Beat’s book, Somewhere Yes: The Search for Belonging in a World Shaped by Branding, is a beautifully written and designed publication that makes branding accessible for everyone, not just creative professionals. And with the definition of what qualifies as branding ever expanding and impacting people’s lives in both positive and destructive ways, there has arguably never been a better time for people to arm themselves with the knowledge contained within their pages.
Taking a broad look at the idea of what defines a brand, Somewhere Yes looks at everything from the Catholic Church to the Proud Boys to distill the working parts of what defines a brand. Designed to be read in three multi-level chapters, including one that explores the public display of identity, the role of symbols and language, and the use of branding as a tool to create a shared experience.
Speaking to Creative Boom, Beat tells us that Somewhere Yes differs from other branding books in that it deviates from the traditional form of how-to books aimed at people who are in or looking to get into the marketing industry. “While I hope these types of professionals will find my book interesting, I think the audience for Somewhere Yes is much broader,” he explains.
“I articulate my personal definition of branding throughout the book, as you might see in a how-to branding book, but the more interesting aspect for me was to draw parallels with topics that we don’t normally think of in the context of branding. Things like religion, politics and media. In that sense, it’s more far-reaching than a more typical ‘brand book’.”
As for the many layers of engagement he wanted to create in the book, Beat reveals that this goes back to when he first started putting his thoughts on branding on paper five years ago. It was then that he saw them going to his TED talk, but he realized he’d rather talk about his work than it did, so the idea morphed into a book.
“Once I had a good number of pages of words, I started pairing them with pictures,” he says. “From that point on, writing and design went hand in hand; I had ideas for visuals that I had to find words for and vice versa.”
Beat wanted to find a structure that would allow readers to skim the book if they wanted to, so he settled on the headline-sentence structure. “You can get the rough overall narrative just by reading these, and if you want to dig a little deeper you can start reading the paragraphs,” he says. “The small writing serves as a kind of “color commentary” along the way. And of course you can just look at the design if you want.
For me, design is the universal language. It transcends borders, languages and cultures. And when used “right” it can have a tremendous impact on the current state of the world.
“I love the kind of books that you can pick up, read a little and put down at different times in your life. It is, so to speak, your companion for many years. For me it’s books like What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund, Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden and The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan. I hope that Somewhere Yes can be that kind of book.”
As part of the sales pitch for the book, Beat questions whether branding can help reverse the downward trend the world is on. This is baked into his self-image as a “creative optimist”. “I think creativity can solve most problems,” he says. “My mother was an artist, my father a surgeon. Both used their creativity in unique ways to address specific problems they were trying to solve. I think ‘creative optimism’ was in the air growing up. I happened to find a home in the “creative messaging industry” of branding and graphic design, where color, images and words come together to communicate with large communities.
“For me, design is the universal language. It transcends borders, languages and cultures. And when used “right” – to communicate messages and solve visual “problems” that benefit humanity and society as a whole, rather than just making something to benefit or selling more products – it can have a huge impact on the current state of the world.”
What about bad actors who don’t use branding with a positive intent? How can people protect themselves from this? “For me, branding is a tool, a process of distillation, articulation and ultimately expression,” says Beat. “It’s an amoral process. If you put something positive into it, you get something positive out of it. If you put something negative in, you get something negative out. Branding inevitably reduces complexity.
“The best brands are instantly recognizable signals that guide us through our daily lives. The strongest brands are also open to interpretation; they mean different things to different people. The result is that we tend to float through this universe of ‘visual sound bites’. without a common understanding of their meaning.
“I think it can be helpful to just understand this dynamic, something I’ve called ‘brand competency.’ Greater awareness of the signals thrown our way empowers individuals to try to see through and minimize the brand overload we all experience.
He continues, “I also feel like a lot of ‘bad actors’ are great at branding! They are good at simplifying complex themes into single, often inflammatory sound bites. Hate reduces well for some reason, while Hope tends to be more complex. These are the types of mechanisms that I think branding can help us understand.”
Understanding something is part of an ongoing process, and Somewhere Yes is no exception. Beat feels that putting the book together clarified things that had been floating around in his mind for a while, but it also crystallized thoughts that only occurred to him after it was finished.
“One of the most fundamental things that stuck in my thinking is that branding’s strength is also its greatest weakness,” he concludes. “By that I mean that the process of branding distils something—usually a product, place, service, or person—down to its essence. However, this process also flattens – it removes nuance and complexity. Which is definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the rest of my career.”
Somewhere Yes: The Search for Belonging in a World Shaped by Branding by Beat Baudenbacher is now available at www.loyalkaspar.com.