-Brand": What It Means and How To Avoid It


A few nights ago, I came across an interview with Pentagram's Michael Bierut about branding and logo design as a practice. At this point in my career, I'm expecting to hear the usual buzzwords about brand strategy and development, but then what I heard next were some of the most impactful words I'd heard on the topic in a while. Not that it was anything I'd never known before, but the simplicity of how he said it really took root: 

I think that, basically, if you act with intelligence and integrity, and consistency, you’ll develop a “brand,”…as long as you do [that] you’ll be okay
— Michael Bierut: The Primitive Power of Logos

Hearing that, I immediately thought, "With it sounding that simple, how could a company possibly become 'off-brand?'" Truth be told, it's very easy.

Being "off-brand" is basically acting opposite to what your brand is, including its values and objectives. There's a wide gamut of things that could be considered off-brand. In my line of work, it usually involves design choices that run contrary to what the brand looks and feels like. For any company, it could be that plus situations such as, for example, Sakks Fifth Avenue deciding to sell skate shoes; or Dunkin Donuts coming out with that pizza option a while back. Yeah especially that, keep my dougnut and pizza games separate, please.

Both of those examples run contrary to the ideas of brand integrity and consistency. In Sakks Fifth Avenue's case, they're a store for a particular audience with a particular taste in finer looking clothing. Why would anyone go there for a pair of DC's? No one in that audience skates; hell, members of that audience are too busy calling the cops on the skate-shoe audience for skating in their company parking lot. Could you even imagine what the marketing campaign around that would look like? It'd be a trip.

And seriously, why would Dunkin Donuts ever even try–okay, I'm done, you get the drill.

So then this begs the question of being on brand but still finding ways to push new ideas, whether it be for designs, features, amenities, etc.. Whenever I'm working on something for a brand, these are things I ask myself:

INTEGRITY QUESTIONS: Does this align with the company values? How does it affect the audience? Does it solve their problems? How does it position the company against its competition? Does it feel like something the company would do?

CONSISTENCY QUESTIONS: Overall does this look, feel, or sound like the company? Is the company logo being used correctly? Is this the right company color?

Seems pretty simple, right? If I had to make it even simpler, it's this:

So there you have it. As long as a company acts in-line with who they are, what they do and who they serve, it'll be on brand. From a design standpoint, if the company is always using the right colors, fonts, and logo(s) for their materials, it'll be on brand. If you're a business owner and you're reading this, I hope this makes the marketing part of your job a little easier.

And if not, you know who to hit up!

Christopher SantoroComment