Monday, 23 February 2009

The best time for branding

"Recessions force you to be more creative and mean that the fundamentals of branding can be rewritten. I think people will be looking very hard at their branding to position themselves post-recession."

So says Dave Allen, former Brand Union CEO and two weeks in to starting his new brand consultancy, BrandPie. There are a number of aspects of this comment that I rather like:
1. Changing the way we think about branding, being more creative is grist to our mill
2. Preparing for post-recession - an optimistic view is always appreciated
3. Branding is great value now - you can rewrite your brand now ready to be ahead of the game come the upturn
4. There is a wave of new brand consultancies starting with a few people offering real expertise and experience 

Creative thinking
One of the things that we have tried to stick to over the years is our creative heritage. We are trained as designers and use our creatively wired brains to help solve problems and communicate clearly. We have never embraced marketing speak and the complexity of brand valuation, but offered sharp minds that use the eclecticity of design thinking to add richness and common sense to brand strategy. At this time there is a re-evaluation of the value of branding; is it relevant, is it worthy, is it useful? What is useful is cutting through marketing-babble, getting a sense of 'the after-taste' of a brand, the commonality that triggers customers understanding and communicating this effectively internally and externally. Brand or be branded has never been more relevant. Have a look at this great soliloquy
on branding. But brands have to be managed creatively, innovatively, with customer empathy and with a real sense of how the business it represents fulfils the brand promise - and accordingly how well it is run to deliver a great product, great experience and a sense of good value. Indeed the idea of brand valuation is a vacuous idea if it is expected to have value despite the poor management of the business - the two concepts are completely symbiotic and that's why brand is so important to businesses - not because it's an intangible value that can be added to the balance sheet, bought and sold, or add pence to the share value.

Not much to say on this except that what we know is that recovery is all about confidence. The war time posters were all about a gritty resolution that would see out the rather grim reality all around, our current favourite of course being "Keep Calm and Carry On." It won't be long before "Dig for Victory" becomes even more relevant as the unsustainability of our farming/retail sysytems become ever more apparent.

Great Value - do it now
According to a report by The Survey Shop, commissioned by the Principle Group called 'Implementation, Rebranding and Design' this is a great time to consider rebranding:
  • 56% of marketing directors of blue chip companies believe that a downturn could be the best time strategically to rebrand 
  • 63% of business leaders agree that the act of launching a new brand identity in uncertain times signals a bold embracing of change 

  • 65% of business leaders believe that rebranding would help large corporate institutions get back on track 
What's more, I think most branding agencies will welcome your business, be particularly responsive, have an eye to the future of brand thinking and a new reality and be very good value for money. And when the tide turns, as it will, you'll be ready with a shiny, well-placed brand to embrace the new world order.

Small, close, independent and in control
The current wave of start-up consultancies with senior brand figures establishing small and personal businesses feels like  a trend that is finally catching up with us. We have stuck to our guns over the years, determined to be the people that do the work, the thinking in our case, and talk to clients rather than run a business. This hasn't always been fashionable, but is great for our creative juices, insatiable appetite for new challenges and inspiration, and our work life balance. Being essentially 'creatives' we are far more at home in a studio surrounded by art, crafty objects and living clutter than in an office with clean-cut lines and open-plan sterility. 

Michael Peters describes his new venture as a completely different approach to branding, "We will be working directly with clients around my kitchen table." Which is both extraordinarily refreshing and a convenient strategy to take in difficult times - I'm pretty sure he has a jolly nice kitchen table too. Smaller groups can offer well-managed costs and low overheads. Shaun Bowen, who has just left Pearlfisher where he was Creative Director to set up B&B, comments,  "Keeping it small, you can get back to having relationships with clients where it's just you and them. You can be selective about clients and have that intimacy - with big consultancies, constantly chasing big accounts, you're missing opportunities to work with smaller challenger brands that want to make it big." 

The other thing we have fiercely guarded is our independence. Here's a last word from Dave Allen (who gives some good do's and dont's here) that resonates with our philosophy, "There used to be loads of independent groups, but over the past 15 years these have all been bought by the big conglomerates," he says. "It's now very difficult to get independent advice, in my view. We've tested out this idea with clients, and it resonates." Us too.