Implementation, by any other name
For brand agencies, implementation can be a real sticking point when working on a rebrand. A recent Transform breakfast, held in association with wayfinding and signage specialist Endpoint, discussed the challenges related to the understanding and development of a brand’s physical touchpoints
Brand agencies are under greater demand than ever before as they diversify their offerings to provide more services to clients and as they work with more stakeholders, across more brands. Some opt to bring everything in-house, from digital to implementation. Others work with partners and consultants to offer more services. With regards to brand implementation, it’s a mix of both.
But, some of the challenges in bringing a brand to life, as expressed by attendees from major brand consultancies – including Superunion, BrandOpus, Pollitt & Partners, DixonBaxi, Wolff Olins, Living Group, Lloyd Northover, Beautiful Meme, WPA Pinfold, Coley Porter Bell, Bell, Pearlfisher, Start Design, Lantern, Spring, Dusted and We Launch – at a recent breakfast Transform held with wayfinding consultancy Endpoint had to do with brand implementation.
One of the issues almost all agreed upon was the lack of understanding about implementation. Whether it was within agencies or among in-house comms or brand teams, each delegate discussed the challenges they face when improving understanding of brand implementation. Some, from packaging backgrounds, see it as a physical product. Others focus on digital implementation. Others still look at physical wayfinding and signage or even office and interior design. But essentially, the physical touchpoints of a brand’s expression can be described to an extent by brand implementation.
“I think implementation talks about everything that is about the physical or digital experience of the brand. You design something on the screen, but then how do people interact with it? That, for me, is what implementation means now,” says one attendee. “It is moving digital, but you also need to take into account packaging, interior and physical design. It’s an interesting area right now.”
For in-house teams, implementation is not often considered at the outset, despite the need to plan for the brand’s physical expression early on in the rebrand process. That problem stems from either a lack of education or a lack of time and consideration on the part of the in-house communicator. For consultancies working in the space, it’s necessary to either help them better understand the value of implementation or to build that into the new brand’s strategy, say attendees.
One attendee says one of the main barriers to the success of brand implementation was internal acceptance on the client’s part. With a small team and tight budgets, planning for the final touches of the project can seem far away. The solution, “keeping on pushing,” the delegate says. “It’s that continual battle of education,” says another attendee. “Everyone needs to be made to understand why every part of the journey is massively important to their business. That needs to be communicated to them at early stages because some of them just don’t get it and they never will.”
Without the initial education stages, brand implementation gets shunted to the end of the brand development process, usually without the budget to support it. On the agency side, those tasked with implementing a new brand might be senior, trusted professionals, but they might not have any implementation experience.
A good example of it all going wrong is British brand Carpet Right. Its signage is deployed by each individual store, which simply seems to stretch the logo across whatever storefront is at their mercy. As it’s applied to the signage locally, this proves a lack of guidance about how to successfully implement the brand. As this application means every Carpet Right will look different, it’s brand is failing on the frontlines.
The options for better working practice seem to rely on a shift in the relationship between clients and agencies. For some agencies, that means upstaffing and bringing in employees who are implementation experts. For others, it has meant working with agencies like Endpoint earlier on in the rebrand process.
It also means being pragmatic about costs. “Rather than fighting for this beautiful, perfect thing that we can’t afford, we actually think about it and use our skills to overcome those challenges in the design process,” says one attendee. This economical approach helps avoid situations like Carpet Right’s as the design is primed for implementation from the beginning.
An economical approach can be a challenge that is compounded by agencies working with founder-CEOs or startups that are venture capital-funded. “There is someone stepping on their shoulders saying, ‘Where’s my return?’ And they want to get out and market to investors,” says one attendee. In that situation, the brand strategy and visual identity development may be rushed, leaving little time to consider financials or brand rollout.
That situation can also result in a difficult sign-off process as founder-CEOs often retain control over all aspects of the brand. “They can’t trust someone with their brand,” one delegate says, leading to a dictatorial relationship between the internal stakeholder and the brand.
That relationship challenges the other key tenet of brand development: adaptation. Brands need to be flexible, the attendees agree. If a brand remains static, it can stagnate, losing customers in the long run. “One of the things we’re talking about in our business at the moment in implementation is how can we break the tradition of implementation? It’s not about a team of designers who come up with a creative solution and then a different guy will then go put it on stuff,” one person says. “How do we get implementation almost to be involved in both?”
Another person responds, “Maybe don’t call it implementation.”
“Exactly,” replies the first.
“The change of the word implementation will help us explain it. We tend to do that a lot in the industry, we change words to mean what we want them to mean to educate our clients,” says another delegate. “But it’s really about changing the experience around implementation and making sure our clients are getting value for it, understanding that value and where they’d be without it.”
And that seems to be the direction some of the bigger agencies, particularly the networked ones, are going. One attendee says this approach helps improve service for longstanding clients, but it can also improve the way designers think about their work. By ensuring their considering the way the brand will be implemented, they’ll create visual identities that can be implemented more effectively at the local level.
One delegate says his consultancy was being “priced out of doing a lot of implementation” because clients didn’t perceive it as a premium service. Clients would work with cheaper designers to roll the brand out rather than pay their existing agency at the standard rate. “If I had a tenner for every client that has said to me, ‘We’d love to carry on working with you, but we just can’t afford to. We’ll get a smaller agency to do it,” that attendee says. That approach can lead to disaster or brand dilution.
With consideration due to economics, design integrity, client-agency relations and local realities, implementation can be where a brand succeeds or crumbles.
All the attendees agree that no matter what the approach, best practice is to ensure the client gets the best possible result. That may come as a result of a collaborative process among multiple agencies, an internal resource, the education of a client or designer or a better set of brand guidelines. But whatever they call it and however they produce it, the result should be a well-designed brand, implemented effectively.
Transform magazine co-hosted this roundtable with wayfinding and brand implementation firm Endpoint.