DESIGN AND BRANDING: BRANDED BY DESIGN - Design consultancies are coming of age, Jane Lewis says, with many now offering a full range of brand development skills - which puts them in a position to compete with their rivals in the world of advertising

Most graphic design consultancies, although they might not like to admit it, are ’still subservient to ad agencies’, Richard Watson, director of the client advisory group, Global Design Register, claims. Brand design evolved out of a discipline which, until the last decade, was still very much a cottage industry. But there is a new species of design consultancy that has built a reputation as the last word in brand development, from creation through to implementation and protection. These consultancies are seen as brand guardians and key strategists in the eyes of clients - a role that has not necessarily knocked agencies from their pedestals but is, nonetheless, often perceived as threatening.

Most graphic design consultancies, although they might not like to

admit it, are ’still subservient to ad agencies’, Richard Watson,

director of the client advisory group, Global Design Register, claims.

Brand design evolved out of a discipline which, until the last decade,

was still very much a cottage industry. But there is a new species of

design consultancy that has built a reputation as the last word in brand

development, from creation through to implementation and protection.

These consultancies are seen as brand guardians and key strategists in

the eyes of clients - a role that has not necessarily knocked agencies

from their pedestals but is, nonetheless, often perceived as

threatening.



These consultancies, who refer to themselves as brand designers or

identity specialists rather than packaging or graphic designers, are

fostering long-term relationships with clients and their brands. They

are offering strategic skills, not just drawing-board skills, and are

being taken more seriously in marketing departments and boardrooms.



Such an approach has led to greater collaboration between designers,

advertising agencies and other marketing consultants and is welcomed by

the design groups - but perhaps not so readily by agencies. Watson adds:

’Designers are being used as core strategists on corporate identity and

retail projects in particular. At a corporate level, ad agencies are

being moved over a bit and the more serious design groups are getting

in, although most packaging designers aren’t becoming brand

guardians.’



He acknowledges there can be friction but also stresses that a great

deal can be learned from collaboration. ’Designers are extremely happy

to work with ad agencies but agencies have accepted it begrudgingly.

However, having worked with design consultancies, agencies usually find

them quite useful.’



As brands have grown in importance, so design consultancies offering

strategic skills have been taken more seriously. Brands need protecting,

and that cannot necessarily be achieved with a 60-second commercial.

Increasingly, designers are finding themselves up against agencies on

pitch-lists and are justifiably selling themselves as the appropriate

specialists for brand positioning projects. ’Our responsibility is the

brand - it’s what we do well. It’s something we live and breathe,’ says

Doug Hamilton, managing director at Wolff Olins, which has built an

enviable reputation within identity and brand design and has worked on

projects ranging from Orange and Goldfish to Channel 5, Heathrow Express

and, more recently, Go.



Andy Knowles, a partner at the design group, Jones Knowles Ritchie, has

the same approach. ’The design business is polarising with a relatively

small number of large, strategic consultancies breaking away from what

was traditionally a cottage industry and working with multinational

corporations. It’s more what brands are about than the surface design,’

he says. JKR has worked with Bacardi for some time, a relationship that

prompted Bacardi’s head of marketing for Europe, Maurice Doyle, to claim

the consultancy loves the brand as much as the client, if not more.



Mark Gandy, client services director at the brand design group, Wickens

Tutt Southgate, says clients are turning to design consultancies because

the packaging is the ’most upstream part of a brand and the most

enduring thing’.



’There is a drive for a consistent brand expression. It doesn’t mean

we’re doing everything but clients will increasingly look at us for

guidance and direction,’ he comments. WTS recently repositioned the

Seattle Coffee Company and was involved with everything from the shape

of the mugs and window displays to menus and press ads.



Springpoint, a consultancy set up by Fiona Gilmore - formerly of Denton

Bowles (now DMB&B) - with the designer, Mark Pearce, has beaten agencies

to business. ’More and more clients are looking at identity

consultancies as people who can potentially offer advice about brand

positioning and brand architecture,’ Gilmore, who is managing director

of Springpoint, says.



The consultancy recently worked with Vodafone on ’new brand architecture

and positioning’ for its corporate and product brands. ’We repositioned

the brand and came up with an idea that was the starting point for the

communications programme,’ Gilmore points out. Springpoint has also

recently completed a rebranding exercise to ’reposition’ Wales,

culminating in a book put together by the consultancy to portray ’the

essence of what the Wales brand is’. Gilmore claims: ’It’s a new way of

looking at brands - this is a living brand.’



Charles Trevail, managing director at the London office of the

international Enterprise Identity Group, believes corporate identity

companies are becoming ’the guardians of the brand at the corporate

level. The nature of branding is changing and evolving and we are seeing

the demise of brands as marketing veneers and the rise of the corporate

brand. Organisations want to align what they promise with what they are

and what they actually deliver.’



According to Gilmore, the UK lags behind the US when it comes to brand

guardianship. She says Springpoint has a New York office, adding: ’If

you talk about brand guardianship in America, they understand it and

passionately believe in their brand equities and believe people like us

can be brand guardians. They’re more cautious about throwing anything

away. Here I’m not sure so many people think in this way.’



As Hamilton points out, clients are looking for long-term commitment

from consultancies to nurture their brands. ’In the past, companies such

as ours would complete a project up-front and our job would be

finished.



We don’t do that any more and we’ve worked with a lot of our clients for

five, six or seven years. The idea is you take it forward. Brands are a

bit like children - they grow and sometimes need disciplining.’



Wolff Olins not only ’invents’ the brands and carries out their

implementation, but sometimes gets involved in press advertising - for

example, it worked on the posters for Channel 5’s launch as part of the

identity project.



As the skills offered by different design consultancies have evolved and

matured, complemented by marketing, planning and communications skills

across graphics and new media, it’s hardly surprising that clients and

agencies don’t always understand what their proposition is. According to

Andrew Milligan, a director at Interbrand Newell & Sorrell, ad agencies

aren’t always aware of the expertise available at strategic design

consultancies.



’Agencies often don’t understand why clients are talking to

consultancies like us. Their biggest beef is that for so long they’ve

seen themselves as being central to what brand development is all about

and can’t understand why clients are talking to different types of

agencies. People interface with brands in all kinds of ways and we’re

about providing a holistic solution to branding issues. Clients aren’t

always looking for a 60-second ad for their branding problem,’ he

claims.



Milligan goes on to suggest that the designer’s role reflects the growth

of brands. ’Brands are no longer perceived as purely fmcg products.

There’s been a huge rise in service branding and other hi-tech services

and retail franchises.’ Milligan says consultancies such as Interbrand

Newell & Sorrell are finding themselves ’talking more at the top table’

while ad agencies are sometimes ’restricted to junior

conversations’.



Many designers would argue there is room for greater collaboration

between the two disciplines, but some feel the advertising culture

itself can have drawbacks when it comes to providing strategic thinking.

’Too many agencies are still in the culture of thinking about ads - no

matter how hard they try to say that they’re communications groups, at

the end of the day they’re back to ’here’s a 60-second ad’.’



Hamilton agrees that agencies sometimes ’miss the point - but that’s

their history. They talk about 60- or 30-second commercials and are

always looking for campaigns. They’re a bit like hammers - they look for

nails but don’t see the screws’.



Ritchie believes agencies are under pressure to produce ads and are

judged on individual ads rather than campaigns. ’A lot of agencies are

making ads that aren’t part of a long-term jigsaw, while designers are

taking long-term views of where brands are going.’



The pressure for clients to justify their marketing spend has also put a

squeeze on some advertising budgets and they are spending in other areas

’if only to make their budgets work harder and get a better return’,

Gandy says. But he claims the most fruitful projects are the ones where

there is a ’strong relationship between us, our client and the ad

agency’. He cites Tango as proof of that and says the relationship

between Britvic, HHCL & Partners and WTS is ’triangular and more

powerful’.



The fact that agencies once again seem to be on the acquisition trail

for design groups - despite the mistakes made in the last recession - is

further endorsement of the designer’s role within branding projects.



Watson is sceptical about how successful such marriages are, and

suggests ’agencies could do a lot more if they actually brought the

consultancies into the team rather than leaving them alone’. He also

questions ’integrated agencies’ offering a range of marketing services.

’One-stop shopping has never proven to work,’ he claims. Many designers

are wary of going down that route, preferring to keep their

independence, but for some joining a global network has its

advantages.



At Coley Porter Bell, part of the WPP Group, there is

cross-fertilisation between design consultancies and sister ad agencies

that helps to break down barriers. ’Over the past couple of years, our

involvement has been about working with other communications agencies

and the brand team - more of a cross-functional approach rather than

about taking a lead over advertising. The more these elements can work

in synergy the better,’ David Davenport-Firth, director of planning at

CPB, says.



’At the moment, we’re working in parallel with our sister ad agencies,

J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather, looking at strategic aspects of

brand portfolios prior to the implementation stage.’



CPB offers clients what it calls visual planning, an exercise in brand

development involving the whole cross-disciplinary team, including

advertising. ’We’re adding the visual context to the strategic phase,’

Davenport-Firth says.



For example, when CPB was working on Cadbury’s Milk Tray, the visual

planning enabled the team to ’understand the real context within which

the product was bought’ and thereby create packaging that is ’truly

persuasive’.



The visual planning workshops, he claims, ’create better understanding

at the beginning and we’re better able to manage the increasing time

pressures clients are under to launch brands’.



’There’s a lot of talk about advertising versus design. From our

experience, the most effective programmes of brand development and

communication strategies are where we have worked closely with other

communications agencies to establish an environment of collaboration, by

recognising that, as individuals, we all come from different

backgrounds, have different experiences and can all have an input,’ he

adds.



Gilmore says Springpoint has ’lots of very good relationships with

agencies’ - likewise, Hamilton sings the praises of many of the agencies

Wolff Olins works with. But there is a consensus in favour of greater

collaboration and understanding between the disciplines. Clients aren’t

always sure of what they are buying in and tension between consultants

is counter-productive. ’Agencies need to understand that we’re not

necessarily a threat ... we should be collaborating,’ Milligan says.



’Enlightened clients bring all the marketing consultants, including ad

agencies, together,’ Gilmore says. ’I would suggest that better

behaviour could be achieved all round. But no-one who’s any good in

advertising has got anything to worry about,’ Hamilton adds. ’Design is

up there and will be there when marketing has long been forgotten.’



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