Where’s the Brand Strategy and Design Leadership
A few years ago we were invited to take part in a creative pitch to design a new place brand identity for a local municipality. The project was an interesting one, the City was vibrant, artistic, edgy and had a real pulse – but in the end we declined to be involved. As it turned out, the agency selection criteria involved taking the three pitched identity concepts, displaying them in front of town hall and letting the community vote. On first glance this seemed like an appropriate decision-making mechanism, I mean Council are only there to manage the City on behalf of their constituents, but on further consideration it becomes clear this approach was flawed, and it’s the same flaw we see impact many brands such as Gap just recently.
The role of brand is to communicate the market proposition of the business. And the role of the brand identity is to communicate the proposition of the brand.
Following the Gap re-brand and brand back-flip last week was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I can only conclude:
• Either there was no good reason to change the Gap brand identity – in which case I ask; ‘why the hell did they do it?’, or;
• There was a good reason to change the Gap brand identity, such as to reflect a new direction for the business relevant to their customers perhaps an evolution of their fashion design philosophy and their agency failed to nail the brand identity design to reflect this – in which case I ask; ‘why the hell did they launch it?’, or worst of all;
• There was a good reason to change the Gap brand identity and their agency got it right, but the Gap failed to communicate the reasons for change to their customers and when under a barrage of emotional, knee-jerk reaction they failed to hold to their strategy and show brand leadership.
Regardless of which of these scenarios was closest to the story, none of them reflect well on Gaps ability to manage their brand – an asset valued at US$3.96 billion this year.
Whilst it’s critical for business that their brands are popular, branding is not a popularity contest.
When Henry Ford said: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” he summed-up the role of the market when it comes to driving business decisions on strategy, innovation and brand. As a truly innovative business, Apple understand the market is not always the right place to look for leadership. The story goes that the ipod tested appallingly with the market, who overwhelmingly could not grasp why we would want a new way to listen to music when we had the CD – the rest as they say is history.
Almost a year ago to the day we sat and watched dumbstruck as Australian food brand Kraft, owner of the National treasure ‘Vegemite’ harnessed the power of popular opinion to launch a new Vegemite product spin-off they went to market with the ill-advised, although popularly selected product name of iSnack 2.0. The furore that ensued saw Kraft remove the product from supermarket shelves, pull their National TV and print campaign and beat a hasty retreat to work with the professionals on a plan to harness their customers creativity in a way that actually reflected the products brand positioning.
Though brand strategy and identity design is an inexact science, there are few other professional services engaged by business that are treated with such poor understanding and respect. For many businesses their brand is one of their most valuable assets – the Coke brand was valued this year at US$70.4 billion. We work with many of our clients facilitating their strategic business planning, and being on a board myself I’ve been involved in the strategic planning process from the other side of the table also. Rarely do we see the strategic direction of a company flipped 180 degrees based-on the emotional response of customers, let alone the personal likes or dislikes of the staff, the Chairman, or even his wife.
As with all important strategic business decisions, brand strategy and execution must be well considered, understood and executed with leadership, not on the basis of popular response.
If you’d like clarity around managing your brand asset, we’d love to help you become a brand leader – drop us a line.
Dave Ansett, Brandamentalist
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