Always Imagining Better

At Takigawa Design, “Always Imagining Better” is at the heart of what we do. It’s in our DNA to advance everything we touch, be it the environment or your brand. Our intuitive approach to design yields original insights that result in authentic connections with your audience. Everyone benefits.

When I was in high school, I was torn between an interest in two subjects: biology and art. I resolved that decision by the time I entered college. I determined that science was about observing what is, while art was about what is possible; science felt finite while art felt infinite. So I chose art. After 35+ years in the art and design world, I have found my early philosophy—that art and design are vital tools for tapping deeper meaning and purpose in life—to be true.

I have also discovered that science is no longer the finite field I once assumed. Quantum physics and new biology offer some very revolutionary findings about the interconnectedness of all things. Over the years I have come to understand that science and art are not only intertwined at a fundamental level, but that science underscores why my intuitive approach to communication has been successful.

Consultant and author Marty Neumeier reminds us that the simple objective of branding is to have “more people buy more things for more years at a higher price.” Brand loyalty, knowing people will stick by you through thick and thin, is essential for long-term success in today’s transforming economy. Successful leaders intuitively know that it is more powerful to inspire people as opposed to manipulating people in order to motivate them toward a desired result. Smart brand communication is about winning hearts and minds—specifically in that order. From feeling to facts—not the reverse.

Are you leading your marketing initiatives with promises of rational features and benefits? If this is all that you are doing, I believe there are two imminent pitfalls to your mass-market acceptance. First, it will become extremely difficult to differentiate your brand or to create brand loyalty; features and benefits that are more novelty than true innovation can and will drive sales, but do not add any long-term value. Second, this approach of differentiating with more features can eventually lead your product or service to appear like a commodity. Over time it will add to your costs and result in constantly having to defend your position and price with more and more information, features and benefits. In addition, research at Columbia and Stanford universities has shown that too much choice can result in demotivation of your audience.

The current recession has many businesses in a tailspin. Short-term sales strategies abound and the marketplace is in turmoil. It’s important to remember that what we do at this low point in our history defines who we will be at the next high point. Slow down long enough and you’ll see through these patterns. You will be inspired to go deeper to connect with your audience. Remember, the best products and services are not necessarily guaranteed success.

In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek repeatedly states “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Sinek’s “why” echoes a telling question that we employ in our brand interview: “Why do you matter?” In brand sessions, “what” you do is always easily answered and in most cases pretty uninspiring. The underlying meaning or substance unarticulated to the audience is the “why” element, and this is what wins over the hearts of customers. This is not a new discovery. In 1959, Sidney Levy, Professor Emeritus of Marketing and Behavioral Science in Management at the Kellogg School of Management said “People buy products not only for what they do, but also for what they mean.”

Sinek explains our need for meaning through the study of how our brain responds to messages. The neocortex grasps rational features and benefits—the “what” of a message—but the process ends there. However, when a message is conveyed in emotional terms—the “why” element of the message—our limbic brain, the part responsible for decision-making and behavior, springs into action.

Approaching branding in this way transcends the daily tidal wave of information and begins the conversation with “why should I care?” We have experienced the success of this communication approach many times with clients that have trusted us to “always imagine better” and create fresh communication campaigns that for many, may seem counter-intuitive. In fact, our strategy is counter-intuitive to what everyone else is doing. In essence, we know that where analysis and data supply compelling reasons for change, art and design have the power to instill in people the desire for change.

Today, it won’t be an 8-step PowerPoint presentation that will inspire us to try something new. Companies that feed us information—and expect a desired behavior— are asking us to decide on empirical evidence alone. The desired result then takes more time and mingles with doubt as there is no sense of relevant “why” or purpose. Without an underlying foundation of meaning, any decision is harder to make.

Branding, done well, is designed to uncover deeper meaning and purpose. The task then is to express this purpose in new and symbolic ways. It’s not easy to win hearts before minds. It’s a delicate dance of art and science. To be effective, each piece of the process needs to be in balance and in the right order. Everything you do and say must radiate your purpose. How else will your audience know what you believe? You need consistent, clear messages and above all innovative ways of communicating and creating experiences. Do not underestimate the power of the emotional limbic brain! It can cause us to make decisions that fly in the face of all rationality. Companies who have the greatest brand loyalty are doing something different than most—they are communicating and providing a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to audiences who readily identify and embrace these beliefs as their own. These meanings already exist in their hearts but their non-verbal limbic brains are unable to articulate them. Still, people know when a message resonates emotionally, and consciously or not, they are motivated to buy based on meaning, not things.