As SXSW Interactive attendance has grown to an overwhelming & unbelievable size, the session offerings have had to grow with it to keep up. With the exception of the crowds, lines and just plain insanity of it all, it does mean that there is a greater wealth of content to choose from and absorb. Sessions can really be hit or miss, but I attended two branding sessions this year that stood out to me.
The first was called Brands as Patterns, and it drove the message that brand recognition requires constant repeated messaging with familiar logos, colors, typefaces, etc. but that the human brain gets easily bored with being inundated with the same message, sound or image over and over again. They offered a solution that repetitions with variations are not just easier for our brains to pick up on but are pleasing to our brains, creating a desire for more. They likened it to visual and musical patterns that we are naturally drawn to, noting that the repetition provides familiarity while variations on those repetitions keep us interested.
They included examples of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony that repeats the same 4 notes 45 times in the first minute of the piece. The same 4 notes in one continuous order would be very boring to listen to, but rearranging those 4 notes in various patterns creates a melody that is so familiar and recognizable to almost everyone. They challenged the audience to consider how to stretch our own brands, and to not be tied to rigid brand standards. They noted that the most iconic brands have to keep moving to keep up, and that brands need to be iterative and responsive as platforms change, not static like they use to be.
The second Branding and Marketing session that stood out to me was A Brief History of the Complete Redesign of Google. This one was fascinating from a process standpoint as one considers the massive undertaking to take all of the Google properties (Search, Maps, Gmail, Google+, etc.) and attempt to give them all a new and cohesive look and feel. They likened the project to trying to change the engine and shell of an airplane in mid-flight because all of these properties are in consistent use world-wide.
They also discussed tracking people’s response to the changes over a period of time accounting for change aversion. In the first few weeks of a new design, it is very normal for the response to be negative as people have to learn new placement of items and get use to the new look, but they noted that after about 3 weeks the response started to turn to the positive. They encouraged anyone going through a redesign to wait a month before making any drastic changes based on user feedback.
Although, they did point out that even after a month, they were still hearing complaints about the new wider line spacing in Gmail and they knew it was an issue that would need to be addressed. They implemented a new option to choose your line spacing preference, and from there the vast majority of the response has been positive.
The internal process changes needed to make this project happen were huge, but none of it would have been possible without the buy in from management and the teamwork across properties as other projects were put on hold to make this the top priority for the entire Google organization.