• Transform magazine
  • July 01, 2022

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The weakest link in brand development

Veb Anand

Veb Anand, chief strategy officer at Principle, makes the case for strategic brand implementation.

The origins of modern brand consulting can be traced back to the 1950s, when consumer packaged goods companies like Procter and Gamble, General Foods and Unilever developed the discipline of brand management. As the quality of goods and services reached parity, brand managers took on the responsibility for giving a product an identity to differentiate it from nearly indistinguishable competitors.

Around the same time, large corporations also started to undertake massive design programmes to streamline their corporate look and feel. In 1958, Gordon Lippincott coined the term ‘corporate identity’, and in 1965, Wally Olins co-founded the agency Wolff Olins. Over the following decades, large holding companies like Omnicom, WPP and IPG acquired corporate identity agencies, scaling them up via acquisition and adding competencies such as research and strategy.

But the prevailing purview of most major brand consultancies is still limited by a legacy of corporate identity. A straightforward, context-free interpretation of the descriptor ‘brand consultancy’ would indicate an organisation that helps client businesses achieve growth via brand development, delivery and management. But most major brand consultancies have operated solely in the world of brand development, with the end product being a corporate or brand identity.

Identity is indeed critical to the brand – in most cases it’s the most visible manifestation of the brand and can act as a critical reference point for personality, culture and vision. However, brand strategy and identity are just two links in a complex chain that delivers the brand experience to stakeholders and creates value. Those that ignore the rest of the journey do so at their peril.

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Other brand custodians, be they management consultancies or advertising agencies, are equally limited with their respective focuses on strategy or communications. They are usually faced with a moment of truth when questioned by commercially-astute and operationally-focused business leaders, who are equally interested in the practical, operational and financial implications of their recommendations as they are in the strategy and creative design. It’s at this critical point that they are unable to deliver.

Maintaining integrity across the strategy - implementation chain.

Strategic integrity or intent gets eroded as organisations progress through the strategy- implementation chain (see image above), particularly given the current client-consultancy dynamic. Somewhere along this journey, reality sets in, exposing the mismatch between strategy, design and practical delivery dynamics – which often occurs when handing off between agencies and other partners at various stages in the process.

Among the criticisms of brand consultancies are that they are too theoretical at the strategic end, too unrealistic at the creative end, and ill-equipped to fully tap into the potential of digital transformation. Brand owners end up with strategies that are more self-important than practical, an identity that cuts through but is unimplementable, or brand solutions that do not permeate through culture and operations.

Brand implementation planning and execution are elements that require a lot of heavy lifting but are critical in embedding a new brand strategy. When planned well in advance and integrated into the brand development process, strategic brand implementation can result in more effective brand strategy at the front-end, higher efficiency, reduction in wastage and brand assets that deliver real utility and value for brand owners. It means that a better brand experience can be delivered to their customers and stakeholders easier, faster and cheaper.

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and expectations of higher performance, organisations can’t afford to have their brands operating as passive assets. But the process of turning brand into a competitive advantage is one that goes beyond theory and ideas – it requires strategic implementable planning to deliver the desired experience without compromising the integrity of great brand ideas.