And there is no industry authority or trade press to monitor it. But just as the graphic design industry grew out of commercial art in the 60s, the brand consultant/consultancy is the 90s equivalent phenomenon.
But how best to define a brand consultancy when pitch lists can include
companies specialising in a plethora of disciplines, such as design,
research, internal communications, management consulting and the
According to Jon Gold, the commercial director of branding consultancy
c-eye: "Graphic design consultancies have always been responsible for
the creation of corporate identities. However, the extent to which they
were involved in the development of the brand's very characteristics or
personality was often limited. Traditionally this was the role of the
"Without doubt things have changed on this front and continue to do so.
Branding consultancies, many of which have grown out of graphic design
consultancies, are becoming more involved at the outset in the
development of brand fundamentals. This means branding agencies are
taking responsibility for research, analysis and the positioning which
influences the direction the brand will take instead of being handed a
fait accompli by the client."
Over the past few years, the branding, design and marketing sectors have
experienced massive change driven by globalisation, convergence,
technological development, competition and more demanding consumers.
According to Alec Rattray, the marketing director of Landor Associates:
"The explosive growth of the internet has revolutionised ways of
working, but really big change is more evolutionary - branding is now
recognised as a central and essential component of business success.
Branding is no longer considered cosmetic."
Rita Clifton, the chief executive of Interbrand, agrees, saying: "As
branding has come to cover so many categories and to involve people,
service businesses and more complex organisations, it is not surprising
that specialists have grown rapidly. Also, it is only relatively
recently that 'the branding business' has been able to demonstrate the
full spectrum of businesses that it offers, and in the financial
language of the boardroom, to show just how important a brand is as a
business asset. Clearly many companies and agencies have known about the
importance of brands forever, but their financial importance was always
more difficult to pin down.
"Also, historically it was felt that the ad agencies were the fount of
knowledge about brands and brand strategy but, as the industry has
fragmented, a lot of suppliers are now claiming that area of
Undoubtedly the role of brands has changed. The present challenge is to
find meaningful and truthful ways to build relationships with consumers
and that, according to Imagination's marketing and strategic director
Ralph Ardill, is through experience. "Think about our lives. It is the
most powerful experiences that have changed the way we behave."
He continues: "Trainers used to be a commodity, then branding moved them
from commodities to names and made them iconic. The next stage is for
brands to take on a notion of citizenship and to become more 'human'.
And as you don't expect your friends to be perfect, the days of brands
portraying themselves as powerful and consummate are over. Also it is
increasingly hard for a brand to keep a promise if the organisation
behind it fails to keep its."
Brian Shepherd, the global chief executive officer of Enterprise
Experience, part of WPP's consultancy Enterprise IG, is spearheading
'the brand experience' for his clients both internally and externally.
"More emphasis has to be put on the employees and helping them to
understand the brand's values, which they, as front ambassadors for the
brand, must be able to extol.
As we are living in an experience economy, it is these simple and
personal interactions that drive business decisions and translate into
More than ever before these cultural terms can be tracked into the brand
at the corporate level.
"Solving these problems requires creative business thinking way beyond
the business brief to make the brand experience an engaging and
This recognition of brand power and the realisation by some client
companies and networks that many ad agencies are unable to offer the
multitude of skills to allow them to be custodian of the brands has led,
over the past few years, to several branding companies being acquired by
Both Landor and The Partners were bought by Y&R; Omnicom acquired
Interbrand in1993 and snapped up Wolff-Olins earlier this year;
FutureBrand is owned by IPG, while Enterprise IG is a WPP entity.
For a branding consultancy, being part of a network can be beneficial
for resources and new business. Charles Trevail, the chief executive
officer of FutureBrand, says: "Other networks might be less interested
in building a culture, but we are very closely involved with the McCann
network and we have a tremendous synergy.
"Broadly speaking, advertising agencies are good at advertising, while
FutureBrand is made up of people from diverse backgrounds such as
design, production design, human resources and management consultants.
We are in the brand equity business, while ad agencies do not have the
brand as the central core of their business."
Yet on the other side of the fence, Keith Wells, the managing director
of the independent branding company Dragon, cites the plus points of
being an independent: "Flexibility, not being constrained by strategic
partners and being allowed to take more financial risks, by, for
example, recruitment without being answerable to a shareholder".
Just as PR companies were snapped up in the mid-90s, the big networks
have realised that a branding consultancy can strengthen their
However, the fact that none out of ten ad agency chief executives
questioned had time to talk about branding suggests than the brand
consultants still have a way to go in branding themselves as a
As Clifton says: "The relationship between agencies and branding
consultancies can be great, if both are prepared to work and think
'aloud'. Both parties have to be clear about who's doing what from the
start. However, branding consultancies can be their own worst enemy if
they present what they term as 'new brand work' to ad agencies, when
what they are really showing is just a new logo or typeface or colour
with a photographic style."