Branding is Gestalt
As a designer of experiences and an enjoyer of life I am always fascinated by how little experiences can add so much. Specifically, how little triumphs around the whole of something can add up to a great experience. As the title implies, I would like to explore how the branding and the user experience with a company is really the sum of its parts (gestalt) and there is no particular magic bullet to its success. Your passion and promise must permeate throughout the way that business is done. However, it is not uncommon for people to use the term “branding” to mean “logo”. People talk about how it is so much more than that, but often companies still treat branding like its only their visual side.
I would like to tell you a story of a company that gets it : Highly successful branding through gestalt thinking.
Meet High Road Ice Cream
They have a solid product
High Road is an ice cream company based in Atlanta, Georgia. They are awesome. What makes them awesome? Is it great ice cream? Memorable flavors? Professionalism? Presentation? As you may have guessed, its everything. Every element of dealing with them is stellar. Consumers and vendors alike are presented with small but delightful experiences. The product itself is wonderful : unique flavors, complex palettes, delicious taste. But, product isn’t everything.
They do it with style
From the consumer side, all goals are achieved. But, High Road doesn’t stop there. At the end of the day, the company sells to companies, restaurants, vendors and they know it. A fun fact : High Road is delivered by a gentleman in a top hat, who proclaims “I am here to deliver the best ice cream in the world.” But, its not just a fun fact. I have been told this story by more than 3 different businesses who sell High Road Ice Cream. ( Refer to photo, its totally true.) How many restaurants have taken the time to tell you about the specific brand they use outside of mentioning it or showing the logo? Thats a delightful story and it shows a flair, craft and passion for their product. High Road doesn’t need to do anything like that, their ice cream tastes great. So, why even bother?
They respect their customers
Its clear in everything that High Road does and says. They respect their customers and the consumers. It sucks being treated poorly, respect feels good. How can ice cream be respectful? To start, complex and culinary flavors : Mango Child Lime Sorbet, Brown Butter Praline, Bourbon Burnt Sugar, etc. These are not just gimmicks, they are intelligent and subtle combinations of flavor. People love it because its wonderful and unexpected but so good. These flavors aren’t insane or experiments. They clearly know what they are doing and they are not trying to trick you into enjoying the experience. As I mentioned, it isn’t just the product. Its also the attitude. The flavors are complex, but not presented with the intent to confuse. French Toast or Aztec Chocolate and Caramel are pretty clear flavors but maintain an allure that intrigues. Some restaurants try to add flair simply by naming common foods with complex names. A “Flame-grilled Painted Hills Angus Filet on a Toasted Sesame Bun with Crisped Sea Salt Potato Wedges” ( Btw, I did not make this up) is still just a burger and fries and most customers know it. Its intended to make an otherwise unremarkable meal have more personality and fanciness but it just feels fake and disrespectful. Ice cream is common to most people, but its incredibly complex and difficult to make well. The company is run by executive chefs with high level pedigree. High Road could have made their attitude high-brow and elitist if they wanted to. But, they chose to make it a class act : Unique but accessible. It feels good when people are really freaking good at their job and don’t act like they are superior because of it. While there are exceptions, respect for customers tends to go hand in hand with genuine love for the craft.
They are craftsmen
For the most part, some of the best people in any field are confident but humble. Its tough to communicate that you love your product when so many people throw words like “passion” and “love” around like they mean nothing. Those things have become buzz words and even so marketing copy tends to feel disingenuous. High Road is run by chefs that love the shit out of ice cream. You can tell by how they talk about it. Its not marketing to them, they are just into making mind-blowing ice cream. They think about things like flavor depth, mouth-feel, body & texture. They are focused on the precision points of creating their product, Even if 1 out of 10 people have no idea what those details are or care about them, they do it anyway because it makes a better tasting ice cream and they know how to manipulate it. Watching interviews with the founder is fun and interesting because he is so in to it. Craft is about love and detail and you can’t fake it.
The whole package
I almost forgot to mention their identity and packaging. Its honestly, the least important part of the brand but its still sweet! Its simple, clean and elegant. The packaging features dark tones, evocative photos of the flavors in the ice cream and an accented color rim. Further, the logo is subtle and well-done with typography that is intelligent and thoughtful. I’ve honestly never seen the packaging in person ( just photos). But, I have had the ice cream dozens of times. Again, High Road did not need to make classy, well-designed packaging. They could have put it in a white tub if they wanted. They ensure that even a side of the product that most people never see is still classy and well-done.
I think their name is well suited. Most of the things they do are not strictly nessesary, they could probably save some money in the short-term by doing things with less detail and style. But, they took they high road ( I couldn’t help it) and made sure that every point of interaction with their company is fun and lovely : whether its retail, delivery, buying their ice cream, eating it, going to their website or just hearing about them. Everything contributes to delight and memorability with High Road. They barely need to market because their brand sells itself. Not simply because its good but because people actually enjoy interacting with them.
A strong branding lesson is that brightening someone’s day is powerful. Even if you do it in small ways.
You might think that High Road has it easy because they sell ice cream which is inherently enjoyable. But, I ask that you look deeper then the product itself. There are dozens maybe hundreds of ice cream companies out there. High Road is the only one that I hear about from multiple businesses that use them. High Road didn’t pay them to talk about them or pitch their product. At that point, High Road has already made its money. Its a genuine desire and pride in the fact that they serve High Road Ice Cream. They know that it adds value to their businesses and that its fun to hear about. That’s what trust and loyalty look like. They are powerful.