Branding must change

Posted on in BrandBlab

President Obama’s ‘the world has changed’ message is applicable to all of us and the follow up ‘…and we must change with it’ is a universal directive for every business and sector. However, human nature and vested interests mean such rallying calls become nice words but little action.Those involved in the branding industry are typically seen as the creative parts of society – agencies and designers – selling change and innovation. Ironically however, such ‘creative’ industries can appear as conservative protectionist groups more interested in perpetuating their historic activities.

Branding has become a catch-all for a wide range of services from marketing to management consulting.The traditional original packaging view of branding still prevails. The management of visual manifestations of the brand remains a core industry activity.Esoteric arguments about design nuances – typography, symbol, colour and message are still the subject of intensive argument among professionals. The scary reality is the potential total irrelevance of such effort and dialogue in today’s new market realities for business owners fighting for commercial survival not design awards.

For some, branding development is still about creating and selling brand identities more as a sacred artform, with apparent mystical powers rather than a key business strategy. As a brand consultancy, our function is to ensure our clients will gain commercial advantage through relevant design initiative investment. This may or may not involve brand identity design, marketing, architecture, environments, products, services, people, operations i.e. the media and activities which can make up a user experience. In reality, to get the best
value from such an initiative needs an involvement across several of these organisation activities.  The problem for clients and consultants is when just one element is taken (often out of
context) to achieve the quick or big fix. A new visual brand identity is a favourite because it can represent an obvious apparent change and a new look is always tempting. But in the current climate, who cares about a new look when you have cut the fat and now considering cutting out muscle to maintain your business.Your priorities must be spending cleverly to adapt to consumer mindsets that are equally focused on achieving value. Those involved with branding must adapt accordingly or be seen increasingly as irrelevant cosmetic ‘packaging’ practitioners.

A key test is the classic Brand Audit exercise. Management consultants provide brand audits which concentrate on monetary valuations, projected sales performance, operations, logistics, structures and quantified area performance sales, etc.Advertising agencies develop brand profiles, media campaigns and awareness ratings.  A typical retail consultancy can evaluate current operational and trading features across sales channels and prescribe effective redesign measures. A brand consultancy can review the profile and presentation of the brand across key media and the physical experience and opportunities of interaction between the brand and the user and company culture. All such approaches are valid but how often are they best orchestrated and organised to ensure a real synergy of skills and insight?Top management commitment, which can cut across department silo interests, is vital for maximising bottom line ROI.

Everyone talks about efficiency savings and achieving value.Those involved in branding must understand the need for clever focused initiatives that will achieve a clear commercial
benefit. Failure to do so will relegate the branding industry to a low priority ‘nice to have’ activity in the good times instead of being regarded as an essential company investment in positive differentiation.

With apologies to the President, perhaps a key message should be ‘Branding must change’ and ‘…consultancies and agencies must change with it’. Let’s see!

Clive Woodger

as published in FX, The Business of Design  Magazine, September 2009