Design your brand like a DJ

Words by Shannen Song
Date 2023-07-12

What comes to mind when you think of the sound of a brand?

Snoop Dogg and JustEat? The ‘ta-dum’ of Netflix? The digital ‘bong’ of Intel?

These are world famous examples of sonic branding. It’s a powerful way to make your brand world richer, more expressive, and more memorable and emotionally connected with your audience. But the sonic landscape is much bigger than just audible identities. And there’s a lot brands can learn from it.

Think about your brand from a different musical perspective. Like, for example, a DJ.

Music genres are like category landscapes

Most festival revellers can tell from a flyer or poster what the music is going to sound like, without even looking for the names of the DJs or the organiser. To attract revellers, posters need to communicate instantly what to expect solely through visuals, without the help of sound. That means they need to align to the codes of the genre to be credible and compelling, and instantly recognisable. And these codes stem from the attributes of the music.

In branding, category codes help consumers navigate the market. But it’s just as important to express them in ways that are ownable for your brand. Consider which codes are yours for credibility and familiarity, and which codes you can challenge to create impact and differentiation.

Whether you’re starting from a blank slate or embarking on a redesign, make sure you’re digging deep into your brand or product truths as a springboard into the ways they can be visually expressed, rather than just applying latest trends.

A DJ set is a golden thread

Planning a DJ set requires vision. A DJ set is not just playing one track after another (that would just be a Spotify playlist in a club). It’s a story narrated by a sequence of tracks that shine individually and fit together collectively.

A DJ selects tracks with a range of moods and speeds, with enough similarities for an overall harmonious sound for the night, but with sufficient differences to provide intriguing variation.

With your brand, craft your ‘golden thread’ – your signature of meaningful design that weaves through the consumer journey, allowing your brand to tell a clear, confident and inspiring story.

BBC Two uses the central curve of the numeral ‘2’ as a canvas for a radically diverse identity system that brings the mood and emotions of its programming to life.

Be flexible with your distinctive assets. Use them consistently but with relevance to specific moments, by making sure they adapt to different contexts. Dial your brand personality traits up or down to demonstrate a spectrum of expression that feels alive, not static... but always on brand.

Design Bridge and Partners’s rich and vibrant identity for the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) evolves and transforms along with the seasons.

The dance floor is your audience

People dance for different reasons. Some are there because they love the DJ. Some are there because they’ve heard from friends that the party would be good. And for others, it’s simply because it’s the best option available that evening.

It is impossible to try to please everyone. Focus on a core group (usually in the front row), respond to their energy, and keep them dancing.

With your brand, when you target everyone, you reach no one.

Be clear on who your audience is, and stay in tune with them. Just as a DJ must engage the crowd to sustain the mood, ensure your brand is always innovating, to stay relevant while remaining true to itself.

Can you lead or grow the category? Transform it? Create a new category? Consider testing the waters with limited editions.

Kronenbourg 1664 Prestige launched a limited edition beer brewed with champagne yeast, giving younger consumers an accessible way to celebrate with a special twist of luxury.

Or is it simply about freshening your look and feel to reflect the constant shifts in culture, ensuring your brand is both timely and timeless?

Our refresh of Hellmann’s connected the brand to the growing appetite for real food – inspired by their original deli roots.

Brands in the Mix

Just like a DJ set, even if we follow all the rules, sometimes there’s just an energy in the air on a certain night or a sound that connects emotionally with the crowd. It can’t be planned, it can’t be explained, it can’t be rationalised. And it is often said a great DJ is not one who plays what the crowd wants to hear, but one who plays music that the crowd never realised it wanted to hear.

This is perhaps the greatest parallel lesson for us as brand marketers and designers. Brands are deeply emotional, and sometimes people don’t know what they need until they see, feel or hear it. So be brave, be bold, be fearless to press play. And then watch the world dance along with you.