Brand stand out: breaking conventions to demonstrate difference


Across business, the majority of brands fall — often a little too comfortably — into accepted conventions.



Health food stores are full of products with green leaf logos; the number of tech businesses adopting the ‘ify’ suffix increased dramatically in the wake of Shopify and Spotify’s success; every other data business relies on imagery showing a matrix of interconnected points to communicate their offer.



And for decades the financial services industry gravitated towards dark blue. Lots is written about how blue communicates integrity and trustworthiness, but not a lot about why this should be the case. There are references to blue as being a masculine colour, but this is a relatively recent convention; before the 1940s little boys wore pink, girls wore blue. Imagine that.


More likely is that dark blue probably refers back to the sober suits that bankers traditionally wore, the ink they used; perhaps even military uniforms that suggest authority. Who knows — the exact reasons appear lost in time and anecdote. Only relatively recently have the established financial institutions moved to brighten up their palettes. This came as a response to a wave of fintech brands that show that having a sober colour is no longer a prerequisite for public trust.


Talking clearly and putting the customer first are more important than heritage.


Another industry that relies on blue branding is maritime. It seems the obvious choice — after all the sea is blue, right? This is a great example of where the first thought is also the obvious, tired cliché. Mix into these brands imagery of the ocean, and it becomes incredibly difficult to tell them apart. Maritime businesses might not set out to imitate each other, but by choosing blue they become copycats by default, if not design. When rebranding Lloyds Maritime Academy, we made a conscious decision to step away from blue; introducing a bold brand colour that gives immediate stand-out in a bland sector. This didn’t mean ditching blue completely — in fact it’s still very much a part of the brand. How? Because the majority of photography naturally uses the ocean as a backdrop.


It’s not just established sectors where brands fall into conventions. Fast Company recently identified an emerging trend within one of the newest industries — AI; welcome ‘the swirling hexagon’. Hexagons are four and half times more likely to appear in AI logos than logos of businesses in other sectors. It appears that where the crypto sector led, AI followed. And that’s because the hexagon naturally suggests a network, perfect for crypto. It has a solid geometry, it can be easily tessellated into a honeycomb, it looks like a 3D rendered cube — a block in the blockchain. Hence crypto’s widespread adoption of the shape. This aesthetic then seeped into AI, and now appears to have found its natural home.


All the above examples show a fundamental challenge at the heart of creating a brand — to stand-in or stand out?


Use expected elements in your branding and there’s an immediate feeling of familiarity that helps your audience understand who you are and what you offer. You might appear legit; but it’s hard to look anything other than comfortable. Adopting the conventions often seems like a safe bet, but this will make it incredibly difficult to create stand-out. Your conventional brand will ensure you’re forever seen as one of the pack.


Our advice — put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What’s their perception of your industry? What do they need from brands in the industry — reassurance, Can they tell at a glance who the innovators or leaders are? If you look like everyone else, chances are they won’t think it’s you.