Veb Anand, Chief Strategy Officer at Principle, advocates for strategic brand implementation.
The origins of modern brand consulting date back to the 1950s when consumer packaged goods companies like Procter and Gamble, General Foods and Unilever developed the discipline of brand management. As the quality of goods and services reached parity, brand managers took on the responsibility of giving a product an identity to differentiate it from almost indistinguishable competitors.
Around the same time, major companies also began undertaking massive design programs to streamline their look and feel. In 1958 Gordon Lippincott coined the term “corporate identity” and in 1965 Wally Olins co-founded the Wolff Olins agency. Over the next few decades, large holding companies like Omnicom, WPP, and IPG acquired corporate identity agencies, expanding them through acquisition and adding skills such as research and strategy.
But the dominant competence of most major brand consulting firms is still limited by a legacy of corporate identity. A simple, context-free interpretation of the “brand consultancy” descriptor would indicate an organization that helps client companies achieve growth through brand development, delivery and management. But most major brand consultancies have operated solely in the world of brand development, with the end product being a corporate or brand identity.
Identity is indeed essential to the brand – in most cases it is the most visible manifestation of the brand and can act as a critical point of reference for personality, culture and vision. However, brand strategy and brand identity are only two links in a complex chain that delivers the brand experience to stakeholders and creates value. Those who ignore the rest of the trip do so at their own risk.
Other brand custodians, whether management consultancies or advertising agencies, are also constrained in their respective strategic or communication priorities. They typically face a moment of truth when interviewed by commercially astute, operations-focused business leaders who are as interested in the practical, operational and financial implications of their recommendations as they are in strategy and creative design. It is at this critical point that they are unable to deliver.
Maintain integrity throughout the strategy – implementation chain.
Integrity or strategic intent erodes as organizations move up the strategy implementation chain (see image above), especially given today’s dynamics of client consulting. Somewhere along this journey, reality sets in, exposing the disconnect between strategy, design and practical delivery dynamics – which often occurs when handing over between agencies and other partners at different stages of the process. .
Among the criticisms leveled at brand consultancies is that they are too theoretical on the strategic side, too unrealistic on the creative side and ill-equipped to fully exploit the potential of digital transformation. Brand owners end up with strategies that are more important than practical, an identity that cuts across but are impossible to implement, or brand solutions that don’t permeate the culture and operations.
Planning and executing brand implementation is a labor-intensive but essential part of integrating a new brand strategy. When planned well in advance and integrated into the brand development process, strategic brand implementation can result in more effective front-end branding, greater efficiency, reduced waste and brand assets that provide real utility and value to brand owners. This means that a better brand experience can be delivered to their customers and stakeholders more easily, faster and at lower cost.
In an environment of economic uncertainty and expectations of superior performance, companies cannot afford to have their brands function as passive assets. But the process of transforming brand into competitive advantage goes beyond theory and ideas – it requires actionable strategic planning to deliver the desired experience without compromising the integrity of big brand ideas.