An operating system is only as useful as it is intuitive to users, and only as relevant as its latest update. In our world, the same logic of continuous software iterations and upgrades that fix issues, add enhancements, or introduce new features can be applied by looking at the brand as an operating system.

Think about it. To demand attention and loyalty, value must be added via every interface and interaction. A brand operating system delivers that value by inspiring loyalty and inviting interaction over a shared belief, or common point of view, between the business and the audience it serves. Aligning with that audience’s needs from a point (or infinite points for that matter) of shared understanding is what results in the kind of brand-user relationships we all strive to forge.

The system

At a base level, an operating system is constructed around a kernel, application programming interface (API), user interface and file system, plus hardware devices and device drivers. Turns out brands and their behaviours can be deconstructed in a similar way.

We know branding to be the story that guides business decisions and product roadmaps, along with reminding employees why they should continue to come to work every day. But branding must also be responsive and iterative if we wish for it to be considered more than just a filter for marketing. 

A brand OS can deliver on that role by being the interface between the business and the world that ensures all elements of the brand, from communications to the customer experience, work together as one. It’s built on a set of core principles that guide cohesiveness in the business, shape how it lives in the world, and are updated and upgraded as needs evolve.

The kernel

The kernel of a brand OS is its core. It is the underlying source code that orchestrates every aspect of the system. For a brand the kernel is the actionable purpose and core values that give the brand meaning and guide its behaviour. It makes the brand more valuable, inspiring and relevant in people’s lives.

Tesla’s brand purpose is “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. Tesla produces some of the most advanced electric vehicles in the world but that’s not why they exist. Making the fastest sports cars is secondary to Tesla’s pursuit of sustainable energy for the planet. Regardless of your opinion of Elon Musk, a powerful purpose is the core driver for any brand, both guiding business and inspiring customers.

Brand loyalty is often the result of customers identifying with a brand’s purpose and values. An authentic core brand purpose and shared belief between brand and customer can, when done right, provide a mutually beneficial value exchange that will build genuine long-term relationships between brand and audience.


The API of a brand OS is how the brand is expressed and how it behaves through one cohesive brand design system built from its purpose, shared belief and brand values. 

It’s how the brand manifests in the world — the identity and voice that comes to life, whereas brand behaviours show what you actually do as a brand. It supports and amplifies the role of the brand in customers lives in a meaningful way and is how customers interact with the brand.

Think about Google, a great example of brand expression and behaviours working together. The interplay of brand signifiers and behaviours is seen in their products. The ‘Google dots’ echo customer interactions, showing what the brand is doing: responding, informing or signifying state changes. The value for customers comes from the responsive nature of the brand to create an intuitive experience built around their information and needs.

The interface

In an increasingly digital and data-driven world, innovative interface design defines how we understand brands and interact with their products and services. Brands are a shared relationship between a business and its customers and identity should become the functional interface between them. 

R/GA collaborated with the National Bank of Kuwait to create Weyay — a mobile only bank that allows Kuwaiti youth to take control of their money and unlock their future. The product interface is the intersection of their brand purpose and identity through signature interactions, gestures, motion and visual language that all drive everyday progress for young Kuwaitis. Merging the function of an operating system with the progressive aspirations of the audience mindset, it creates a positive future state – which is the interface of the brand.

Brand OS is a framework

Approaching a brand as an operating system allows brand strategy and expression to integrate much needed updates in an ever-changing world. Being responsive, delivering continuous iterations and forging stronger customer relationships will continue to ensure the value and purpose of your brand remains relevant in the lives of your customers.

Cover image source: Michael Dziedzic