Tag Archives: Branding

Brand Patterns and Leitmotives – Music Thinking Inspirations for Branding and Design

When designing a brand it is necessary to have a shared understanding about the why, what and how of a brand. This can be written down and visualized in a manifesto together with the brand DNA, vision, mission, ambition and the brand values, personality, promis and expressions. But this is just like the musical score. To really ‘live the brand’ it has to be performed and adapted everyday together with  your audience.

Music Thinking:
Here are two musical concepts that could inspire and engage brand professionals to think about the brand consumer relation to add value to both sides: first to the consumer, then it will pay back to the brand.


Marc Shillum is approaching the filed of branding from a pattern thinking perspective:  Brand as Patterns. He states the most important feature of a successful brand is not just consistency, but rather the ability to continually reinvent the brand image according to what is most relevant at the time. In short, a successful brand must have a long term goal, but the short term strategy of how to get there must be continually reworked to remain coherent and relevant in a contemporary context.

Besides patterns there are more concepts that can bring context and meaning. In the Wagner Year it is worth to have a look on the contextual building blocks Wagner is using in his compositions: ‘das Leitmotiv’.


Leitmotives are musical phrases like story elements that does not imitate the sound of – for example – ‘crackling logs’, but make you feel the heat, thread and magic of fire. If you want to enjoy the music you don’t have to necessarily know everything about it, but ‘the more you know, the more beautiful it gets’.

Watch a great ‘musical introduction’ to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with Kurt Masur and Jessy Norman and learn everything about the coding and decoding with Leitmotivs in film music like star wars and Wagner’s music.

From a branding point of view many different elements should make a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ so that the consumer can enjoy, be engaged and get an emotional bond with the brand without knowing exactly every detail.

But to create a brand it takes a lot of listening skills and contextual vision. Maybe the most importing thing: the music is not ready when the score is written. It has to be performed with real people for real people – again and again.

‘There is joy in repetition’ Prince

Music thinking is the radical little brother of design thinking

When talking about services and service design I am convinced that music thinking can add an extra layer to the discussion of what design thinking means and especially how we can bring it to life in branding, communication and design.

“Music thinking is the radical little brother of design thinking”
Christof Zürn

When thinking about design there is the assumption, that at the very end after lot’s of prototyping, testing, etc. there is a final product, that maybe can get some updates later but is ‘ready to use’. When thinking about music (classical, jazz, pop) at the very end there will be a piece of work that has to be performed before the crowd. And after the performance what remains is the recall of an experience. If it is good you want it again, buy a CD, T-shirt or spread the word. If it is bad maybe you will ‘boo’, just turn away or tell it to your friends.
For me music thinking reflects the dynamics of daily business, working together with different experts, have to perform every day on a high expectation level in different performance venues for a changing audience. Music thinking also knows ‘radical change’ in style, technical innovation and behaviour of the crowd, customer, consumer, user, downloader. Music thinking is the behavioural side of design thinking:

In the project approach that I am using for CREATIVE COMPANION, I am thinking about the project approach more as a dance, or dance steps. There is a certain order, there is a certain style, in this case, it is a Tango. You don’t dance the tango alone you do it together and you have to rehearse, ‘prototype’ and iterate many times the dance steps together to make it a real experience.

CREATIVE COMPANION project approach with music thinking

Download the
CREATIVE-COMPANION factsheet and project approach (PDF)

What branding and design can learn from jazz

Raum-Musik für Saxophone CD booklet from DOUBLES

The music metaphor is very strong in communication and there are a lot of papers, articles and blog posts, that are dealing with jazz, pop music or bands regarding marketing, communications and design. One of the first articles I have seen on this subject was ‘What Jazz Taught Marketing (or Should Have)’
by Keith Jennings from 2004 In it’s seven learnings he describes things like practicing, playing with better people than yourself, finding your own voice, collaboration, experiment, innovation, risk and the audience – everything a brand should be aware of.

But there are so many more and as a matter of fact I would say design, communication and branding can learn a lot or may be inspired a lot by music, the music business, a band or any other performing individual – may it be jazz, pop or classical.

Here are a few I would recommend for inspiration:

Niche Marketing and the Long Tail
What We Can Learn about Great Marketing from the Grateful Dead by Daniel Sweet. The Grateful Dead may be the most profitable rock band in history even though it has never had a #1 single or a #1 album.  Think about that for a second. Did you know that only two of the band’s songs ever cracked the top 40 on the pop charts?

Naming and Branding
What The Grateful Dead Can Teach Us About Choosing Memorable Brand Names Fastcompany article about the process in which the Grateful Dead picked their band name and what companies considering their own brands can learn from them.

Improvisation and  Innovation
Innovation, Jazz, and Improvisation
by Stephen Shapiro with seven learnings: ‘unlearn habits, say ‘yes’ to the mess, have minimal structures that maximise autonomy, embrace errors as a source of learning, provocative competence, alternate between soloing and support, strike a groove’.

Medeski, Martin & Wood, Radiolarian The project is unique among studio albums because, in a reversal of the typical recording process, the band decided to compose and then develop the songs through a series of tours before recording the music in the studio. Also very interesting the band released the material  in a comprehensive box set with 3 studio CD’s, 2 vinyl LP’s, a live album, a remix CD and a DVD with documentary material under the name Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set

A very recent short post from Seth Godin: Why jazz is more interesting than bowling and not to forget the ‘Symphony’ principle of Daniel Pink in the book: A whole new mind

When I set up my own company CREATIVE COMPANION I started with writing a CREDO (what I believe) inspired of ‘a day in the life’ of a musician and in the  MANIFESTO #10 I tried to sum up:

10. Think like a musician.

Compose, invent, innovate, orchestrate, prepare, communicate, rehearse, improvise, entertain, listen, play, perform – don’t give a damn.



In one of the next posts I will write about Patterns from pattern recogintion, pattern design, a pattern language to (inevitably) minimal music.

Any suggestions? Drop a note!
Christof Zürn


Christof Zürn

Download:   CREATIVE COMPANION Fact sheet