Facebook has unveiled a new "brand" to distinguish the parent company from its app and the other products that it owns. Given the very public issues Facebook has faced over the past few years, from data breaches to disinformation to allowing politicians to openly lie, this could have been its chance to put values first and carry them out through its brand. Instead, we get a new logo. And it’s in ALL CAPS. It must be important.
It’s surprising that, in this age of consumers putting a high premium on trust and transparency, Facebook has missed the point. A brand is not a logo. This feels like a classic top-down approach to branding, looking to solve an internal challenge or structure and driven by a handful of people who think they know what’s best. This approach may include consultation with employees, as Facebook has done, but when this process leads to a logo, and a logo alone, one has to question why the company bothered.
In a time when the company is in turmoil, perhaps a real "bottom-up" branding approach would have been more beneficial for Facebook. This turns the equation on its head; it starts with people, what they experience and how they perceive a brand. A brand can say it’s about something, but if people don’t feel that through their experiences and interactions with the business, what’s the point?
A bottom-up approach goes straight to people, employees and audiences/customers alike to uncover what they authentically experience. It also looks to the future for how any brand promise can be authentically fulfilled – through communications, through physical interactions, through everyday experiences of using the brand.
Take Co-op’s rebrand a couple of years ago, when it reintroduced its historical logo in an updated form. This not only emphasised its roots, but through the "it’s what we do" brand platform it reminded people that its co-operative nature is ultimately about communities, not just profit.
But its updated brand didn’t stop there. In thinking about how it authentically carries through its brand into experience, it has embarked on a number of initiatives that put communities front and centre. These include the Community Wellbeing Index as a resource to anyone who needs it and Co-operate, a platform to help people come together and make change happen locally. These emanated from research and co-creation with communities across the UK, and uncovered what was needed to carry through on its brand and values.
Amnesty International is also undergoing a bottom-up approach to update its global brand platform – a process my agency, Blue State, is contributing to.
Amnesty’s approach is based on the principle that local Amnesty sections around the globe, which are closest to supporters and on-the-ground impact, know the building blocks of the brand better than anyone. So these sections, and local supporters and activists, are co-creating the brand and taking ownership of it moving forward. Unlike the Facebook rebrand, Amnesty’s visual identity isn’t even a concern yet – it’s more about how to live and breathe the brand values.
This makes sense for a mission-driven organisation. Modern-mobilisation brands have to consider all of the contexts in which people will see, feel, use and adapt the brand for their needs. Mocking up a logo and ad ideas are part of the process that is fun, useful and exploratory. But this shouldn’t be the only goal and definitely shouldn’t replace the more foundational work of thinking through how to live your brand values and follow through on your big themes.
There is no reason why any business shouldn’t approach branding by taking a bottom-up, people-first approach. Because when they don’t, they can spend a lot of time and effort to end up with very little. And that should tell us something about a brand. Is it about people, values, experiences and being authentic? Or is it about internal structure, font and, for Facebook, a move to all caps – the universal signifier of shouting? In this case, it’s shouting about nothing.
Samir Patel is chief innovation strategist at Blue State