Branding and Distinctiveness

Join Our Newsletter

Privacy Policy 



Stef Hamerlinck is a brand strategist and designer living in Belgium, and host of the podcast, Let's Talk Branding. He runs his own branding studio.

Show Notes

In this episode, we discuss what a brand is and how distinctiveness is fundamentally about making a brand stand out. Stef also shares his views on how many brand codes a business should have and gives examples for smaller and big brands to look at. We discuss:

  • Brand strategy
  • What brand and branding mean to  Stef
  • Differentiation and distinctiveness
  • How the context in which a brand is used impacts the brand codes to create
  • The 'vibe' of brands that their visual language evokes
  • The reason for rebranding or choosing a new name
  • Protecting your distinctive brand assets through intellectual property
  • How Stef decides whether to create a symbol in his branding work
  • Brands Stef admires: Kellogs and Ritchie Lemonade

LinkedIn: Stef Hamerlinck
Twitter: @stefhamerlinck
Instagram:  @letstalkbranding

Other links:
Course on brand strategy research:

Valuable Resources:

Register to attend the Brand Tuned book launch on 28 September 2021
Brand Tuned Accelerator 



Shireen Smith: Hello. My guest today is Stef Hamerlinck who is a designer located in Belgium. He focuses on food and lifestyle brands and is also the host of the podcast, Let's Talk Branding, which I found really useful when I was researching my book. So Stef, tell us a little bit more about your background. And in particular, why you became a designer?

Stef Hamerlinck: Hey, yeah. I have this weird label on me first, sometimes I call myself a strategist and sometimes a designer. And sometimes it's called a designer turned strategist. So that's, that's already something we could pick up on. But yeah, living in Belgium, been around in a small agency for I think about a small decade, doing a lot of like graphic design, motion design, that sort of stuff, and gradually moved into more strategic role. Trying to articulate what clients really wanted, trying to make sure the brand was defined well, and then got deeper into brand strategy. And today, I'm still this like, part designer, part strategist, where 50% of my work is dedicated to the actual brand design and packaging design and the other 50% is dedicated to trying to understand the situation of their particular brand and working for it. Trying to make sure that we're doing and providing the right design solutions.

Shireen Smith: Okay, well, you often ask people what a brand is on your show. So I'll turn that around and ask you, what is a brand for you?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Surprise, surprise, I should have seen that one coming. I'm probably not gonna be able to ramble off the exact definition I have. But what I like to say is that a brand is an experiential promise that represents the business. I think there's a couple of important points there. First off, it's experiential. So a brand needs to be experienced in some way, whether that's visual, or auditory, or a combination of all these things. I think that's important and that can even be almost subconsciously, because that's also a big part of branding, is that, that part where we're not actively thinking but experiencing it. And then the promise part is really about the fact that it needs to have some kind of promise inherent to the brand, or to the product or service. Meaning it needs to have value. It needs to be promising and able to purchase, to be purchased. And then of course, it needs to represent a business. I think that those are some key aspects to a brand.

Shireen Smith: And am I right in thinking you often help people who are at the start of their businesses rather than more mature ones?

Stef Hamerlinck: I kinda do a little bit of both. I work with a lot of startups, so yes. But I also work with some, some bigger, even global brands. But that's usually more of like a consultancy role whereas really defining the brand, designing the brand during the whole range is something I mostly do with smaller brands, startups, and midsize brands.

Shireen Smith: And are they generally starting out for the first time, or are they rebranding, some of them?

Stef Hamerlinck: Also, again, doing both. I do have, I think, probably more brands starting out. But I do need to say, that's an important part, very often is usually these are people or businesses that have started brands in the past. So it's not like the entrepreneur that comes out of school for the first time and wants to start a brand. Usually, those types of businesses are hard for me to work with. Because in terms of budgets and things like that, it''s tricky to match. But usually, it's like experienced businesses that want to start a new brand and want to invest from the get-go. That's usually the type of brand I work with.

Shireen Smith: And do you find that people have a good understanding of what a brand is? Or is a lot of your work actually educating them about what a brand is?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, I don't think people have a good understanding or at least have a common understanding of what a brand is. I think even within the industry, there's so much different takes on what a brand is. Some are more emotional; some are more practical. And I think from, from a business perspective, a lot of clients aren't really aware of what brand really is. So yeah, that's, that's part of what I try to do. Although I don't try to get into like long, elaborate discussions about what a brand really is. I try to make sure it's clear for them, what the outcome of the project will be. And for example, why we, why branding is important, is something I do stress about. And then I do explain, of course, what do I mean by branding. But I try to keep it a bit low on that end, because I've realized at a certain point that maybe I'm bothering them with things I like to discuss that they don't; that they're not interested in at that point.

Shireen Smith: Right. So you say that you help them with strategy. Presumably, they come to you with a product or service. And what they need is the design. So what will you be doing in terms of strategy? 

Stef Hamerlinck: Sure. So there's, of course, a lot of difference in terms of projects. If I'm doing like a big project for global brands, it's often a lot more just focused around research and understanding. But let's take a typical product where there's enough resources and somebody wants to put in a new product in the market. Usually, I go out and I do some competitive research. So mainly looking at who are the key players in this industry, what is happening there, what are the brand codes, or the distinctive assets flying around, that sort of stuff. I think that's very crucial. Even if you're just getting in the market, just being distinctive, straight out of the gate, that's one thing. And then of course, we look at making sure to define what the product is about, what's the value proposition. That sort of language is also something I work on, defining tone of voice. And usually, again, those things are based on research into category based on consumer research based on understanding the company and the culture. Of course, when there, it's a rebrand, there's a lot more work to be done in understanding the history of the brand, and what works for the brand, what has worked for the brand in the past. When it's a new brand, it's a lot more about understanding the context where the brand will eventually live in. So those are, [inaudible], that's a clear distinction in terms of the amount of work, the strategy phase. And then after I get into the actual or rebrand, design, or just designing the brand as such.

Shireen Smith: Okay, so this, sort of, differentiation, distinctiveness, how much focus do you put on differentiating or positioning, helping that client to do that?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, well, this is, of course, a very interesting point where I, when I started out, and I learned about brand strategy, and I read some books, it was all about differentiation. So, at the beginning, I was really focused that trying to define what differentiated that brand and then eventually, of course, design that brand. Today, I'm approaching distinctiveness as part of the strategy work, which is interesting, because it's no longer, like, doing the definition of what makes this brand meaningfully different, and then just getting out to the creative part. No, it's actually about being strategic about your creative choices. And so that can mean simple things like, what colors are owned by the main competitors and can we make sure that at least when we are briefing for creative or when we are designing, these are clear boundaries where we have to, that we have to consider. So that's a typical thing, a typical example of thinking distinctive from the get-go instead of an afterthought in design. Also, I think in differentiation, this whole idea of really trying to find this unique proposition that is unique to this brand, is something I let go the moment I understand, understood some of the teachings of Byron Sharp in the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. And now I tend to focus more on trying to find a language that works for that brand, also for the team that's behind it. And of course, it needs to resonate with consumers. But that's something I think that's often overestimated. And I think making sure it's distinct is probably the more crucial element here. Of course, one caveat; when you are working with startups or people that want to put a new brand in the market, there's always this case of, there's always this, they're very close to the reason of why they're trying to put this new thing in the market. And usually, the reason is, they want to do it better or different. So, of course when that...when the drive is there and when the founder or the entrepreneur or the business really wants to highlight that novelty of the product, I'm not gonna say, "let's not do it". I'm gonna work with it. I'm gonna work on that language, make sure it's there. But I'm going to keep what...keep giving them the warning signs that even though this might be highly differentiating, it's still very important to keep in account distinctiveness. I hope that was an answer. I keep ranting on about these things.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, I mean, I was just writing a blog recently, and thinking about distinctiveness... differentiation. And the brands I choose, like, say Hellmann's Mayonnaise, it's because I like that taste. If I've bought another mayonnaise, I found that I haven't quite liked it as much. And so, it's only recently that I've learned even the name, Hellmann's. I could usually just it. 

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah. 

Shireen Smith: So that's distinctive assets, you know? And I don't have a clue how they actually set out to differentiate themselves from competitors. If they did, I just don't know. So yeah, I agree that distinctiveness is really fundamentally important. So, do you try to be different from competitors in that space? In all the choices you make in terms of what you're going to design, apart from color, how do you go about doing that?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, I think that that is the interesting part, is really going beyond just the cliches of “Okay, so we're going to have different colors”. And that's where I really love the idea of the brand experience, which might be another buzzword. But I do think it's interesting to think about the brand on all touchpoints. And…and that's probably more from my design background. But I know a lot of brand designers really are hyper-obsessed with the idea of having this consistent experience throughout all touchpoints. And that can mean simple things like, when you have opened up your packaging box, and everything…you've taken out the product…there can still be like this little sentence below everything in…that's like an example of a more experiential design, where you really start to consider the brand experience throughout all of those things. It can be the simplest things like, what kind of texture will we have for this paper? Or what kind of smell do we want? Or if we have cars and driving around from our employees… what's gonna be on the back of that car? Is it just gonna be a logo or some kind of cool tagline we've worked with? Or maybe something even more contextual? And does that fit our tone of voice? So, it's like an endless spectrum of things you can start to work on. I recently did a project with some people...umm, Sonic Branding Agency, I forgot their name. What's their name, again? I forgot it. But yeah, it was a really interesting exercise, because we were…I was working on visual identity. I was also thinking about how it would move in terms of motion…was for YouTube channel. So, a lot of moving parts. But we also talked a lot about the…the audio branding, the sonic branding, whatever you want to call that. And I think that's where the power comes from being a little bit more strategic, and being able to step back, is to make sure that all of these different sensorial elements fall into place for a brand.

Shireen Smith: Yeah. So how do you actually decide what codes…how many codes for example, would you choose for a brand? Apart from its name? So, what [inaudible] generally try to give a brand to use?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, well, there's like, two interesting approaches you have here. You can think about, like the brand being a spectrum. And each brand needs to have a sonic, a visual, atonal sort of style. I think that's probably not very pragmatic. Of course, for bigger brands, you can look at the gaps and fill those in. But for smaller brands, I think it's smarter to look at where they will be available physically the most, and work on those touchpoints first and understanding. For example, if it's packaging, if it's going to be in a physical retail environment, then maybe considering the bottle shape, and the color and the paint finish will be probably one of the most important parts. And then thinking about “Okay, so how are they going to promote this product?”, and that's like, making sure in advertising, you can maybe bring back that bottle shape in an interesting way. So, I do think it's very contextual, to decide what distinctive assets will work, even though there's some really good signs about, for example, knowing that mascots are a very powerful tool. Sonic branding is also something that's apparently very sticky. So, when you do have the match of “Okay, we know from signs that this works”, and we have the opportunity here to create something, then yes, by all means, go ahead. But I was just saying like, there's a bit of a warning in here that it's not always necessary for each brand to have all types of distinctive assets, because it's hard to manage eventually, as well.

Shireen Smith: Sure. And actually, the legal dimension is much more important than people realize, for distinctive assets. Because something like color is impossible to protect, until you've become famous and well known by a color. So, a lot of brands that I see place so much accents on the color, and they might have one simple stylized logo, that's all, you know. Just their name, very simple stylized logo, and a color. But that's not really enough to identify the brand. Most brands need more than that.

Stef Hamerlinck: Sure. And like I think, what…what is often underestimated is what can become a distinctive asset. I mean, we…as you mentioned, there's the obvious suspects. But very often, there's things that make us distinctive that we hadn't considered yet. Like, for example, I'm working on a b2b company right now. And actually, the founders, the two founders are very prominent in the whole brand experience. And they are, of course, also distinctive assets. But then you need to start considering “Well, how do we make sure that even if they evolve in terms of their physical presence, that they somehow still match with the brand”. And there's some interesting, like, venues that you can explore there. And I think that's partly why distinctive assets, as a theory, also need to be…it needs to be spoken of more, because right now, it's very much very theoretical framework. And there's some great examples, but it's still a little bit underdeveloped on that way. And I think, for example, a really great example, is the Dutch brand called Swapfiets. They're like a bike renting service. And they've…they…so, their bikes are out there in the city, and they just have this blue…this blue tire. And that's like, a really good example of a distinctive assets. Because recently, they gave a famous biker in sports, like the blue tire, and people immediately recognize that. So, I mean, it's really going beyond the cliches of what distinctive assets are, and then making sure that it works for where your brand lives. I think that's important.

Shireen Smith: So, what…they've got a tire shape that is like a logo and they…?

Stef Hamerlinck: No. It’s…it's just that the actual tire, the…the rubber bike tire is blue. And that…that's…very.

Shireen Smith: Oh, I see…a bit like the…that red sole shoe. I can't remember.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, yeah. Louboutin. Yeah, yeah.

Shireen Smith: Yeah. Well, that can be actually much more challenging to protect, but I would think…

Stef Hamerlinck: True.

Shireen Smith: That smaller brands anyway, need to find two or three codes apart from color and the name, that they can actually own straightaway and register trademarks. Because that's the way you can be uniquely identified by whatever that code is. So, for example, a symbol like I don't know, the…the Nike Swoosh would have been protectable as soon as they created it. So, if you protect that, then that can be one of your assets that only you can promote. Because, you know, competitors can't copy that.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah. I gotta be honest with you there, Shireen. I…with a lot of businesses I work with, like, over the years, I've learned to at least make sure the brand name is…is protected. So that's something I…I push a lot of clients in, like, “let's make sure at least that's done”. But in terms of…yeah, in terms of registering and protecting visual assets, it's still like a barren wasteland out there. I mean, I just know that for a lot of clients, it's not a priority. And I agree with you that it's a very important asset we need to protect and be able to own. But it's something I personally need to look into more. I think I've just recently asked you the…the question on Twitter because it's really interesting field and I'd love to know more about it.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, I'm thinking of doing a course because in writing my book, I realized that actually, marketers, even brand managers, are not being trained in anything to do with intellectual property. So, they have to kind of…

Stef Hamerlinck: It’s a side note. 

Shireen Smith: …pick up the knowledge. [laugh] Yeah. And yet, you know, the other day on LinkedIn, I heard about this brand where a very big brand called Mother has begun using this smaller brand’s name called Other. And they're now involved in a legal dispute. But this brand called Other hadn't actually bothered to register a trademark. And it's quite the norm in the branding industry, for agencies not to register trademarks…

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah.

Shireen Smith: …and to use names that are very similar to each other.

Stef Hamerlinck: It…it messes with our process, that's why. And I'm being honest, like I, I used to ignore it as well. And then I started working with it. And then I realized, okay, there's this period where people can actually protest the trademark, and you have to build it into your process. Otherwise, it's…it's like a really annoying thing for practitioners. And it's a lot of times where you have this great buildup, from strategy to revealing the brand name and the design. And this is like a…a little annoying thing. But it's, I mean, I agree completely, like right now, I don't move along to any design stages, unless the brand name is fully protected. Because I agree with you that it's…it can run you into really big trouble if you don't.

Shireen Smith: Well, often, actually, entrepreneurs don't understand the value of IP. So, they'll say, “well, it doesn't matter to me. I don't…I don't worry…you know, don't worry about IP.” What would you say to someone if you find a name for them? And they say, “well, I don't really want to bother with trademarks”.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, I usually, I give the argument of…of scale, like, “what if we're at a certain scale, and people recognize your name, and they link it to your service? And what if you have to give it up at that point, it's gonna be a lot more costly for you. And you're gonna lose a lot of that.” And I think that's one of the best arguments you can give. Because…

Shireen Smith: Yeah. So how would you decide to create a symbol for someone, or in what circumstances would lead you to…say you do some research in the industry, and find they're all using just simple font logos, no one's really using any mascots or symbols or anything, and there's an opportunity maybe to stand out more in the branding. How would you then go about deciding what to create?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, that's where we get into this interesting field, where we cross this gap between what is strategic, meaning we set the boundaries, we set the stage, we know what we're about, that sort of…we know what not to use. Then we get into this vague space where it's about exploring IDs, sketching out, trying stuff. But usually, there is some form of ID that comes from looking at competitors. And as you mentioned, for example, understanding that most competitors have a very tight sensor of logo. You already immediately can think, “okay, so maybe why not go for, maybe a handwritten logo, and maybe why not have an interesting mark with that.” But it is hard to say what makes you then finally decide on the final symbol, because for me, there's just a lot of one exploration that you need to be doing. You need to just have, try out hundreds of different IDs on artboards, or sketch boards, or wherever you do. And then still, you need to work out some of those IDs. And then you need to show them to people and see how they interact with it. And then you still need to sell it to your client as well. So, there's a lot of randomness that happens in between there. And I do feel that the best way to go from like bad IDs to something that will work eventually is just showing it to people and listening to what they're saying, if you can open up to that. Because it's not easy, showing your…your, like, cool thing you made to people and they're starting to criticize it but you have to make sure that you listen to the right kind of things. Like if they're all seeing some kind of animal in it or some kind of personality in it, then maybe it's something that might be interesting or it may be something to avoid entirely. So that's not really an answer to your question, but that's what I have. 

Shireen Smith: The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, just say, in…in Jenni Romaniuk book for example, Meet Our Owl, and they chose an owl for absolutely no reason. It was just…

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah.

Shireen Smith: …they wanted some sort of visual imagery. And they picked, I think they even chatted about possibly having a kangaroo or something.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, that would have been more probably cliche in a way. But it's…I mean, of course, that doesn't sound very, like romantic. And I think a lot of creative people want this narrative and this rationale about why they chose a certain level. And let's not…let's not be dishonest here, clients want it as well. And I think it is important. And that's why it's funny when you see these presentations, internal presentations, about the logo, and there's this beautiful language about what it represents. Even if, like at face value, the ID was just a random shape, it's sometimes after the fact that you give this a story to make it easier to sell it internally. And I think that's fine. I mean, that's just how these things work these…these people are in day in and out obsessed with the brand. So, they want something that really represents them. But for me, very often, it's this collision of randomness. And then infusing a little bit of a story and a strategy back into it that really works well. And sometimes it's simple as typing the name, and then looking at letter, shapes, and maybe seeing something interesting there, and then extracting that…scaling that up. There's a lot of randomness, and you need to accept that in the design process. But the interesting thing is, and I'm sorry but I’m diverging here into a little bit of a different topic, but it's interesting to me, is when…when I do the same thing in strategy, there's sometimes a very interesting that happens when you experiment with things, when you try out things, you might discover new insights or new IDs. And I like to approach like a little bit of a hybrid model between design and strategy. But now I'm really out there.

Shireen Smith: I don't know. I'm…I'm actually wondering if distinctiveness is really all that lasts, ultimately for a brand. You know, once they grow to a certain size, it's about a product becoming successful, really, that's what generates success for a brand. And most good brands that are out there, you know, Mars chocolate, any…any of them, started out with a really good product. And then they became well known. So, I'm thinking on that basis, why…why not just create the brand assets? You know, the name could be the founder's name, like a lot of these big brands did start out as just being the founders’ name. And why not just choose, you know, a symbol, a font, and you know, what else needs to absolutely go into it? Obviously, you need to know that you're not cheap. You're, whether you're expensive or not, there's certain things I can understand would…would impact what a designer might design? But how much does it really matter? Otherwise? You know.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, that's, I mean, it's a really interesting question. I think I might feel a bit different about that, than… than the pure, like, I think a lot of what we learn from…from Sharp, and Ehrenberg-Bass, and Romaniuk, is eventually, what we see these outcomes and market share and how…how double jeopardy law and all of those things is what's left after you've basically analyzed a market share in a very abstract way. But what we don't see in those things, I think, is things like for example, I like to call it a vibe. Like for example, a brand can give you a certain vibe, and at certain points in your life, you're maybe interested in a certain vibe that might be like a yogurt that gives off a really interesting exotic vibe. These types of things that aren't really to be called distinctiveness because distinctiveness is more about familiarity and recognizability in a way, but this is also something I think that is very important. And especially at the start of like a product you do, there's something about…First off, it's new, it's a novel thing, so people want to explore, and second, you want to communicate some kind of interestingness about it. And I think that's where the vibe, as I like to call it is a very important factor of how I design. It basically gives me ideas about colors and, and textures and fonts and everything. Of course, keeping in account those hard lines set by the strategy and competitive colors and so on. But the vibe or the mood, or whatever you want to call it, the personality, is a very guiding principle when designing a brand.

Shireen Smith: Okay, like, so for example, some brands might need to look softer, some…

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah.

Shireen Smith: …sort of more sharp…

Stef Hamerlinck: Playful, like, there's a lot of different…and I think it's interesting…Let's say you have a, I don't know, a children's toys brand, you might see a typical children's toy brand. And they have all the codes like certain style of illustrations and fonts. And it might be actually that's, again, from a more distinctive point, but it might also fit your positioning and your…your…you might have a more mature way of approaching it might be different, and that might inspire a different type of vibe. And that eventually might communicate to a consumer that you're kind of…interesting, new, different type of thing. On the long run, of course, I think what…what is left is probably what, what Sharp has gone through. But there's a lot of randomness, as you mentioned. I mean, at the end of the day, when you're just starting out, your product needs to be very good and interesting. But also your…your distribution and your team, and there's so many other factors that are a lot more heavy at that point and probably distinctiveness because that is a long game, and you need to invest in it, that a lot of even amazingly distinctive startups will never make it. So, it's not like that is the success factor that will do it all.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, and also, I think it's maybe important to stick to your branding that you settled on, so that over the years you become known by, by whatever logos, whatever you start out with. So, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs just get bored with their branding, they decide they want a new look as if it's like a change of clothes, and I don’t think there’s this appreciation that these are actually assets of…of the brand that you need to preserve.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, I mean, I feel you. And interestingly enough, of course, there's, as practitioners, this is how we make money, doing rebrands and doing brands. So often there is this conflict of interest where on the one hand, you might say, well, is this really necessary, but on the other hand, you see something new and shiny, you can create. And I think a lot of people in branding, maybe, I don't think they're really dishonest about this, but just ignore those feelings of maybe there's enough equity, and they just…because they have a hammer, they only see nails, and I was part of that, to be honest. I used to just rebrand whenever somebody asked me to, and I didn't consider it. Nowadays, I'm a lot…a lot more careful. And actually, a rebrand doesn't happen all that much. Maybe there's a refresh in there for some reasons. Or it's…maybe it's an assessment of what are…like assets you have. And looking at the ones that can be more powerful, or maybe killing some of them that aren't working. That's usually what I do these days is make the proper audit of all the distinctive assets or just the entire touchpoint spectrum, and then try to make sure that we create something that works for what they see in the future. So…so I agree with you that very often this new shiny thing is both clients and practitioners that are responsible for that.

Shireen Smith: What would basically be a reason for choosing a new name? 

Stef Hamerlinck: That's, that's such a tricky one. Because, I mean, I used to think, “Well, yeah, it needs to have the right meaning, it needs to have the right personality, it needs to stick out from the competition, it needs to be easy to pronounce, it needs to be easy to be written.” All of those factors really are important. And nowadays, it's less about the meaning part, that's like a nice to have for me. Naming is probably more about just…can people…when I tell you the name, can you at least write it down? Or can you at least Google it without being completely off? I think that is just a formal trait that a name needs to have. So, on that sense, if it's a name, where people are really struggling with to just reiterate or recall on, that might be a good reason to do…to redo a name. Or when there's like a fusion between two companies, that might be a reason. But even then, it's probably smarter to look at just the best working name and pick that one and just skip the other one. So, in most cases, I would say keep it. But there are some…some problematic names that you might want to change. And of course, there's also what I see with a lot of startups is they, they give their…their brand, a very generic name, like let's say, I don't know red, red, or whatever, because they sell red markers.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, that actually is generic. But Oatly isn't much better than that. Because as the recent decision, you know, with Oatly and the Gately Farm, I can't remember what it was. But yeah, essentially, if…if somebody was trying to use Hellmann's and say Pure Hellmann's, that would be a definite trademark infringement. But PureOaty, was allowed, because basically, it's using the generic.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah. And that is, I mean, they're, they're probably generic brand names that eventually became recognizable enough. And I love the example of McDonald's. Like, if you consider McDonald's…yeah, like it's Scottish, and you don't, I never really thought about like “Old MacDonald had a farm”, the song, just because McDonald's was so…it wasn't McDonald's. And that's…I think what we need to understand is that consumers really, really don't overthink this stuff. And so, like throwing away the value because you think there's some meaning, that's wrong. There's probably almost always a bad ID.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, exactly. And actually, looking for meaning when you're trying to create brand elements, brand names, means that you're more likely to choose something that a competitor has chosen, because…

Stef Hamerlinck: Exactly.

Shireen Smith: …they're also looking for meaning.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, and this is the interesting dance we have to do. Sometimes I think, as brand strategists or brand designers is we have to find this internal narrative, while also making sure it's actually not meaningful in that way. And I think, if you can convince clients, because I have had instances where we have this really good understanding, and I do some of the education about distinctiveness, and if you can get them on board on that philosophy, and then they're with you on design and naming, it's a lot easier. And people get a lot more detached from this whole thing. And I think that's, that's great. I mean, if you can manage to do that, it's great for you and for your client. And that's probably also part of the reason why I talk so much about this stuff, because I would like it to be more accepted among clients and everybody.

Shireen Smith: Well, I find your, your approach really interesting that you've really got to the bottom of what branding is all about on your podcast. So is there a brand, a famous brand, any brand, that you particularly admire their approach?

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, let me think about…I know some local brands, but those probably won't ring a bell. So, I'm thinking about bigger, bigger brands that have worked really well. I mean, to be honest, like the type of brands, I'm really a fan of is, very often brands that are just like almost a little bit on the boring side of things. Like I really like Kellogg's, for example. Because the way that brand…of course, it has a lot of history already buildup, but recently, I think a couple of years ago, they did this refresh, and they really blew up, like, just the logo. And then of course they have the mascots. And I think that's just really following the school of distinctiveness. So that type of brand…I really just…when I'm walking in the supermarket, I like…I'm always, like, admiring these things because they're almost like these icons. And on a smaller scale, there's some…some…some really interesting, like, there's Ritchie which is a local lemonade brand that I really like, because they do have this vibe. It's a bit of like this nostalgic vibe. They have this really cool old Coca-Cola style; it feels like a Coca-Cola or lemonade from the 60s-70s. But it's a very distinct brand. It's very recognizable. They're doing all they can to be physically, mentally available. You can see them in lots of different stores. Their advertising is very…just emotional. Just speaking to that ID. And I think those are the types of brands that I very often remind…like really love. Just famous, distinctive in a way.

Shireen Smith: So, Ritchie, how do you…I’ve never heard of that.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, it's a smaller brand. It’s R I T C H I E, Ritchie.

Shireen Smith: Okay, we’ll mention that in the show notes in case people want to have a look.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, you should definitely look at it. It's a very nice brand.

Shireen Smith: All right. Well, thank you very much indeed, Stef, for appearing on the podcast. It was great having you.

Stef Hamerlinck: Yeah, it was an honor to be here. It was really interesting talk to you. And I definitely want to have more in-depth look at all of the IP things you've been sharing. So, thank you for that.

Shireen Smith: Well, come on to the book launch. We're having a book launch at the end of September and I've got various people from the branding industry talking about it, like, Rory Sutherland.

Stef Hamerlinck: Oh, oh, I'll be there. I want to be there.

Shireen Smith: Good. Thank you very much then. Bye.

Stef Hamerlinck: Thanks, Shireen. Bye.