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Judging a Book by its Cover


While we applaud the sentiment behind the idiom “You can’t judge a book by its cover” it’s not a useful metaphor for those of us who work in design or branding.


Before we draw the wrath of the Internet, no, we should not judge a person by their appearances. That is not only unfair to the person being judged, it also could prevent us from hiring the right candidate for a job or deprive us of making a new friend.


A book designer will tell you that a cover must be designed so the target market will notice it and will buy it.


Someone who works in branding will tell you that a person’s first experience with a brand through advertising and identity must be consistent with their subsequent interactions with it.


 

Let's look at what we hope you will find to be a humorous example.


One Sunday morning you see this ad.


"Great," you think . "I'd love a hand-crafted latte and avocado toast on artisan sourdough bread."


(Take it easy, Internet. I like avocado toast too. As I said, this is intended to be a humorous example.)


You stop in and instead of getting the Instagram-worthy meal you were expecting, you're served drip coffee that's been sitting on a hot plate all morning and a spread with just enough avocado in it to be legally called avocado spread, pasted on a slice of mass-produced bread.



Do you:

  1. Shrug it off and blame yourself for judging a book by its cover

  2. Never go back again because they did not meet your expectations

  3. Shake your fist in the air and demand to speak to the manager


DB: I always go for 3, but for the purpose of this article, let's take a look at the second option.

The ad you saw (the cover of the book) set expectations by communicating a brand promise of hand-crafted, artisanal food. Your experience at the table with your food (the inside of the book), however, did not match the first impression created by the ad. It broke the brand promise. This is a very simple example, but it gets at the heart of brand.


Just as a person builds their reputation by how they treat others, so does an organization build their brand. You can try to define your brand with an identity system (logo, colors, etc) and advertising from the best agency in town, but a customer's experience with your product, your services and your representatives will be what ultimately defines your brand. Further, when the first impression created by your advertising and logo don't match a person's actual experience with your organization, your brand will appear dishonest.



PK: I see your point about strong brands meeting expectations set by their advertising, but what about advertising for successful brands that makes lofty promises that can't be kept? For example, does Olay's anti-wrinkle cream really reduce wrinkles? Are all strong brands truly honest in their advertising? As a consumer, don't you make that purchase based on their promise?



DB: You made a good point, so we looked up Olay's brand promise, and it's "Love the skin you're in”. I think it could be argued that a consumer's experience with the product could fulfill that promise. Are you suggesting we write a future post about advertising and brand promise?



PK: Yup, still not convinced.



DB: I love a challenge.



If we focus on some of the strongest brands in the marketplace, you'll find that they're known for delivering on their brand promise.

"The ultimate driving machine"

"Think different"

“15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”


We'd bet a month of avocado toast breakfasts that you can identify those three companies. It's not just the saturation of their ads on television, radio and online, or the quality of the creative, it's the experience they consistently deliver. It's the brand promise they endeavor to keep with each customer interaction.


And, like all good brands, you can judge the book by its cover.



If you enjoyed this article about brand, read our post "When your logo loses its meaning".


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