Why use a branding consultancy?

No-one is quite sure how much the brand consultancy business is worth in the UK - although estimates range from £400m to more than £1bn. Jane Austin charts the rise of branding consultancies and their role in business.

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

internet?

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

advertising agency.

"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

expertise."

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

loyalty.

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

compelling one."

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

agency networks.

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

offer.

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

profession.

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."

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