What is a Brand Concept?

A concept is an ‘abstract idea’, and a good one is the backbone of a strong brand.

By Cat HowPosted in Ideas

What is a concept? A concept can be defined as an ‘abstract idea’. This ‘idea’ can be broken down further: concepts can be mental representations, abstract objects or abilities which form the basic building blocks of thoughts or beliefs. So a concept can be a range of different things in itself, it is just fundamentally something with meaning that is abstracted.

A brand concept, therefore, is that abstract meaning or idea that gives a brand its sense of self. A brand concept gives consistency to a brand’s identity.

A brand concept is that brand’s unique quirk or spark — that is part of their whole personality in one way or another, and makes them different from the rest.

As a creative director, the most exciting part of my job is coming up with a brand concept. It is a magical moment when all the research, interviews and strategy we have worked up, transform into a new ‘thing’ which everything else hooks onto.

It feels tangible, although of course it is just an idea. But it gives a company a meaning behind its brand, and therefore a unique identity. And I always know when it happens, because suddenly everything makes sense and I can see a brand visually. It all feels very clear from then on.

I suppose the best way of describing this moment, is when combinations of words become an image or a thing that embodies the whole company.

A brand concept always emerges when we have worked with a company and done a thorough audit and lots of research around functions, values and character. This invariably involves a lot of text, which we sift through, knowing that at some point we will strike gold.

And, just like mining for gold, you know when you’ve found that precious nugget. It might be a word that keeps on cropping up or a shape, object, graphical element or even a process that is unique to that company. It always surfaces and comes to light, and it is always there. It is just our job to find it. And if you are prepared and looking out for it, you always will. And that is it: the brand concept.

So for example, for some recent clients of ours  -  data analysts Elucidata  - the concept was a ‘pulse’ that was a graphical representation of code merging into AI, which was an area the company saw themselves moving into. We did this by blending a one into a zero. The middle ‘shape’ of the pulse being that alchemical space where code and AI merge into something new. So we turned a unique aspect or quality of the company, into an abstract thought, which we then made into a physical, graphical thing.

This pulse was then used to show conversations between the team, and between the agency and their clients  -  as communication was also very important to the company and therefore had to be reflected in the brand. We then made this pulse into a beautiful animation for their website, which fed through onto print collateral and powerpoint presentations. It was an extremely satisfying job from start to finish, largely because the concept was strong and was applicable and transferrable to lots of different facets of the company.

Many years ago, when I was studying for my MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, I remember how as first year students we were all shocked when we arrived on the first day to find our tutorial room just had one massive table in it. No high-end computers, no beautiful printers. Nothing. What were all these tuition fees in aid of, we complained, if we didn’t have the ‘kit’ to do creative work on? And then, everyday, for two years, we sat around that table and talked about concepts. That is what we learnt.

Looking back to my time there, almost 10 years later, I realise that learning how to generate ideas and how to transform words into images… was worth every penny.

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