Believe in your brand essence

With tightening budgets and media-savvy consumers,
consultancies must work harder than ever to create strong brands, says Giles Poyner

Some 25 years ago the design industry was in disarray. Consultancies told consumers that brands were great and consumers believed them, making consultancy life very easy and brands far more brave. This was compounded by the fact that in the 1980s consultancies’ budgets were as big as their shoulder pads, lunches were as long as their creative rationale and justification was as non-existent as the Labour Party was.

Now, clients are far more demanding. Consultancies must justify their work, proving to clients how the ‘pretty picture’ they have just created will sell 10 per cent more product this year than last.

Consultancies are not expected to have the financial rigour or operational grounding of their clients, as this would bog them down and confine their creativity, but they do have a responsibility to measure the likely success of their work.

Consumers are now far more marketing savvy, and no longer buy a brand just because Saatchi & Saatchi tells them to. It has now even got to the point where brand rejection has become fashionable.

So, how can consultancies provide tangible benefits to what are, often, intangible ideas? The answer is ‘with great difficulty’.

This can be done, however, with ‘design convergence’, but only a few brands really do achieve this. Mini, with its Adventure campaign, has proved that. Even though the car is mounted to the side of a building to create awareness through its own ambient media, it can still deliver the essence of fun and customisation when you look at the numerous options available in a Mini showroom.

Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t talk about its products as much as it talks about how they will elevate your life experiences. Look at the advertising – it’s creatively iconic, and this is transferred to its New York store.

First impressions of this store are quite left of centre – there is very little, if any, product on display. Instead, consumers bring their own laptops, and book appointments with the self-styled store ‘geeks’ to learn about how to get more from their Mac or iPhone.

At every point throughout the journey, the brand should reinforce why the consumer should buy into it as a value system or a product benefit.

Initially, it’s about positioning, creating excitement or an emotional connection. Once established, consciously or unconsciously, it’s then about expanding upon why this is true at every touchpoint – the final step being the point of purchase.

The reason this is so difficult to achieve is that, often, the client is using at least three separate consultancies to complete the journey, and the original vision is changed or modified by another creative director further down the line.

Strong brand visions need to be executed by strong creative direction and driven by strong clients. Only then will this riddle be truly solved, and brands connect with consumers by combining 1980s-era optimism with modern-day delivery.

It’s no coincidence then that the three founders of Innocent smoothies were originally ad men. They saw a market opportunity, and, instead of just creating a product that delivered against consumer research, they created a brand that delivers and allows for future brand extensions.

This is achieved through an equity whose value far outweighs the capital asset value of the business. Having seen how Innocent operates up close, there is not one thing it does or says that is not delivered throughout every process. From the receptionist, who really does answer the ‘banana phone’, to the grass on the office floor and the free fruit everywhere, the Innocent business is truly positioned to deliver the brand essence.

A memorable campaign of recent years exemplifies this with the ‘Buy one get one tree’ offer. You only need to walk into reception at ‘Fruit Towers’ to see how the brand connects to the many customers who take time out to send in their letters of praise.

You may own your own business with three staff or trade from an industrial estate, but this way of thinking is relevant to every brand. You must offer a degree of difference in your chosen field – otherwise you wouldn’t have started working there or set up the business in the first place.

This difference needs to be part of everything you do – from your culture to how your team works and even to how your offices look. If you are positioning your brand in a certain way, be proud to show your audience how this affects every part of it.

Branding Tips

• Justify your proposals to clients by measuring their likely success

• Maximise the potential tangible benefits through ‘design convergence’

• Offer a degree of difference in the client’s target market

• Reinforce the positioning at every touchpoint of the consumer’s journey

• The 1980s are over, but try to combine that era’s optimism with modern-day delivery

Giles Poyner is business director at Boxer

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