Branching out into branding

Shifting the direction of your business from design to branding is harder than it sounds, says Simon Black

The shift from design to branding sounds easy, but it is not. Any sane person would not undertake this kind of a shift. It is about culture, values, belief systems – every practice inside the consultancy, every presentation outside of it.

But any sane shareholder of a design consultancy cannot help but try.

Design consultancies havestudios running on capacity calculations. Branding groups transform client businesses and brands, adding incalculable value and charging more for the pleasure – more rewarding in every sense.

Branding has transformed our pitching, our proposing and our accounting approaches. It has redefined our creative presentations and processes and empowered our consultancy business across all our offices. The approach fits all our offices across the world – not just London.

The ideas we have as a branding consultancy transcend geographic boundaries – the best and most simple ideas always do.

All real change is uncomfortable. All the best things in work, as in life, are more difficult to achieve than you may expect – more taxing and more emotionally draining.

Brands are the lifeblood of business – virtually all business – whereas design is, for the most part, tactical and, at best, the tangible heart of the relationship between brand and consumer. Advertising is like the alluring siren, drawing you in, but design is the sex.

Design is the product, the experience. So we witness ever more marketing dollars transferring to branding groups as the focus on consumer experience continues to be the goal. The brand space is a notional, emotional playground that cannot be decided upon by functionaries – it must be nobly considered by owners (pompous, yet true to the last).

This is the best thing about moving from being a design house to a branding consultancy – we move up the tree in terms of client (marketing directors and chief executives typically) and into the branches – fundamentally shifting meanings and territories.

The skills deployable in branding are more creative, not less so. Our design teams are pushed harder than ever, revealing their psychological take on a brand. Thorough semiotic analysis, symbols and elements which would previously have been ‘tweaked’, ‘modernised’ or ‘premiumised’ are now understood and tessellated to create the whole of the brand’s world. Now we need to understand their relative merits, their raison d’être and their role in the future space. We wish to capture the hearts and minds of our consumers.

Tomorrow’s consultancy is a hybrid specialist; as able to define the brand as any non-creative branding consultancy, yet as creatively successful (our award count has gone up, not down) as ever.

The outcome of all this is good for all parties. For an employee at Design Bridge, the work is richer, deeper and more influential. For the consumer, the brand experience is insightful and consistent philosophically, yet creatively inspiring. For a client of Design Bridge, the relationship between any ‘big brand idea’ and its look and feel is better established as the creative palette of elements (the ingredients of a brand if you will) are formed at the outset, creating a rich brief for any future consultancy working on the brand.

Brands this century do not have it easy; they must be both inspiring and consistent. This is what we deliver. The energy which used to be lost as projects transferred from consultancy to creative consultancy is now retained and enhanced. This is what we have been talking about for ten years and not delivering enough of as an industry. This is ‘end to end’ stuff.

From brand definition through creative semiotics and project creation, all the way to design implementation, it is the holy grail of integration and joined up thinking. Unless I have missed something, we have all the ducks in a row – a destination consultancy for clients and staff alike.

Our kind of person is someone who enjoys the excitement of really getting to the creative heart of a brand, comfortable enough in their own skin to offer an independent review of other relationships.

We did not change to suddenly become a thinking version of a classic fmcg design and packaging group. We changed precisely because we have always been a thinking consultancy. We have added greater rigour and depth to an always valuable process, captured that value and focused upon the more ‘scientifically creative’ elements of our profession and thereby truly begun to live up to our mission and our own brand essence – we are living the dream of true creative entrepreneurs.

Simon Black is group strategy partner at Design Bridge

Making the shift to branding
• Consider all systems within the consultancy

• Focus on internal communications first

• Make training experiential and continuous

• Support creative leaders in ways of working

• Be clear with clients on many levels of benefit regarding this way of working

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  • Jeremy Waite November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Fantastic article. But let’s not forget that many clients don’t see themselves as brands anymore. I hate to jump on the ‘lovemarks’ band waggon, but all clients want to do is help customers fall in love with their company/product/idea.

    I still don’t think ‘branding’ is a dirty word, but I’m happy that our clients talk to us as a design agency (who understand branding), rather than a ‘brand consultancy’.

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