Four years ago, I wrote the article, Branding Needs Rebranding. In hindsight, the title was a tad misleading because it covered the lack of differentiation and delivery between brand consultancies, it was not an indictment of the entirety of branding. I argued, branding is largely premised on differentiation, so shouldn’t the consultancies be different?
Today, the processes and methodologies of branding and rebranding from consultancies remain the same. Meanwhile, many of the larger consultancies have undergone different kinds of change. Prominent ones have left poor-performing markets and shuttered practice areas where margins grew slim.
Those under the large holding companies have been grouped together for synergies, more on the cost side, than revenue growth. This cycle of consolidation and rationalization is nothing new in the larger communications industry, but it could be less severe or avoided…more on that in a bit.
Let’s set the stage by looking back. Prior to 2000, branding was a nascent practice and profession. Then it exploded. Books, conferences, job titles, and businesses sprung up around brand. The sad fact is, “brand” became a buzzword and consultancies focused on building repeatable processes and methodologies, creating an uninspired assembly line of parity. Brand became ubiquitous but lost its edge.
My definition of branding differs from the all-encompassing, fix-all, sugar pill it has drifted towards. Branding is a highly strategic and creative tool (but one of many). It needs to be wielded as a rapier not a broadsword (it is not a panacea). It has to prove return (tangible results). It is a management system where a business is viewed through the lens of branding offering a balanced perspective between company management and the customer.
I imagine many readers agree with all that…it is not earth shattering. What I have for you that is original is what brand consultancies must do now to be different and prosper.
Brand consultancies must play a different role than that of logo and tagline factory. While most offer “strategy”, I have consistently heard from clients that brand consultancies disappoint in strategic thinking, do not challenge the client enough, and peter out in execution.
We have to remember that consulting is a jarring process; a disruptive intervention in the life of a business (no matter how well it is done or by whom). The use of the word, “disruption”, is deliberate. That is exactly what brand consultancies must be (and not in the buzzwordy sense).
They should be innovators. Brand consultancies must work with clients to come up with ideas on par with AirBnb and Uber (embrace the spirit of that statement). Brand strategy has to encompass massive revenue growth through innovation while ensuring customer loyalty. Those are two things consultancies do not do or not do well. They largely produce short-term awareness for clients, offering incremental benefits.
Clearly, clients do not give brand consultancies this more aggressive mandate. That is because it has to be earned and must be proved. While at DDB Worldwide, I witnessed the agency BBDO move in this direction and the parallels are undeniable. BBDO saw that traditional advertising, no matter how well done, was under siege.
The agency tasked its people with brainstorming new business concepts for clients, not just advertising ideas. The goals were to offer huge value and change the nature of the relationship. It worked in many one-off cases, such as, new beverages for a cola company and a SaaS solution for a hospitality business. However, it did not permeate the culture of the agency.
Good ideas find their time and the time is right for brand consultancies to become innovation and concept machines and to focus on customer loyalty. This is the nexus of strategy and execution. Such an approach will change how clients look at consultancies. They will become more significant and have greater impact. Those brand consultancies will actually be different and prosper, until they have to be different again.