Where does branding begin?

The most effective branding projects involve teamwork between different specialists

Clients used to know which consultancies to go to for particular expertise. However, as media and technology have changed and exploded over the past few years, the remit of each marketing discipline has expanded, and the lines of differentiation between consultancy and agency types have become blurred.

Branding consultancies are no longer in their ivory towers, dreaming up identities and leaving them for others to implement. These days they have strong commercial acumen and are multi-disciplined, so they are often expected to do, or at least direct, the implementation of complex brand strategies and campaigns. Similarly, ad agencies are looking at how a strong advertising strategy can be the cornerstone of the brand (for example, 118 118). Only this week we saw EMI appoint Saatchi & Saatchi to manage its artists’ branded content. But can either provide clients with a one-stop shop?

In reality, both the brand consultancy and the ad agency are essential players in the branding process, with distinct, but complementary roles. While the ad agency will love to win a branding brief and the branding consultancy may relish the challenge of devising an ad campaign, a successful branding project requires team work. The big question is where does branding end and advertising begin? There is no end and no beginning; it’s not a relay race, it’s a team sport. It’s about driving the overall momentum of the brand in the marketplace, ensuring that people’s experience of the brand always meets expectations.

Large fmcg companies bring in specialists for each part of a branding project, as they are set up in this way, but they have to ensure that this doesn’t lead to silos of thinking. With media fragmentation, they must think about all the media being used, as these all create touchpoints where brand experience needs to be positive and consistent.

Smaller companies, however, are unlikely to have brand specialists in-house and, with fewer resources, may like the idea of a one-stop shop, as it may save time. However, lack of branding experience is even more reason to go to a specialist, as non-specialists tend to over-complicate things. A process is required, but it doesn’t need to be a science project. A brand must identify customers’ needs and fulfil their requirements through the creation of a meaningful personality, look and feel. Creating a brand is about marrying the look – ‘image’ – with the feel or ‘experience’.

The key role for the branding consultancy is to concern itself with the multitude of brand experiences across every touchpoint, such as operational hygiene factors needed to deliver the brand promise, customer service, telemarketing, retail, packaging and so on. Advertising is one touchpoint, but a positive moment of truth will have greater impact on a customer’s brand preference than any beautifully crafted campaign.

That’s not to undermine the role of advertising. It’s one of the most visible manifestations of a brand, so the ad agency plays an invaluable role in brand development, using communications that carry brand values to achieve commercial objectives to change consumer behaviour – eliciting a sale, driving response, communicating specific messages, such as a new product launch.

So, for a successful branding project, ad agencies and brand consultancies must work together. The branding consultancy can then create a valuable, tangible asset which the ad agency can interpret into campaigns that really bring it to life. This doesn’t mean the branding consultancy dictating to the ad agency – it’s about interpretation, not reinvention.

Cross-discipline work should be handled with caution. You must ensure that you have the resources and expertise to take on work outside your usual remit. As exciting as it may be to take on a global ad campaign featuring TV ads, press, outdoor media, radio and direct marketing, can you really offer your client the expertise they need to implement one? If you can, that’s great, as you can guarantee that the brand is on message in every manifestation. If not, it can be short-sighted, as there is huge potential for getting it wrong, jeopardising the ongoing relationships with your clients, which, otherwise, would have been likely to bring you a greater, more profitable level of work for the long-term.

Linda Garcia is managing director at branding consultancy Turquoise


• Work as a team with all agencies
• Leave egos and your awards shelf out of it – the brand is the most important thing
• Focus on brand experience at all touchpoints

• Move beyond your remit unless you have the resources
• Dictate

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