• Transform magazine
  • July 15, 2024

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A new brand is like a newborn

Steve Hickson – Fleishmanhillard

Steve Hickson is executive creative director of Ensemble Studio, FleishmanHillard UK’s design and creative studio. He discusses how a flexible but consistent approach from creative agencies can help clients embrace a new brand.

I know it can seem trite to hear a parent take any experience and compare it to the joy and struggle of having children… but hear me out. 

The conception is fun, right? Throwing ideas around; a whole world of possibility where the new brand exists only in our shared imaginations. But that’s just the very start of the journey. The reality of turning all that energy and excitement into something tangible is a long hard gestation period featuring lots of tough decisions and endless debates. 

Then the birth. Amends. Approvals. Third-party involvement. A painful but necessary process that means finally we can celebrate. Our newborn – our new brand – is here! The hard part is out of the way, surely? 

When we as creatives hand that newborn over to our clients, it’s a big moment, for us as well as them. Everything is fresh and full of promise. The new brand must be nurtured, with love and care. At that point, we all share a clear vision for that brand’s life that will allow it to thrive. 

Every brand (everyone!) needs a purpose. The vision that we have crafted with our client gives life to our creation and allows everyone who works with it to understand and support that vision. Having good parents for the brand is critical. 

But what makes a good parent? Anyone can read a parenting manual – or brand guidelines – and come away with a well-defined set of rules. But it’s only once that brand is out in the world that it will truly begin to develop its own personality. 

Here, much like in parenting, consistency is vital. Defining key messages and making sure they’re tailored to their audience makes all the difference. Messaging and tone of voice can often be overlooked, which is why it’s best to have these conversations and agree an approach before applying anything to the new brand. 

Good brand guidelines should also show how the brand elements blend – how the brand plays with others – to become greater than the sum of its parts. I’m always surprised when clients (and agencies) omit this and fail to demonstrate how the brand will work across a range of applications and channels.

You won’t get it right immediately. Accepting that can make things much easier. On a recent call with a client, we were handing over new brand guidelines and an execution toolkit. The client was excited to get going after so long in the preparation phase, but I suggested we take the first six months, which can be a blur, to simply explore and play with the new brand. This would give everyone some time to see what works and what needs more honing. 

After that initial period, we would revisit the new brand. Ask, how is it working? Is it meeting all needs across all channels? Is it able to be applied simply, consistently and creatively? Reassuring our client that we are here to listen and support their brand execution journey, and that we’re all excited about its potential, goes a long way to making everyone happy.

Another hard truth about bringing a new brand into the world is that simply following the manual is no guarantee of success. While it might seem contradictory for a new brand, flexibility is the perfect partner for consistency. 

You can only tell how some things will work once they’re out in the world. It takes a village to raise a child, and a new brand will inevitably take influence from the world around it. Being able to course correct and remain consistent over brand identity is important, but overly strict parents can end up becoming distant from their own creations if they don’t allow for the possibility of change. 

Just like with a newborn, bringing a new brand into the world is a scary and exciting moment. Our job is to take the fear and trepidation out of the process. We should fill our clients with excitement and give them the confidence and support to go out and successfully realise their new brand identity.