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The Teenage Brand – How my years of brand design didn’t serve my clients enough…

The Teenage Brand – How my years of brand design didn’t serve my clients enough…

Hopefully, if you’re here it’s because you have a brand to think about. Brands can be many things to many people. But for us, it’s about communicating what you can offer to customers or clients to whom you wish to offer it. Right?

My Brand Design Mistakes

In the decade or so in which I’ve been working with and around brand strategy and design, the onus has almost uniquely being on the visuals created and making sure we are communicating to the clients what the business can offer. I wish I knew then that I was really getting it wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting all of my previous clients, including myself, have made terrible mistakes or let people down. But in the process of learning and adapting what I can do in the past ten years, I’ve picked up a few new tips and tricks. I’m hoping this blog can demonstrate what I mean.

How Many Ads have you seen?

Let me throw a number you: 3,000. This is how many pieces of marketing will you receive every single day. Sometimes that’s big TV campaigns, sometimes it’s a bus that drives past with a banner on the side, other times it’s just that Instagram ad that you scroll past without even thinking. But if I asked you to make a list of all the ads and businesses, you saw over the last 24 hours, do you think you’d get anywhere near that number.?

Hopefully, you saw I slipped in “and businesses”.  That’s because that 3,000 number we’re talking about is the actual advertisements, not the general businesses you come into contact with. When we are creating these logos and elements to support them, we’re hoping that if someone drives past our branding they’re going to go “wow wow look at that company, I didn’t know that”. But of course, that’s bullshit.  After all, how many businesses do you just go past – both online and IRL?

The truth is that those advertising campaigns you and your team are putting so much work into, telling everybody all about your products and services, just isn’t enough. If you even try to write down those 3,000 ads that you were exposed to yesterday, I’d be shocked if you got past a hundred. But every single one of those brands had at least one person (but most likely a team) sat around the table trying to work out the perfect ad to capture your attention or to reach you. So why did the vast majority fail?

Why Do Many of These Ads Fail?

It’s because a truth that you’ve been told at least a hundred times in your life, is a lie.

“The world doesn’t revolve around you!”

It’s a very nice sentiment. We say it’s to children all the time – to help them learn boundaries, to help them learn about attention, and to see their place in the world. But I promise you it’s a lie.

The metaphorical event in which you are the centre of the universe is held together by the same thing as the rest of the universe – perception. You have only so much time each day and many things to get done.  You wake up in the morning and think “okay what do I need to achieve”.  Your mind focuses on that which you need to achieve – and of course, that’s just the very obvious things.  When we start to throw in the minutiae of “Did I buy tampons?  Have I renewed the car tax? Why is that paint chipping, it only went on last year? Who is the guy standing on the street?  Do I know him?”  It becomes all too much. 

But all of those things are still true. We don’t begin our day by listing the wants, needs, and desires of 7.8 billion other people. We have five senses that collect information and tell us how it relates to us. And that’s how we live our lives. Every single one of those adverts that didn’t play into your story doesn’t get put into your memory banks.

What Message are you putting out there?

So tell me, how much of your brand, and your last ad, fed into the lives of your clients? Did you promise to solve their problem? Did you find out what they’re each passionate about and offer it to them? Or did you tell them what you can do, what you have, where you came from, or anything else about your brand?

Perhaps now you’re thinking “how does this all apply to me”? After all, if you’ve read much of what I’ve written or we’ve worked together, I’m almost certain you would have had me talking about brands starting from personal values, where you come from, and who you are. So how can I spend half of my time preaching the value of brands coming from and searching within and then tell you but none of that brand matters because you’ve got to play into your customer’s storylines if you want to get anywhere? I’m afraid, this is one of those cases in which trying to simplify everything down to an 800-word blog is easier said than done. But let me put it like this:


As teenagers, we spend so much time trying to discover who we are, what we stand for, what our values are etc, that we don’t know what anybody else is going through. This isn’t selfishness, it’s simply natural human development. It’s only as we age and mature we define who we are, what we stand for, and those values that we’re always harping on about. Then we can start to relate ourselves to those around us and understand what they are going through and experiencing.

When your brand hasn’t defined who it is, it can’t state its purpose, values, mission statement. It can’t talk about what it wants to do, how it will change the world; it can’t tell me what its Onliness Statement is, and so on. When someone introduces me to a brand without those definitions in place – then I know it’s a teenager. A teenage brand that’s going into the world desperate to reach out and connect with everyone all around them, but failing so miserably because they haven’t worked out who they are in themselves yet.

Reaching Brand Maturity

Coming through the process of brand coaching is that maturity process in years 15 to 25; that period of learning who you are, where you belong, what you care about, and what you don’t care about. To put it more academically, it’s those final vital and defining years of developing executive function that can’t occur until the prefrontal cortex has fully formed. But after that point, we have the skills to reach out to the world and connect with those around us. Whether they be clients, competition, or suppliers.

Let me ask you this, how old is your brand? Are we talking the pimply skin of bragging about our accomplishments, attempting to woo clients with clumsy lines, and desperate to reach people with a vigour akin to desperation for that “prom night” sale.? Or are we talking something a bit more refined, mature, “I’m ready to reach the World”? Neither is a bad thing. Both have room to grow- because there’s never-ending growth for brands. But if you are looking at those younger years, wondering if that smell of teenage sweat and lynx deodorant is coming off of your brand in waves of desperation, let’s have a chat about brand coaching.

It’s time to ensure your brand has the same maturity and presentation that you do as the person operating within it.

July 29, 2021


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