Power to transform

Brand marketing teams face challenging times. The glory days of the early 1980s – when marketing departments were big agency teams, large, media-clear and focused – are long behind us. New pressures seem to be added daily. The impact of the global economy, the pace of change and the diffusion of technical advances all conspire to make it difficult to sustain real, functional differentiation. Consumers continue to want convenience, but now they also have growing concerns over environmental impact and corporate responsibility. Private label grows in reach and effectiveness, and the rise of global retailers consolidates power in ever-tighter margin environments. Media have proliferated, and reaching an increasingly savvy consumer continues to become harder.

Consumer behaviour becomes more discerning and varied – on the one hand, people want to trade up to luxury products and so are looking for categories with some form of accessible luxury. On the other, those same people are trading down in areas where they see service as less important. The same consumer may take a low-cost airline and hire a budget car, but also visit a two-star Michelin restaurant and buy a £140 bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label on the return journey.

So, what are brand-owners looking for, and what role can design play in producing growth? The answer is simple: transformational ideas. The pressures of tight markets, consolidated retailers, fragmented media and (entirely appropriate) budget control can lead to iteration and competitive products creeping together. Partnerships with designers can produce transformational ideas, but only in the right environment.
Four key things are needed to bring about this kind of change:

1. Strategic partnerships. The perfect consultancy with all the answers to business problems does not exist – and neither does the perfect client. Transformational change happens when the client and the consultancy partner in a way that is open, honest and long term. Clients need to push for the best talent from the consultancy, invest in the relationship, provide insight into the business and create the conditions to succeed. Consultancies need to approach projects with more humility, invest time in understanding the business and the problems, and drive for strategic interactions. At Diageo, we strive for long-term partnerships and are finding that our consultancy partners contribute far more to our business than pure design input.

2. Senior engagement. The standard pattern for design appears to be that the assistant brand manager works with the junior account handler until they feel the work is worth showing to senior management. Approached this way, average results often emerge. Instead, top-to-top engagement at the earliest stage is needed to produce transformational ideas. The importance of the marketing director showing initial ideas to the board is vital. Design needs the best and most experienced minds of both businesses to be applied at key problem-solving stages – the finest results never come from a ‘yes/no’ approval meeting.

3. More time on the brief. The client rarely provides a good brief, yet it is the most important stage of any project. If the brief gives absolute clarity on well-defined, single-minded goals, this speeds things up later on and gives designers the space to create. In our business, we have some simple rules on briefing – each fits a two-page template based on the internal briefs our consultancies use, each has to be agreed by whoever approves the project, and each is presented to the consultancy in context. It’s amazing what we learn from briefing a project in a bar or supermarket.

4. Everyone in the room and the designer presents. The power of the best minds in the business combined with the creativity and passion of the designer is awesome. The dilution that happens when concepts are presented second- or third-hand to individuals in rotation excludes transformational ideas and demotivates designers.

Transformational ideas do not always need to be large-scale or game-changing. Beauty in the detail is appreciated by customers, and is part of the charm and appeal of favourite brands. The caps on our Tanqueray brands are distinctive, well-crafted and feel great in the hand. This enhances the ritual of pouring and helps, in a small way, to deliver an experience that reflects the quality of the product inside the bottle.
Category-defining innovation at the level of Innocent or iPod is inspiring, but it does not happen every day. Rather, transformational thinking in design needs to happen at every level, every day, and can transform brands. Powerful partnerships between clients and consultancies can create these transformations.

Jeremy Lindley is global design director at Diageo. He previously spent 11 years at Tesco running the packaging design and store design teams

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