What is great branding worth? Will the new Gojek identity move the brand on? Will it help to grow the business? How will the founders quantify the return on investment? The answer is undoubtedly, probably and hard to say.
The value of a brand, as manifested in its visual expression, is not easy to quantify. And yet, the need for distinctive branding has never been greater. Great branding reflects a brand idea, promise or purpose. It should amplify distinctiveness, and in so doing help a brand get noticed and chosen.
Great branding systems extend beyond mere logotypes and into a wider visual brand language that can hold an ecosystem of channels and touch-points together.
There are surely few tech startups that want the survival of their ideas to be limited to a logo in the corner of an app and in an Instagram profile pic. So why are so many of them failing to build anything more comprehensive than the logo in the corner of their website?
For brands with bigger ambitions to grow from ‘single act’ brands into ecosystem propositions, great brand design is the visual glue that can hold an idea together in a media-fragmented and choice-saturated marketplace. Like its arch-rival Grab, Gojek’s vision is to create an ecosystem play and become a Southeast Asian "mega-app" and they recognise that design will help them get there.
Ultimately, design isn’t just good looks. Design is good business.
Neil Parikh, co-founder and CSO of bed-in-a-box retailer Casper, offers this opinion on the power of a distinctive brand identity: “Though Casper’s quirky-yet-lovable persona seems intuitive now, it was arguably that brand identity that helped it rise to the top in just five years. It now leads an industry that’s projected to be worth US$43 billion by 2024.”
In fighting for the space to get noticed in the war of attention, design can be the decider, as it was for Casper, as it was for Glossier, and as perhaps it will be for Gojek.
In the food space, challenger snacking brand Hippeas (work done through my agency) has an identity that rejects the homey, hand-drawn aesthetic of the sustainable snacking category. Instead, it embraces a bright, bold and joyful identity that has seen it become a multi-million dollar brand in just a few years.
Casper, Glossier, Hippeas, Lyft - these brands have all developed charismatic, unique and recognisable "visual lexicons" that have allowed them to grow beyond their initial consumer interface, across to offline touch-points and into popular culture. “A company’s brand – the feeling, image or story consumers immediately recognise when they see it is now everything”, according to Andrew Dudum, founder of American startup Hims.
The great irony is that most startups have a mission to challenge the status quo – to disrupt, to move fast and break things. And yet increasingly, the success of a handful of startup pioneers has spawned a multitude of me-too identities across the world, each with digital-friendly lower-case sans serif logos and friendly millennial-pastel colour palettes, as this snapshot of four websites from different health-tech startups demonstrates.
Original ideas are essential to success, but original branding can amplify that success by making a business idea meaningful, relevant and memorable. Whatever you think of the new Gojek branding, there’s no denying that the revamp has put design front and centre of the startup conversation today. And that can’t be a bad thing.
The writer is Katie Ewer, head of strategy at JKR, a global brand design consultancy.
Green Park and JKR