Despite working in branding for 15+ years now, I found myself asking the same question; Which type of branding system is more successful? The very rigid, almost religious brand treatment such as Apple or Coca-Cola, or the fluid brand treatment such as Google or MTV?
We were in a meeting the other day with a McGrath real estate sales team. They expressed that in order to change the tiniest detail on a business card or billboard such as adding a WeChat symbol to entice Chinese buyers, the request had to be sent to head office and would most likely be denied. A limiting system to the branches but seemingly necessary to retain brand integrity for a clean, minimal brand that communicates efficiency, honesty and reliability.
This is the same type of brand system that Apple uses to create that quasi religious feeling for users and employees alike. The knock on being that their customers are also their salespeople. They have a total belief in the brand, a belief that may not be there if they were to relax even a little from their fixed brand system.
On the other end of the scale we have flexible systems, the most famous example being Google who started the first Google Doodle as an out-of-office communication for when they went to the Burning Man festival. This ability to play and be relaxed with their brand softens the image of the tech giant and makes them more approachable to the end user. It’s important to note though that while the Google Doodle is swapped in for the main identity, when it goes, it is always replaced by the very consistent main brand mark. In this sense, a lot of control is still required to achieve this flexible outcome.
So I feel that the success of fixed or fluid brands really depends on the values that we want to communicate. If we want to express purity, assurance and integrity then it is appropriate to apply a rigid system with strict guidelines. If we want to express a friendly, approachable, perhaps edgy brand story then a flexible system may be more successful. The main point to take away from this is that the flexible system may require a much more comprehensive set of guidelines in order to be successful in achieving it’s goals.