• Transform magazine
  • April 04, 2020


Opinion: Stefan Liute asks “Why shouldn’t everyone do everything in branding?”


By Stefan Liute

If everybody had a say in everything around them, what would the world look like? Would we still have running water? Or broadband internet? Or straight, level roads for driving a hundred miles per hour?

The same goes for building and growing brands. They are complex, sensitive and ever-changing entities that serve many people. Large organizations (or clusters of organizations) work to create and grow them. Through what they believe, communicate and do, brands influence and matter to whole worlds. But, because of that, should everyone be involved in managing them?

A while ago, a trend emerged that encouraged the inclusion of too wide a range of stakeholders in strategic brand decisions. People from within the brand organization and/or people from the outside are called upon to repurpose, refurbish or reimagine brands. They are usually glad to oblige, regardless of their ability to do so. Many executives’ spouses, extended family, personal friends, NGO buddies or former colleagues infamously hijack visual identity design, brand naming or brand portfolio decisions, and graciously ignore specialist advice simply because it is a minority opinion.

But let us remember one simple thing: not everybody is an expert. Putting too much of a complex entity in the hands of non-experts, even for a short time, even for the sake of inclusiveness, is a bad idea. Think of airline passengers trying their hand at flying the aircraft – would you ever consider it? Or, to stay in the same general area, would you have your kids put together even a small part of a real airliner only because they’re terrific with paper planes and Legos?

Much like engineering, good strategic brand building is never done by referendum. Expert voices matter more than non-expert ones. Both should be taken into account, but in radically different ways. Brand management works well when crowd-centered, but not when crowd-sourced.

Would you have your kids put together even a small part of a real airliner only because they’re terrific with paper planes and Legos?

However, my ‘argument against everybody’ doesn’t advocate shutting non-experts out of the process. In fact, all it does is propose a more careful role assignment. The best brand-builders are excellent listeners and observers of their brand audiences. They have a long track record and have learned a lot from both failure and success. That is what qualifies them to make critical brand management decisions. Other brand stakeholders have different and valuable contributions, but shouldn’t interfere with those decisions, for the good of the brand.

I believe that, beyond political correctness, the ‘include everybody’ trend is motivated by a warm feeling of huddling, by thinking that we, brand stakeholders of all shapes, are a team and should act as one. This is the feeling that we get when we watch our favourite sports team on the telly and dream of being in the middle, acting single-mindedly in the interest of our side.

Oh, but wait, that team consists of players that are, well, experts. Your standard football or hockey stars are hard-working professionals, with a gruelling work schedule and thousands of achievements behind their mesmerizing smiles. Coaches assign them different roles in the team – they are complementary to each other, not identical. And they do need their supporters, thank you very much, only not on the field.

Stefan Liute is strategy director at Storience