We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Roach, one of North America’s leading branding consultants. Based in Canada, Ed and his company The Branding Experts have over 25 years experience working with small businesses to help them develop unique brand positioning strategies that differentiates them from their competition. As well as this Ed presents at design conferences around the world, giving his advice on online branding, marketing yourself and branding for start-ups.
Thing: Where did you learn your craft?
Ed: I went to St. Clair College from ’74 to ’77. That gave me a good basis to grow on. From there it was all street-smarts from freelancing to starting my own business in ’86 and being self-employed ever since.
Thing: Has the digital age ruined the ‘tangible’ thing?
Ed: The digital age has been a double-edged sword. From the graphic design side it’s made GD a commodity. Any jerk with a computer is now a designer and as such the fees have nose-dived. The arrival of desktop publishing (with the Macintosh) started this race to the bottom in terms of price and quality.
On the other hand the digital realm has creative visuals at an all time high. It hasn’t done much to influence the “idea” – that continues to demand brain matter.
The digital age has helped branding. It allows ALL brands, big and small to connect in a much more direct way to their customers. It levels the playing field. Brands and their creativity to connect have blossomed here. What we’re doing remains the same but HOW we’re doing it has changed quite a bit. The democratized web allows multiple channels of communication and analysis.
Thing: As a specialist in branding and getting products noticed, can branding and marketing elevate mediocre products ot iconic stauts or do you think the product always must be strong to gain recognition?
Ed: The latter. A favourite old quote of mine (author unknown) is “ the fasted way to kill a bad product or service is with great advertising.” The same goes with branding. You can only fool the public once. They won’t buy a bad thing twice. No amount of advertising or cleverness will convince you to buy a drink again if you simply ate the taste.
Branding is all about authentication. Part of my brand is my reaching out to help. Much like what I’m doing here. If I brag about that trait but fail to deliver, what does that tell you about my brand? Or I only do it if I see a dollar at the end of the effort, what would you say? If a brand is to succeed they have to be true to the audience or they will walk.
I can’t think of mediocrity as iconic. Branding and marketing can help a product aspire to greatness but not without changing what is wrong. Accepting mediocrity and hoping to spin its way to the top is a recipe for disaster.
Thing: What advice would you give to new businesses looking to launch the next big ‘thing’?
Ed: Be true to your brand. If it really is the next big thing position it properly. Discover HOW it takes the lead and live that boast. Back it up, expand on it and give your customers a reason to love you. Resist following the leader. If you do, your “next big thing” is going to look like more of the same. As my slogan says, “Lead don’t follow” Aspire to be great!
Thing: If you had to pick one piece of iconic design from the last century as a personal favourite, what would it be and why?
Ed: The Coca-Cola bottle. Visually (no label) it is unique and identifiable and tactfully it also works. You can tell what it is by feel in a blackened room. As a brand it delivers refreshment globally and represents the ideals western democracies embrace.
Thing: What’s your favourite album cover of all time?
Ed: Probably The Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. The original, you could unzip the pants, it was shocking and controversial. It also delivered great music.
The sad truth about today is I buy music individually and there is no album art associated. Who doesn’t remember (in my generation) ravaging the Sgt. Pepper album when it first came out. You couldn’t get that cellophane off fast enough. Everything about that album broke new ground.