There are many things in the SharePoint culture that baffle me, and we should expect that any subculture is going to have its own particularities. There is one, however, that has caused me a good bit of consternation. That topic is the use of the term “branding” to refer to SharePoint user interface design.
To understand how this is used, here is an excerpt from chapter one of the newly released book SharePoint 2013 Branding and User Interface Design:
“The textbook definition of branding is the act of building a specific image or identity that people recognize in relation to your company or product. […] A company’s branding is applied in many different ways, one of which typically includes a website. On the web, conveying a corporate brand usually involves the colors, fonts, logos, and supporting graphics all pulled together with HTML and CSS to provide the branded look and feel for a site.”
We can gather from this definition that when someone says “SharePoint Branding,” what they really mean is “applying colors/logo/etc. to a SharePoint environment.” Before I pick this apart a little, let’s visit two good definitions of what your brand actually is:
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. […] A brand used to be something else. It used to be a logo or a design or a wrapper. Today, that’s a shadow of the brand, something that might mark the brand’s existence.” – Seth Godin (source)
“To me brand is an organisation’s personality. It is their character and it should influence every aspect of their behaviour, not just the way they represent themselves visually. Brand is what they stand for and against. It is how they communicate with their customers and the world at large. It is not just a set of colours and pretty logo.” – Paul Boag (source)
Both of these definitions are tremendous and go against the old and wrong thinking that apply “branding” to UI development. It simply isn’t the core of what “branding” really is. Both of these definitions focus on customer experience and how an organization carries themselves. Now, I don’t want you to think that logos, colors, etc. have no part in a branding strategy, but it’s far, far down the primary focus and result of branding.
So let’s return to the idea of “branding SharePoint.” So the question is, who are the people that really “brand SharePoint?” Well, to be honest, SharePoint isn’t made to be branded because if we take the better definitions up there, software doesn’t get branded—it’s a catalyst to building a brand. For this reasons I believe the only people that truly “brand SharePoint” are Microsoft. The rest of us are left to “skin” and “theme” SharePoint in alignment with the visual aspects of our brand.
But this still points at the larger issue: when we talk about branding SharePoint in visual terms it is highly myopic and misleading. Unfortunately, it has become such a part of the SharePoint subculture language that it probably isn’t going anywhere.
My encouragement to the reader is to grab a much larger vision for what a “brand” truly is and stop making strong associations between a logo/colors/UI design to branding. When I look at a Nike website/logo I don’t think: “Wow, what a wonderful brand.” I think about all the experiences and emotions I have from Nike products as well as the personality of Nike, and that is the essence of a brand.