It wasn’t so long ago that the design-fuelled branding machine seemed unstoppable. But then credit crunched and we realised so much of what we believed to be brand reality was little more than rhetoric, as companies used the power of branding and the creative industries to encourage consumers to pay for ‘new and improved’ features and benefits that proved to be little more than creative smoke and mirrors.
It was driven by an obsession with short-term shareholder value, not a dedication to improve the customer brand experience.
We all played our part in encouraging this brand boom, so it’s no surprise that, along with finance, property and retail, the branding and creative industries are facing some home truths and wondering how we can survive and flourish after the crunch.
This, of course, doesn’t mean the end for branding and design – far from it. But it could usher in an exciting era of personal, collaborative, authentic and better branding where integrity, creativity, performance, accountability and sustainability will be key.
We will have to take responsibility for the design of the total brand experience, as opposed to tactical shopwindow titillation. I also believe this will be as true for the development of successful design consultancy brands as it will for the client brands they work with.
Since 2005 I’ve been working with clients to deliver brand-inspired, design-driven business improvement and transformation programmes.
It’s been an exciting journey that’s seen me move beyond the design of experiential communication towards the design of the experiential enterprise itself, and it has allowed me to work with many new creative collaborators.
Along the way, I’ve helped several design groups with their own transformations, and what I’ve found is encouraging.
Despite the cliché of the obsessive designer with little business acumen we often read about, I have found that there are an increasing number of highly informed, ambitious and entrepreneurial creative businesses that are in touch with the right issues, insights and information, and which have a real desire to change, improve and grow.
Many design consultancies have already had the awaydays, bought the business books, been to the lectures and are awash with business growth tools, techniques and tips. But, for whatever reason, they have yet to work out ‘where next?’, join up the dots and make real transformational change happen across their consultancy experience.
But if there’s one thing that unites all successful design consultancies, it’s their dedication to make design projects happen on brief, on time and on budget. No second chances or excuses for them.
So the transformation of consultancy brands can be very simple. Do what you do best and turn it into the single most exciting new creative project on your job sheet.
Name it Project You, give it a job number, budget, team, process, outputs, outcomes, measures and a very specific deadline. Make a total commitment to it, make it highly visible and involving throughout the consultancy, and make it happen.
But, most of all, write a great brief for Project You, one that paints a compelling creative and commercial picture of where you’re going and why, that inspires and challenges you, that demands your team gets involved. Then harness all of the passion, energy, creativity and discipline you would bring to bear for your most demanding client.
Because that’s what you’ve just become.
We all know its crunch time and that the branding and design landscape is going to change beyond recognition. Many will fall upon the sword of inertia or complacency but our design industry will become all the better for it.
Great design businesses have always been agents of change. The time has come to turn natural talents inwards to transform your consultancy and, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘Be the change you want to be in the world.’
The most exciting brand you will ever build can be your own. The most compelling project case-study you will ever tell can be your own. The next most important client in your consultancy is your consultancy.
Do what you do best and deliver your Project You like your future depends on it, because it almost certainly will.
Ralph Ardill is founder of The Brand Experience Consultancy
- The post-crunch branding and design landscape is changing
- An era of more personal, collaborative, authentic and accountable brands – client and consultancy – is emerging
- Design consultancy brands need to innovate
- The next most important client in your consultancy is you
- The next most important project is your own consultancy transformation – design and deliver Project You as you would for your most demanding client
- Unleash your natural passion and talent to make it happen