Writing a brand strategy used to be the basis for good creative work in a fullservice agency. Today, though, more clients are turning to specialists as they increasingly recognise the strategic and financial value of their brand and the importance of getting the thinking right from the start.
As advertising philosopher Jeremy Bullmore once observed: “Products are made and owned by companies. Brands, on the other hand, are made and owned by people... by the public... by consumers. A brand image belongs not to a brand – but to those who have knowledge of that brand.” But that image can be shaped through good design – and an understanding that brands exist everywhere customers interact with them.
As such, brand strategy needs to start at the beginning and attempt to define the central story and purpose of a company. This is then matched to well-directed and well-defined design-led creative solutions and communications that will deliver business growth.
Companies like Culture & Theory offer design-led creative solutions that usually rest on thinking from purpose-driven strategy, leading on to portfolio architecture and journey planning, right through to brand positioning.
“Our creativity turns up in the form of experience design, brand identities, digital UI, naming and packaging,” says Jonte Goldwater, strategy director at Culture & Theory.
Goldwater sees his competitors as everyone from the big, mainstream agencies to design specialists. Saturday is a good example of the latter. Saturday is a design agency strong in identity design and corporate stakeholder communications – employee, investor etc. – including annual and sustainability reporting and reviews, plus capital markets documentation.
“There are so many versions of what brand means in people’s minds that it all sounds a bit samey unless we determine unique language for what we do,” explains Saturday’s Guy Whatley. “Identity is wideranging and goes way beyond the visual aspects of design. Identity is built over time in the same way that Jeremy Bullmore described how a bird builds a nest. Hence stories, experiences, and a conglomeration of stimuli is what we’re interested in getting involved in designing for our clients … We discover the idea and story to be told and enjoy telling and showing it in different channels. Maybe it’s the desire to make people feel something and turn them on.”
For Culture & Theory, there are examples where its approach to brand strategy has beaten out full-service agencies. Westpac asked it to help develop an organisational, purpose driven strategy, while New Zealand Cricket brought the brand specialists on to help redefine its role as an organisation and as a brand. Methven tasked it with its master-brand and the range architecture to take advantage of global growth, and Jacob Douwe Egberts asked it to position and develop all of its major New Zealand brands.
The main comments Goldwater gets are around an appreciation of fixing things for the long term.
“I think marketing teams are becoming a lot more commercially focused,” he says. “As a result, marketers are looking at how brands enable business and how business enables brands. The two are intrinsically linked. To unlock this relationship a new set of skills, and a new type of agency, is often required.”
This new type of agency is defined by the speciality of its people. “Exceptional is not born from the middle and the usual.” It needs highly strategic and analytical people who understand how business works combined with highly creative people who understand how to deliver an experience that will engage, excite and grow that business.
“The pros for us are that we get brought in to solve a problem,” says Goldwater. “As an example, Qrious, which is an arm of Spark, underwent a repositioning and an identity change which has helped them focus their business to move forward in the exciting and rapidly developing world of data driven decision making.”
One company that has dominated the brand strategy space since the turn of the century is Richards Partners, which has been very good at working with complex clients with lots of stakeholders. The Nuplex brand refresh is a prime example. It involved dreaming up a name for a smart bit of chemistry, talking the company into an identity change, creating a toolbox and doing a beautiful design job. Six months later, a major resin company from Belgium took a shine to them and merged together to become one of the biggest resin companies in the world.
For Richards Partners, it is always about having good strategic thinking coupled with good design thinking. There are some great design firms in New Zealand and some great strategy people, but connecting the two together, successfully, is not easy to do.
As Whatley puts it: “I think our desire to tell the story visually and verbally, and link it in to the different facets of an organisation’s moments of truth with stakeholders and audiences is what wins over pure technical competency in this or that. Crafting and engineering a brand‘s visual and verbal gestures to equip it practically for 365 days of doing business and inspiring multiple audiences is a specialist skill that is often not found in fullservice ad agencies.”
Crafting and engineering a brand's visual and verbal gestures to equip it practically for 365 days of doing business and inspiring multiple audiences is a specialist skill that are often not found in full-service ad agencies.