9 – brand usability

This exercise will help you to explore the concept of brand usability in a practical way, and to learn to understand the complexity of creating a brand that is sufficiently deep and inspiring, while at the same time offering easy access to all those who need to work with it.

see page 83 of BDI.

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  1. Synergize & Co

    Pause for thought:
    Reflections on methods

    When reading and analyzing the 4 stages in the innovation model, and comparing them to the chapters before, at least the first three stages seemed to be a logical consequence on the theory in the first chapters. However, it also seemed to be surprisingly applied all of a sudden. Where the first chapters are very theoretical, and it is hard to see how they can be applied, this is quite suddenly changed into a very directly applicable method. This transformation of the matter seems to be a logical consequence but is still difficult to understand in its applied state.

    Surprising is the fourth stage of the model. It is obviously the most directly applied state of the four, as it is all about creating and operationalizing touchpoints with a company. This has not gotten a lot of attention in the first chapters, but this is quite easily explained by the fact that it is the logical result of the concretisation of the first three stages. These concrete stages need a practical way in which their results are attached to the company.

    A further interesting development in the group was the higher recognisability of the first stage (Human Centered Branding), compared to the others. As it turned out, the step from the human centered theory to an applied model was easier in this field, as most of the group has had a lot of human centered education.

    The brand driven innovation method is followed by some critical notes on the use of methods in general, and this method in particular. These notes seem very applicable in many situations and are definitely covering the main pitfalls in using methods. On the other hand, as all group members have used many design based methods for some years now, these criticisms on methods are mostly warning for problems that are by now often intuitively avoided. This is a pity, as we assume that most readers of this book will be at least as experienced as this group.

    It is a pity that the limitations stated by mr. Roscam Abbing are not always specified into a directly applicable way. It stays a bit unclear where their limits actually are. With a clearer view on the bounderies of this method in particular, it could provide a guideline that would help designers also in those cases that intuition or experience fail to warn them.

    Synergize & Co

    Oct 11, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

  2. G3

    Within the team it was decided to discuss three brands chosen by three members of the team. The chosen brands were personal favorites of the different team members, consisting of Hema, McDonald’s and Saab.

    It came immediately to our attention how different perceptions can be towards the different brands. Of course the people within the group have different backgrounds, but we are all of course Industrial Designers, so that should create some overlap. Saab for instance has been interpreted differently throughout the team.

    The discussion within the team quickly went from the assignment to how well each brand is coping in presenting itself and delivering to its brand promise. The McDonald’s brand gained a lot of respect within the group. This is due to the global standards that the brand has set and the fact that the company communicates its brand values constantly throughout the globe. Additionally, although our group members are a bit skeptical about the food and McDonald’s intentions, we all eat in the restaurants due to strong brand values that we experienced at a young age which still resonate with us.

    Due to the fact the discussed brands were all quite big and successful, we all agreed that the usability of the brands are high. Some might need some work or a change of focus, but due to the fact that most people know the brands, this is a good starting point for human-centered brand development.

    Oct 17, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

  3. Team EFCOM

    In this exercise we discussed several examples of companies and we thought of some ideas of how the brand usability can work in each specific case. Here we present some examples of a small, a large company and a company which is an umbrella organization for other smaller companies. It was interesting to figure out the differences among the brand usability in each specific case and some examples are given below:

    Small company – product for the developing world

    We had a discussion about a small company in Sweden with a water purification product targeting families of the third world. Some of the ideas that are clear by all the employees while they develop products from them are cost effectiveness, sustainability and no cultural codes. A conclusion that we got from this example was that in a small company the whole communication goes to the development of this only product but it is also very easy to be communicated by the employees. In this case it comes more natural to communicate your brand.

    Large company – Cosmetic natural products

    We also discussed an example of a bigger company and the brand usability in this case. There we saw that it is much more difficult and it gets more effort to communicate the values of the company to the others. In the example of a company of natural products we thought that a way to communicate their brand in the employees would be to organize a trip in their farms, where they grow their raw materials (organic herbs) and in general spend some time in nature all together while discussing or brainstorming about their company. Another idea for their everyday life would be to have a lunch room in their company providing organic food/coffee to the employees during their breaks.

    Umbrella organization for hi-tech companies

    Finally, an example of a mother organization where a company buys smaller companies and puts a lot of effort in shaping them according to their way of working was discussed. This umbrella organization achieves this by going in the new companies and working with them for some time in order to influence their way of working and adjust them to the same culture of the other companies. The time that the managers of the big company spend in each company is the most important element of communicating their brand values and way of thinking.

    Oct 20, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  4. Paradox 20

    In order to practice creating a usable brand, firstly two brands are picked that all group members are familiar with: Hema and NS.

    Hema is a Dutch retail company that only sells products of their own brand. Their strategy focuses on providing high quality at low price. The brand core of Hema is to design products that make life more fun and make life more comfortable. The company does not try to be a top innovator. Mostly they change already existing products to give it a bit of the Hema-touch.
    Hema uses its magazine “Echt” to communicate their strategy and brand promise to her employees, which is released once a month. The company also assigns a product design contest for design students.
    In the past Hema released a brochure every two weeks with popular products or products that are hoping up and gives them a special price. Instead of this strategy, Hema just introduced a new strategy concept. At this moment they are producing large volumes of popular products that will be reduced in price continuously and no special temporary prices are announced anymore.

    Hema is a very good example of a company that uses brand driven innovation. The company has a very characteristic image that everyone recognizes at one sight at the products or services. The assignment was to compare the internal and external aspects of the company. What is a good thing for Hema is that most internal and external aspects written down on the post it’s are corresponding. This are: typical Dutch, fresh colors, good value for money, fun, comfortable, for everyone, fair products and innovative designs.
    Only some of the external issues are not as they wish; those are: old Hema flags, old-fashioned clothes for employees, all shops are arranged differently and the major part of the employees is old (aged 55 to 65). Therefore we advise Hema to try to make a good balance between young and old employees, in order match the communicated image to the kind of customers.
    Finally, we could not think of a good suggestion to make Hema more accessible and understandable for their employees, because they are already communicating all important issues through their Echt magazine. The only thing they have to ensure themselves of is that the magazine is being read.

    Since we could not think of a brand that everyone is familiar with and that is known from the inside by one of the group members, we took NS to evaluate on their brand usability. This brand was chosen because it was the only brand we all know quite well from daily life. Too keep it short, only the most important outcomes will be discussed below. In assignment 10 we will elaborate further on NS by creating a new research tool.


    Some of the hidden values of NS we wrote on the post-its are: customer friendly, environmentally friendly, comfortable traveling, punctual and easy accessible.
    NS: their image is worse than it actually is.
    These internal values are not matching very well with the external visible values. External values that were written on the post-its were: broken promises, bad communication and winter trouble. This is obviously not matching with the things they want to communicate.
    The main suggestion for improvement of the brand’s communication to the employees we came up with is that the NS personnel should be taught to be friendly but honest, clear and also quick in their communication to the customers.

    Oct 21, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

  5. Team Coffee-break

    We chose to analyse the following brands:
    Accenture (high performance, attention to detail, nimbleness), H&M (fashion and quality at the best price), KLM (reliability, Dutch pragmatism), L’ORÉAL (making beauty universal, sensitivity to local needs, sustainability) and Suzuki (value for money, exciting).

    After discussing these brands, and what each of them stand for, we came to the following conclusion on what it takes for a brand to be used by an organisation (traits:effect):

    1. Uniqueness: Differentiating element
    2. Making a Difference: Inspiration
    3. Excitement: Attraction
    4. Smartness: Amusement
    5. Clarity: Understandable

    On further probing we identified some paradoxes that companies generally face while trying to incorporate these key elements in the brand:

    – Dynamic nature of brand image vs Its meaning to the stakeholders:

    A brand is a continuously evolving entity. While on one hand the brand has to evolve in accordance to the changing context of the society, on the other hand, it has to be well understood by the stakeholders all the time. For example, in Indian market Suzuki (called Maruti Suzuki) evolved from being a common man’s car brand (Count on us..) to a car brand symbolizing fun and excitement (Way of Life!). The company ensured that the evolved meaning, and the rationale behind its evolution was well understood at all levels of the organization.

    – Customer expectation vs Brand performance:

    A brand has control over what it promises, but it can’t completely control the expectations of the user. If their expectations are not met, customers will be disappointed, which in turn will result in loss of brand loyalty. For example, Apple’s share price dropped 5pc at one point as Wall Street analysts and investors were left underwhelmed by the technology company’s launch of its new iPhone 4S.

    – Access to the same pool of knowledge vs Creating uniqueness:

    Today, due to the fast growth of knowledge and the accessibility of that knowledge to a greater percentage of competitors, a brand has to struggle to find a way to use that knowledge in a unique way and to present it like no other competitor has done before. For example, Accenture uses the same set of software as its competitors, but differentiates itself by its approach.

    Team Coffee-break (Group 12)
    ‘get set for fresh perspectives…’

    Oct 24, 2011 @ 12:43 am

  6. Team Nine

    Brand usability

    The brand is representative for a lot of things within a company (internal) or outside a company (external). To drive BDI it is necessary that all employees understand the different aspects of their brand like core competences, key values, vision, structure, etc. Some companies share a very clear brand within the organization. Take Innocent for example; their entire office is showing the brand content and employees are continually confronted with the brand content. Employees should be continually inspired by their environment (events, work space, activities, workshops, etc.). This will support the employers of the organization to keep their innovations close to the brand and stimulate creativity. Furthermore all levels of the company should be involved with the brand. It will not help if just the designers know what the brand is about and the marketers have no clue what the brand is.

    Inspiring employees is very important but can be very problematic as well. There is a time when there is room for creativity, but there is also a time when there is need for concrete decisions. To do so, the organization should make a clear document with the key values/ criteria that are connected to the brand. This can simplify decisions and/or idea selection by providing support; e.g. with a checklist. A good idea would be to print these key values on a poster/ mug or mouse-mat, so that the employees are reminded of them every day.

    Another option could be a scheduled meeting every two weeks in which employees from every department participate so that they can all have their input on the innovation in order ensure that the innovation fits the brand.

    Finally the society has to be reached with the brand. The brand should be unique, without being inaccessible. There are different ways to do this; e.g. creating a bond with the people or use ordinary people in ads (so that the ads are identifiable).

    The most important conclusion from doing this exercise is that all internal stakeholders should have a clear understanding of the brand and share the same vision in order to use the brand for innovation and/or project the brand to an external environment.

    Nov 02, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  7. - shiqi -

    In this practice we noticed that the values of a brand are not only represented in the product or service it provides, but even more through the employees of the brand.

    We found out that if the employees can’t represent the values of the company, it is hard to bring the vibe of the brand to the users. To explain this we use an example of Starbucks.

    Being very rational it is easy to see what Starbucks sells: coffee. But coffee is also sold by a lot of other companies. For example the coffee corner at our IDE faculty. If we look at the quality of the product, how it is produced, how it tastes etc. it’s almost the same cup of coffee. But what makes the difference between IDE coffee and Starbucks coffee? There are a lot of reasons to think of but the most important thing is passion we think.

    Passion is showed in the way coffee is produced and how it is named. At Starbuck the size of the cup is not called small, medium or large like the meals in the fast food companies. It is named Tall, Grande or Venti to show its (Italian?) passion for the coffee. It’s not a mass product, but a cup of coffee prepared by a person who loves coffee.

    That leads to the second important thing: the person who makes that special coffee for you. The employees of Starbucks are very important in representing the brand. They should show what the passion for coffee is about. That’s why workers at Starbucks have to follow training for three months. What is important during that training is not only how to make a nice cup of coffee, but also sharing the values of the company by creating team spirit.

    Creating team spirit is done by a variety of several social activities. One of those activities is a reunion with experienced people from Starbucks. That people bring the enthusiasm to the new employees. It also creates a connection through the company. This way a new employee already knows some others from the company before he really starts working. It gives the new employees a lot of affinity with the company itself. That makes employees enthusiastic and proud of the product and the company, which is showed to the end-user.

    Because it is so hard to explain the spirit and values of, in this example Starbucks, we especially like the method of the reunion. People not only get useful concrete information about how to deal with customers, but they also ‘copy’ the enthusiasm of the existing employees.

    The story proves that a brand is not only important for the people at the design department, but also for the employees which communicate with the end-user.

    We found a really nice book on how to put this branding thing through the whole company. It’s called: ‘Internal Branding in de Praktijk’ by Marc van Eck, Niels Willems & Ellen Leenhouts. Although is written in Dutch, it’s worth reading it!

    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

  8. 3 plus 3

    In this assignment, we discussed five brands. The five brands come from different fields. Therefore, they have various meanings and diverse ways to make brand content accessible, usable, inspiring and understandable. In the following parts, we will first discuss what these brands stand for, and then how to make brands usable for employees.

    1. What does brand stand for?
    Bata is a large international shoe company. It is a family company because the current chairman is the founder’s grandson. Bata is caring and friendly since it always participates programs which are helpful to people and environment. As Bata produces shoes for different target groups, it stands for different brands. For employees, Bata means education and housing. It is an International company, so employees need to be trained. Further, Bata treats its staffs in each region equally.
    Dove chocolate has different shapes, tastes and packages. Therefore, the price of it is higher than the others. Most consumers think Dove has high quality. Dove is focused on consumers’ emotions by giving different meanings on its products. Employees think it is creative and sympathy since they put their own emotions into product and find new ways to show product’s meaning.
    Lush is a company about natural handmade bath and products. Its products are tested on volunteers directly, so that means the ingredients of Lush are friendly to human’s skins. The ingredients are not harmful to the environment and the packages of the products can be reused. Therefore, people think it is sustainable and organic. The brand takes the sense of consumers into products, which stand for human-centred. The shapes of the products are completely different from its competitors’. For consumers, it represents attractiveness and uniqueness; for employees, it stands for creativity.
    LV represents luxury, high status, and good quality for consumers. From employees’ standpoints, LV has strict guideline and is good at innovative creating. However, the service of LV is not excellent. Consumers are often ignored by sellers in the stores. As a result, LV is related to those words, such as discriminate, arrogant, limited and timeless.
    Virgin is one of the world’s most recognised and respected brands. Its products and services cover many fields ranging from mobile telephony to transportation, travel, financial services, media, music and fitness. Therefore, consumers think the brand is too broad and anything is possible in Virgin. The brand is differential with the prices of various products and services. On the other hand, the employees seem the brand as equality. Virgin group works towards poverty alleviation and treats all individuals fairly.
    2. How make the brand understandable to employees?
    It is important to have the same core of brand promise and values, especially for the companies which have many business units. The brand promise and values are the final goal of all units. However, each independent unit should have their own brand visions which are the tools to fulfill the brand promise. For example, the brand promise of Bata is to cater customers’ needs. Bata has different units that focus on woman, man and baby. Since each target group has different needs, the unit should form a more detailed brand vision.
    For the International companies, they should also consider the differences between global market and local market. The understanding of brand may be different based on the distinctions of culture. Therefore, the ways to show the brand should be various according to culture.
    In order to make brand clear, it is necessary to implement brand promise, vision and values in employees. Generally speaking, the brand promise and values are made by executives, so the common staff couldn’t understand the meaning of the brand very well. We can make use of diverse ways to help staff understand the brand. Firstly, company can set up sessions and ask employees to brainstorm. By this way, employees can learn about the brand from different aspects. Another way is to visualize the brand promise and visions. For instance, Dove can show the promise by a video.
    The brand bridges the understanding between organization and user. As a result, connecting with consumers also plays a role in helping employees understand brand. For example, employees can think about the brand promise by putting themselves in the consumer’s shoes. It helps them to understand why the executives make the certain promise and values. By this way, employees can also find new opportunities.
    3. Paradox
    From the discussion, we think there are two main paradoxes that have to be solved. The first one is insightful vs. accessible. Organization must make the brand vision and values deep and rare to make the brand unique. On the other hand, the brand promise should be accepted by consumers easily. Only those values come from consumers are accessible. However, those values are mostly not rare.
    The second paradox is abstract vs. concrete. In the internal organization, the brand promise should be made as broad as possible. The abstract promise can inspire more innovations. Nevertheless, the organization must present a concrete vision to the external consumers. Only by the concrete visions, can users understand the brand promise.

    Nov 05, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

  9. Four

    Identifying the brand as a true sports brand, while at the same time aiming for a broad target group in consumer fashion.
    Aiming for a broad group of consumers with a soft, non-outspoken identity while attracting enough attention around the brand.
    Establishing business values, maintaining a high class German identity, while at the same time extending market share to middle class.
    Keeping up a very broad target group with many different styles, while still protecting an own identity and differentiating from competitors, not only in price.
    Establishing a completely new brand in order of sales point, as well as price and fashion, while being in a very traditional market.

    To conclude:
    All of the chosen brands face a struggle between reaching a diverged group of consumers, while maintaining a certain image or identity. The fact that most brands succeed more or less in both fields shows that this paradox can be solved. The main difference between Philips and the other brands is that one could easily imagine an ‘Audi-user’ or a ‘Adidas-endorser’. But what would a ‘Philips-user’ look like or what will he/she express?
    Therefore we come to the following conclusion:
    A brand can appeal to a broad group of users, as long as it remains the ability of giving the users a way to express themselves. Therefore it is important as a brand to maintain an identity, but it is even more vital to focus on the identity that the user can acquire and express through endorsing the brand.

    Nov 08, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  10. Group 13 - Paper Planes


    Roca is a company that develops bathroom products and they have spent more than 50 years developing efficient products that save water. However, during the last years they have started developing a new vision. Probably due to the fact that Brand-driven innovation (BDI) has become extremely important nowadays, and to come up with new products is not only about good designers.

    As they mention, their sustainable vision has also allowed them to create surprising and innovative products that have broken the mould, proving that you can always be more efficient and make better use of resources. Faucets, Cisterns, Washbasins and toilets are the main products of the portfolio. Innovating in sustainable products has resulted in the saving of billions of litres of water across the world. Thus, their results spur them on to continue seeking new ways to save water and thus help the environment.

    To make the brand content accessible, usable, inspiring and understandable to the organization’s employees they have integrated their global and environmental vision into their production processes, calling it the Eco-Roca Project. Since one of our members has worked there, we have realized that they really care about his strategy and do not only do it for commercial reasons. However, we think that this information does not reach all the levels at the company.
    A key factor in this is the Roca Innovation Lab which is a multidisciplinary and multicultural department, whose purpose is to innovate and being a step ahead of social changes and consumer trends. They look for new concepts and product solutions for the near future bathroom environment. Some designers and researchers work there, but the problem lies in the fact that there is a separation between departments and they do not know what the others are doing because of bad coordination. Personnel members are not aware in which direction the company is headed and there is a need to involve them. So, they should first make sure that it works internally and only then move to the external side.
    To conclude this case we can say that as a big company they are taking advantage of BDI. Thus, to solve the mentioned problem, they have an organization called “We are Water Foundation”. Most importantly, what they pretend is to show that their commitment to the planet goes beyond their production processes or their products. They want to debate and raise the awareness of the public and authorities alike of the need to create a new culture of water that permits fair development and sustainable management of the world’s water resources. Hence, with the creation of the “We Are Water Foundation” they are reinforcing their commitment to sustainability and position themselves as a company of reference in this sphere.


    Research in Motion (Blackberry) started out with a businessphone and its uniqueness lay in the fact that they provided a network platform for enterprises. This software package was their strong suit and allowed employees to connect to company resources etc. The phones were usually given to its employees so everyone would be connected to the company network. The phones then also became very popular in the regular retail market, because consumers liked the functionality they offered.

    But with the technological advancements of the last decade and the introduction of smartphones, Blackberry’s enterprise platform became obsolete. Rather than having the company provide them with a workphone, employees prefer to be able to use their own phone and connect it to the company network. Especially because the smartphones started to match and even exceed the Blackberry’s functionality. So one could say that the whole foundation of the brand has been diminishing over the last couple of years.

    Blackberry’s biggest mistake, in our opinion, was trying to hold on to their trusted methods and staying in their comfort zone. Where most of the other phonemakers quickly jumped at the opportunity to join the fast growing smartphone segment, Blackberry failed to innovate. Last year they finally introduced their first touchscreen model, but it was just not as sophisticated as some of its competitors because Blackberry lacked behind with their knowledge of this technology.

    We think they learned from their mistake, because when the tablet market suddenly emerged and rapidly grew, Blackberry was quicker to react than with the smartphones. If you look at their brand this is not really consistent, since they didn’t have laptops yet. We think that they saw that in the future these segments will more and more overlap and that they needed to invest in this area to stay competitive. They have also opened up their platform for third party developers like Apple and Andriod, because these parties offered endlessly more applications than Blackberry could. In other words, Blackberry is re-branding itself and trying to stay afloat in the highly competitive markets.

    From a brand-driven innovation perspective, we think Blackberry should have stayed true to their brand values. They offered a lot of value to enterprises before, but never innovated this part of their business, or at least not enough. In our opinion they should have come up with innovations that would make work and doing business easier and more pleasant. Then they could have maintained a larger share of their original market and when they introduced smartphones they would have probably been valued more. Since the beginning of the year their shares have dropped more than 50%, so let’s hope it’s not too late for them.


    Zeeman always had a clear brand image among the dutch population; cheap clothes. Their stores reflected this, their assortment, their staff, everything was branded blue and yellow which became synonym to “cheap”. And this was actually also the brand identity so they did a very good job of conveying it because all touchpoints clearly showed that Zeeman offered cheap clothing.

    Lately though, they made a change in strategy. They still stayed true to their core business of offering cheap clothes, but they set out to completely turn around the image around that core business. Rather than saying we offer clothes at the lowest possible prices, they now say good clothes don’t have to be expensive.

    What they did splendidly in communicating this new brand identity to the outside world, is making use of their old image in combination with guerrilla-type marketing. They saw that tight, bright colored boxers were very popular among fashion-minded people, both male and female. So they used their typical brand colors blue and yellow, which were formally associated with cheap, and made very hip boxers with them. They clearly showed the “Zeeman” brand name and you could purchase them online for no more than the shipping costs of about €1. So through these free and fashionable boxers Zeeman suddenly became cool.

    Another impressive stunt to reinforce their statement “Good clothes don’t have to be expensive” was a fashion show. They set up a fashion show, only invited very important people from the fashion world and made it all very exclusive. The trick was that they didn’t tell anyone who the designer was so it was all very mysterious and everybody was very anxious to know. After the show everybody had seen the outfits and was nothing short of lyrical about the designs and all the fashion gurus agreed that it had to be someone very good and probably famous. When they finally showed the “Zeeman”-logo everyone was in shock and could not believe it. And then of course no one could deny anymore that good clothing can indeed be inexpensive.

    We really enjoy the strategy Zeeman has adopted and the way they chose to communicate this to the outside world. Considering their cheap old image they knew it would be almost impossible to convince people of the quality of their clothes. They cleverly chose shock therapy as the treatment for this and it really worked. They have stayed true to their brand and brand values, but they are taking big steps in turning around the public perception of this. We love them for it and can’t wait to see the future steps they are going to take.

    Nov 09, 2011 @ 12:43 am


9 × five =

about this blog
this is Erik Roscam Abbing's blog on topics relating to the synergy between branding, innovation and design. Erik is a consultant (www.zilverinnovation.com), teacher (www.io.tudelft.nl), and frequent speaker on the topic of Brand Driven Innovation. He is also the author of the book by the same title, to appear in autumn 2010 at www.avabooks.ch. For inquiries, contact erik at erik at zilverinnovation.com
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