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Big Fish was last week named as Mothercare’s first brand guardian. What benefits do retailers gain from this type of external advice, rather than an in-house design management system?

‘This probably says more about Mothercare’s current lack of focus than design management, as a thorough grasp of a brand’s evolution requires constant management from within. However, if a retailer doesn’t have a culture or internal structure that supports design or brand guardianship, it is left with little option other than to seek external assistance.’

Colum Lowe, Director, Plan Créatif/ Crabtree Hall

‘On balance the argument is in favour of internal designers and design managers undertaking projects that require specialised knowledge about the company or industry, while external advice is often more appropriate for strategic planning and non-biased guardianship of strategic positioning.’

Raymond Turner, Director, Raymond Turner Associates

‘Better an external single brand guardian than none at all. Internal advice is too often viewed as politically biased or low value. At least Mothercare cares enough to seek sound advice (and it needs it). Let’s hope it benefits, as it will be far more expensive than properly empowered in-house brand management.’

Christopher Nell, Corporate design and brand manager, RICS

‘Sadly, British retailers usually place the in-house design department a long way down the corporate pecking order. They’re seen as a “free” internal service. An external advisor has an objective voice in the higher echelons, walks through glass walls unencumbered by internal politics, asks questions the in-house team daren’t, and has a broader perspective on the business of design – they don’t have the “party-line” blinkers that often distort the strongest solutions.’

John McConnell, Partner, Pentagram

‘Brands need long-term, accurate navigation. Companies with a high turnover of internal brand management risk having the brand blown around like a cork in a storm unless there is real continuity. It’s a good strategy to have an external group to stabilise and protect the brand’s integrity, but the solution must come from within. After all, design groups can have a high turnover of key staff as well.’

Richard Seymour, partner, Seymour Powell

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