What We Learned: Brand New Conference 2017

September 19, 2017 | by Joshua P. Ferguson

Over the course of last Thursday and Friday, the whole BMSD team migrated to our conference room for two days of virtual attendance at this year’s Brand New Conference. An annual gathering of marketers, designers, copywriters and all-around creative people who discuss progressive ideas in branding and brand identities, the Brand New Conference is the brainchild of Under Consideration, a graphic design firm from Austin. Now in its seventh year, it may not be as big as some of the rival branding and design conferences out there but it is doing its part to engage our industry and create a constructive dialogue.

We sprung for the webcast so everyone in our office could take part. It was our first time attending—virtually or otherwise—so we weren’t sure what to expect. Like any conference, some speakers had more nuggets of wisdom that resonated with us than others. So, each of us here picked a particular highlight from a particular presenter to, well, highlight why they stood out to us, what we learned and how we hope to incorporate our newfound wisdom into what we do here at our agency.


Our Brand New Conference Takeaways


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Be the Michael Phelps of Mistakes. Make Mistakes as Fast as You Can: I was not expecting to hear this one at a branding conference that features some of the most notable names and agencies in our industry. Actually, making mistakes and the idea of failure was a surprisingly popular topic throughout the two-day event.

Speakers shared examples of design flops paired with title screens, section breaks and anecdotes that brought failure to the forefront as a positive instead of a negative. In fact, one speaker-duo listed “We allow ourselves to fail” as one of the main tenets that helps their agency to succeed. Another signed off with “Here’s to the next project that scares the hell out of me.”

It was cool to hear these super successful creatives take a laid back, “we’re not saving lives here” attitude about their work—and how removing the fear of failing makes the creative ride infinitely more exciting. In essence, be bold, try, experiment, make mistakes, try again, make more mistakes and hopefully wind up with something crazy amazing is the idea here, and I love that.

Melissa, Creative Director


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Words are Idea Bombs, Packed with Meaning and Ideas: This may not seem like a revelatory concept for copywriters, but it should be a constant reminder to us. That’s precisely what Mike Reed, the creative director of London “writing agency” Reed Words did for us at Brand New. Reed is actually the first copywriter to take the stage of the Brand New Conference in its seven years. The emphasis throughout his presentation was the role copywriting plays in the a brand’s broader conversation with consumers. He used the phrase verbal identity as a way of describing the yang to visual identity’s yin. For me, as a longtime copywriter, this was really inspiring. I plan to keep this sentiment with me as a reminder of how powerful and flexible words can be, flipping their meaning depending on how you read them and transforming a message for a brand with just the right bit of word play.

Josh, Senior Copywriter


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Everything is Fixable: My favorite session was from Ivan Garcia. The essence of his presentation was overcoming the fear of failure and not being afraid to make mistakes. I loved the sentiment that no mistake we make as designers is TRULY that bad, that it can’t be fixed, that something bad can’t be reworked into something great. Garcia urged designers to push your own comfort zone and push out of the comfort zone of our clients. So often we don’t pursue ideas because we fear them being rejected. These risky ideas are the ones that are typically truly great and unique. If it doesn’t end up working, a failed idea could be the starting place for an idea that truly works. Any design can be fixed!

— Katie, Senior Designer


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Start with Why: In Knoed Creative’s presentation, they shared a handful of valuable tips and tricks they’ve worked into their branding process over their five-year history. My favorite was to “start with why.” As someone who manages the day-to-day of client work, it’s so easy to jump into a project focusing on what needs to be done to get the finished work off to the client. What I love about “start with why” is that it challenges you to back up from the project and to ask yourself the question of why you’re doing it, and what the ideal desired result is. Seen from this angle, a new way of thinking can be uncovered that will produce a superior result than if this question wasn’t asked from the start. In addition, this question is also important to ask of your organization as a whole—why does your organization exist? What is the ultimate point? I want to start asking this question of myself and my team more often, and I look forward to seeing the results!

— Carlie, Account Manager


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Distill Ideas down into Potent Capsules of Meaning: As a writer, Mike Reed’s talk also resonated with me the most. It was great to be reminded of the importance of words in branding and how the voice of a brand should be just as important and recognizable as the visual identity. I particularly loved his way of describing the role of writing as the capturing of intricate or complex ideas and distilling it down into “potent capsules of meaning.” Good writing doesn’t just explain what the product is or who the brand is, it powerfully demonstrates it. His work on the Argos Simple Value brand was a testament to that idea. It’s a great example of how you take the concept of the brand, in this case basic goods for the home, and express that with equally simple, but effective language. It manages to use a no-frills vocabulary but have tons of personality and humor because of how it’s used. His work on that Simple Value is a great reminder that a brand doesn’t have to be overly stylized or verbose to stand out and be smart. It just needs the right distillation of the idea.

— Anna, Copywriter

Did you attend the Brand New Conference? If so, what was your biggest takeaway? Let us know in the comments.

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