The brand and marketing landscape has changed immensely over the past decade, and continues to do so at an alarming pace. Critical marketing tactics like personalization and digital storytelling, and the tools available to measure engagement of such stories, are radically different today than in 2009. The channels through which we tell our stories and the tools we have to build deeper customer connections are unlike any we've ever had access to.
So what you might have expected from your brand, design and marketing teams a decade ago is very different from what's needed to build a thriving brand today. Here's what you should expect today, and why:
Brand at the Center
Your brand’s foundation and strategy should be smack dab at the center of all operations. Your marketing tactics and touchpoints are built around the brand — not the other way around. If it’s a lead-generating website or an in-person brand experience, these tactics must work in harmony with your brand strategy and tell your compelling story. Your brand and marketing team must not be predisposed to what’s in their “wheelhouse”, but rather, what’s most effective in growing your brand equity and sales.
Brand, Meet Design
I can't believe it's 2019 and there's still such discrepancy about what a brand is and isn't. Most branding firms (us included) are quick to point out that a brand is not a logo, slogan or "look and feel." And it's not. Those are stimuli to help connect with the brand. But a brand itself is, quite simply, a promise kept. We can get into value propositions, rational and emotional benefits, values and the like, but academic definitions tend to add unnecessary confusion when defining brand. Frankly, I think the many varied definitions and marketing gibberish that so many branding "professionals" use has created warranted suspicion and distrust of branding as a business discipline. But that's subject for another post.
If you're looking to build a new brand, rebrand, or strengthen an existing brand, don't make the common mistake of thinking a logo redesign will get you there. It won't. There are plenty of design firms positioning themselves as "branding firms", who are quick to suggest a logo redesign and call it a brand. Or they'll take you through a discovery process that barely scratches the surface in defining who you are, and doesn't begin to tell your compelling story or how to connect with those who need to hear it. For now, let's get the branding professionals and the designers in the same room and respect their strengths, similarities and differences.
A Multidisciplinary Approach
If you look at brand through the lens of making and keeping a promise, you realize why an organization's brand is it's most critical strategic asset. And in realizing this, you also come to understand why brand is not something you delegate solely to the marketing team. Most small to midsize companies don't have the internal teams with the depth and breadth of expertise needed to build a brand given the complex universe of marketing considerations today. And frankly, many agencies maintain a traditional model, limited in scope and unable to provide the breadth of expertise that businesses require today. Or they’re unwilling to align with those who might complement their services to provide greater value to clients.
A select team with diverse expertise and leadership in brand strategy, design and storytelling is critical to achieving marketing success. Businesses today require a new approach to telling their stories, creating valued experiences and building brand equity. This includes diverse disciples like market research, brand positioning, content strategy and creation, design and user experience, to name a few.
Design without a message is aesthetic, and message without design may not get read. It’s the marriage of the two where real meaning and connection is formed, and stories become more engaging. That’s the good stuff!
I had a designer once tell me that he looked at copy as nothing more than texture on a page. (Gasp). I've also interviewed many designers over the years who didn't necessarily view message and design as complementary disciplines.
When looking to hire an agency or design firm, pay close attention to how they approach message and design, and the relationship between the two. Do they simply talk about design as an isolated role, or are they deep, conceptual thinkers who work to integrate message with real meaning into their design solutions? Message and design are not mutually exclusive, but interdependent. The best design works to tell a compelling story.
Beware the Dog & Pony Show
There are many branding firms that hide behind shallow theatrics, dubious charts and metrics and costly, yet meaningless research. They're also quick to highlight their award shelf. Hey, awards are fine. I just don't think you should choose an agency or firm because of them. I believe that bragging rights should come from earning and maintaining a client’s trust and accomplishing big things together. Be careful not to become distracted or misguided by "ring leaders." Look for a firm who demonstrates that they're more interested in your agenda than their own.
The marketing landscape has changed. The traditional agency model is dead & buried. Every sign in the marketing universe points to a demand by clients and marketers for change. Businesses want and need more from their brand, design and content partners. They need a team that’s smarter, more agile, tuned clearly into the brand, and dedicated to a shared goal. And that's exactly what you should expect.