In an era of technology-enabled mass customization, consumers increasingly expect to put their own fingerprint on the things they buy and the brands they desire. From manufacturing, to information technology, to health and wellness, personalization has become the new paradigm.
The development of formal graphic identities for companies emerged at about the same time as midcentury modernism. The trend marked a shift from an ad hoc approach to branding to a more deliberate one. Monolithic consistency was the prevailing wisdom, governing how the great captains of twentieth-century industry created recognizable and memorable identities. Today, a new trend has emerged.
Some of the strongest graphic identities of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have challenged this wisdom, gaining notoriety in the process. Cable television vanguard MTV famously versioned its logo based on context (a different treatment for a program like “Yo MTV Raps” vs. “120 Minutes”) or whim. Given the fifty-year history of conformity preceding it, this kind of built-in customization suggested the irreverent brand attributes a youth-oriented network desired.
Technology has enabled the audience to express their support for the campaign (or the brand), building an expectation for personalization into some graphic identity design.
Good identity programs provide for variation from the start, but the larger trend of customer or user personalization has tested the traditional boundaries of consistency.
An expectation of variety has combined with the ready availability of desktop and online publishing tools to shift emphasis away from the hard rules of conformity one might have found in an identity standards manual a few years ago. In this landscape, the rules loosen as customization and personalization become possible in identity programs. The sort of litmus test for appropriateness you might find in a brand bible might provide all the order a program needs.
The audience isn’t just listening. They’re also making your program their own through customized amenities, and in doing so, they’re taking a personal stake in the brand.
As personalization moves from luxury to expectation, it will no longer serve as a brand differentiator. Leaders in the brand identity space will need to consider the role personalization plays.
It’s not likely that all aspects of a customer experience will need to enable personalization. Careful consideration of the customer needs and the brand promise will help define the hallmarks of the brand identity. Whether personalization plays a prominent or secondary role is a strategic choice made by brand managers. As with identity programs, an understanding of the brand identity foundation will help determine how design can best help express a value proposition.
One thing is certain: Consumers like personalization and they’re not giving it back. One-size-fits-all solutions will no longer hold up for brands looking to take the lead in their respective industries.
Whether or not brand identities should meet the growing expectation for greater personalization remains a matter of customer need and brand appropriateness.