Imagine you could zoom out from your industry, line up all the brands that make it up and look for similarities in how they present themselves. Would you see a dominant use of certain colors? Common shapes or symbols? Is there an affinity for certain types of fonts or sameness in the tone of voice?

Most industries suffer from carbon-copy approaches to brand identity design. Some more than others.

We see two reasons this is so prevalent:

  1. Most companies that direct their own brand identity design go for the most obvious elements in which to make it immediately identifiable
  2. Most brand identity designs draw from within the industry and its subject matter for inspiration

Is a derivative design always weak? Is it bad for a brand to visually reflect its industry?

No, not if done right.

Is drawing inspiration only from within your own industry always bad?

Yes, we feel it is.

So, how do we approach brand identity design so that we don’t land our clients in the rut their industry has already carved?

Enter: the Brand Parallel.

The brand parallel is an exercise we developed to get us beyond the mundane, overused tropes of a client’s industry and to draw inspiration from other well-executed brands. Once we tried it, we saw how effective it was in focusing our team on a common point on the horizon that helps the brand stand out instead of blend in. We were hooked.

Here’s how we do it.

After developing a company’s Brand Roadmap and identifying and articulating its Core Values, we are ready to start getting creative with the other side of our brains. By this time, we have done the competitor research to differentiate our client and will have done the groundwork to begin crafting a unique brand personality.

But instead of going further down that track, we stop and intentionally set out on a new parallel path to examine other industries sharing similar characteristics with our client’s brand, but that are in completely different industry verticals. We survey brands analogous to our client – not necessarily the industries they represent.

Once we’ve zeroed in on a suitable brand parallel, we dive deep into it, completely unburdened from worrying about heavy-handed “inspiration” dampening our free exploration. We are free to adopt ideas from the parallel… because it’s been said “good artists borrow, but great artists steal”—right?

Sidebar – this is a favorite quote of Steve Jobs in which he misquoted Pablo Picasso who said “Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.” Picasso himself was paraphrasing composer Igor Stravinsky, yet both statements likely were taken from T. S. Eliot’s dictum: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn.”

Pretty interesting how this series of quotes are themselves an example of great artists stealing. How’s that for meta?

The ultimate purpose of the Brand Parallel is to creatively inform and speak to the brand’s visual elements, including logo, colors, typography, photography styling, etc, as well as non-visual elements such as the brand’s tone of voice and the Brand Expression (tagline or slogan) and Brand Essence (core brand message).

Examples of real-world Brand Parallels.

Since brand identity design is mostly a visual exercise, there’s no better way to explain brand parallels than to show you a few examples from our brand development efforts for clients.

Air Tractor, a 30+ year client, designs and manufactures purpose-built airplanes for multiple industries – agriculture, firefighting, surveillance & reconnaissance, narco-crop eradication, and military.

We often referred to their platform as the Swiss army knife of aviation. This led us to a brand parallel of: Everyday Carry.

Everyday Carry (EDC) is a culture of people who invest in and share the essential items they carry with them daily, oftentimes depicted in the form of “pocket dumps.” Pocket knives, multitools, mini flashlights, keychains, wallets, and lately, masks, are presented for their utility, reliability, and design.

This internet-driven community of people (mostly men, just like Air Tractor’s audience) are true enthusiasts and always on the hunt for the next item that will improve their EDC loadout. Manufacturers of these products have invested heavily in sophisticated marketing and branding. Everyday Carry provided us an entire ecosystem in which to seek inspiration for our evolution of the Air Tractor brand.

The Air Tractor airplane is tough, sleek, and reliable. And like precision tools carried day after day for decades, Air Tractor airplanes are always up for the challenge.

Earl’s Rib Palace was a quickly identified brand parallel. If you’ve ever been to one of their restaurants, you’ll quickly pick up on their theme. It was best summed up to us as: Route 66.

This brand parallel led us to classic American-made motorcycles and cars, vintage oil cans and gas stations, rusted license plates, and scrap metal. These are the detritus of the Mother Road.

This not only fed our visual approach to the Earl’s brand identity but heavily influenced its tone of voice for a matter-of-fact, call-it-like-you-see-it brand personality. The Earl’s brand speaks like, and directly to, the blue-collar workforce in droves.

Earl’s is middle America. Historic Route 66. Easy as pie. Okie. Smokey. And friendly above all. That’s what makes them Oklahoma BBQ.

BC Clark is a brand we’ve shaped and evolved across four decades. And in all that time we’ve strengthened the legacy they built with traditions and service to their community. BC Clark is an institution in the state of Oklahoma. It’s likely Oklahoma’s oldest brand extant.

Elevating the BC Clark brand identity has been an ongoing effort. And we continue to re-tool and refine their brand for future success. One of our recent efforts was selecting the jewelry retailer’s brand parallel: Boutique Hotels.

Because of their rich history, presence in urban areas, and high-touch physical experiences, it was a natural fit for BC Clark. Boutique hotels design every last detail and touchpoint for delight. Fads come and go. But exceptional experiences never go out of style. They will always be relevant. They will forever differentiate.

This is what now inspires us to focus more attention on the customer experience for this high-end luxury retailer.

When we approached our own rebrand in 2018, we pulled out the same toolkit we use for our clients. Though we were likely a bit more difficult to deal with, as each of us sees our brand differently, the process did not fail us.

For our brand parallel, we wanted to find something that aligns with Traction’s qualities of people-friendliness, a welcoming spirit, and authenticity. At the same time, the parallel needed to show our technical and problem-solving strengths.

We distilled multiple brand parallels pitched by various people on our creative team to arrive at a single business segment that just made sense of it all: Industrial Design (for the home).

It’s a brand parallel that is technical, smart, well-thought-out, but also welcoming, warm, and authentic. It is human-focused and deliberate in both form and function.

Common qualities we found in industrial design products were natural and gray colors, avoidance of sharp edges, and designs that invited user interaction and engagement.

All other parts of the brand including color, typography, and photography all revolved around themes of home industrial design.

The Brand Parallel is Ours

Our brand process synthesizes a variety of methods and frameworks that have been used by the branding community for decades. We use many of the same tools and discovery methods as other brand strategists. And they work well.

But this particular approach—the Brand Parallel—is ours. It is unique to us. And it is one of the pivotal steps in our process that takes a new or freshly reinvigorated brand to a new place that it might not have otherwise gone. It’s all a part of us helping to guide companies into Brand New Territoryº.

Are you looking to take your brand new places? Thinking a Brand Parallel might inspire your business to journey beyond the competition? We’d love to help with that. Let’s talk shop.