We’re working with a global client right now. We’ve been appointed the lead agency and have got our teeth into a lovely brand project. It’s everything we want to be doing: strategy, positioning, tone of voice and illustrating how brand can play an important role in delivering consistency and coherence across all marketing comms. The project’s great. So is the client. But we’ve recently run into little bit of turbulence and I think it’s worth pondering it in a blog piece because there are learnings for us all in here.
I’ve said in a previous blog post that I used to think that when you got access to the top people in an organisation (the c-suite people) that everything will be easier. Because they’ll obviously ‘get it’. We wouldn’t have to spend days and weeks educating them on what we’re doing and why it’s important. Wrong.
The thing is. It’s not them. It’s us.
We sometimes criticise our clients for assuming their audience has more knowledge than they do. We do it too with our clients. And it doesn’t matter whether that’s with a junior Brand Manager or with the VP for Global Marketing. We tend to assume they know more about our topic than they do.
It’s time we acknowledged this and that the way we sell to our clients can be confusing. Just because it makes sense to us, doesn’t mean that it will automatically make sense to them. I’ve been doing this for 20 odd years, and in the early days there were more marker visuals which helped the process of the sell. Today technology has played its part and things are just not as simple.
Our clients’ roles are much broader ranging than the narrow aspect of branding and marketing we focus our services around. We spend time obsessing about this stuff. We have so much knowledge and live with it every day that it begins to distort how much knowledge we think others have. We’re the experts, and it’s incumbent on us to break things down a bit more and take a little longer in explaining what we’re doing.
We spend almost all our time thinking about brands, branding and the marketing context in which they are deployed. We’re like engineers in the way we break them into their constituent parts and discuss how they could be put back together to improve performance. There’s a lot of abstraction and conceptual discussion that’s quite a well-developed skill. We’re also able to very rapidly manifest these ideas into graphic executions which help demonstrate the value of the thinking: showing how a brand can come to life. These skills are honed like an Olympic gymnast who can nimbly jump from the abstract and conceptual through to the tangible and executional. And this is where I think the problems arise.
As I said, the field of branding tends to be abstract, conceptual and relatively slow moving. By this I mean that the cycle of branding or rebranding tends to happen every 3-5 years. This makes it more distant to the uninitiated. It’s less familiar than ‘marketing’ and not as well understood. Marketing, on the other hand, is where branding lives. It’s permanent. Certain. And is planned in annual cycles. In this sense, it’s much better understood. Clients understand it when we show them visuals of things like adverts, websites or exhibition stands. They’re familiar marketing deliverables. The challenge is: how do you showcase ‘branding’ unless it’s within the context of the marketing deliverables in which it lives? You must demonstrate that the brand lives beyond the logo and identity.
When we sell branding services we often show our solutions within this marketing context as ‘adcepts’ or ‘brandcepts’. These are visual treatments that illustrate how all the key aspects of a brand come together in concert to showcase how the new or evolved brand might exist. This will include a combination of logo/identity, typography, tone of voice, illustration or photography. They tend to look like adverts and are often misread as such. This is a subtle but important distinction: although they might look like ads, they’re not necessarily meant to be ads. And, more importantly, we’re not suggesting that advertising is a tool or channel that the brand should utilise in its marketing. It’s the same if we show the brand mocked up on a mobile phone (“are you suggesting we create an app?) or an exhibition stand (“do you think we should be at trade conferences?).
In these instances, the client is mistaking concept for execution. We’re guilty of feeding that misunderstanding because we assume they’ll easily be able to separate the brand from the familiar context in which it’s shown.
Part of the problem is that these visuals do look very seductive and appeal to marketers’ base instincts. The high quality digital finish of today’s visuals just look too finished and complete. It’s as if we’ve jumped the approval stage straight into execution. In some extreme cases, we’ve been asked if we can just print the posters from the Mac visual we’ve cobbled together. This example illustrates both sides of the issue for me: how much the audience can struggle with understanding and just how finished the visuals can look.
So, what can be done to fix it?
It’s a difficult one and I don’t think there’s an easy solution. My feeling is that we need to look at ourselves first. We as an industry are hooked on the quick, high quality Mac visuals. They’ve become a commodity and the old aphorism of “a picture paints a thousand words” isn’t necessarily always true. Perhaps we need a thousand words (or a few bullet points at least!) to paint a picture.
We must spend much more time teeing up these examples and explaining to the client what they are about to see. We need to be more specific when we jump from concept to execution and manage their expectations accordingly. This is particularly true when we move through the phases of our brand presentations. Divider slides and preface sections should help to manage the flow of what the reader is seeing.
We also really need to think about who it is within the client organisation that we’re talking to and tailor the slides accordingly. A one size fits all presentation is never going to work. And, as my own recent experience points to, the further up an organisation you go, the more time you need to take.
At Good we help clients create or improve their brands. If you think we can help you, why not give us a shout?