I’ve recently been taking a closer look at the world of “Brand Consultancies” and I now understand why brand management is generally so pitiful, not just in the UK , but pretty much everywhere?”

Before you jump up and down in disagreement with my premise please bear in mind that our perspective on this matter is very much clouded by the very few companies indeed who get it right.  So spectacular is their branding against the mediocre backdrop provided by the vast majority of organisations that we can be fooled into thinking that their’s is the mean standard, but its not, which is why most organisations can make massive performance improvements very simply, usually without increased investment once they have the know-how.  And there’s the rub, because, from what I have discovered recently the very companies who profess to have that know-how don’t in fact have the first clue about what a brand is, let alone what you have to do to develop one.

I’ve been introduced to the approach to “brand development” of a good many “consultancies” in the course of my explorations and this is what I have found:

Nearly all of the organisations that call themselves “brand consultancies” are nothing more than design groups jumping on the latest bandwagon in search of business development – which is all well and good if you are serious about your subject and not just ripping people off.

Their idea of brand development is usually just corporate identity – which as we all know is an important, but very small corner indeed of the brand development picture.  I’m not saying that all of the organisations that don’t “get it” are rip-off merchants.  Most of them simply don’t seem to know what “brand development” is, but while it may make their deficiencies a little less exploitative it doesn’t help their clients who are being sucked into this very expensive world of smoke and mirrors.

The saddest discovery I made though is that even when its pointed out to them that what they are offering isn’t brand development many of these designers aren’t committed enough to want to even try to get their act together.  I guess that’s because they can’t see the business case for investing early in developing real skills while there remain organisations around who will fall for the miss-sell, but lack of business acumen on this scale make them inappropriate for the role of brand developer anyway.  Frankly, I can’t wait to see what they do when the bubble bursts.

So its clear to me that at least one reason brand management is so poor is that the people who organisations rely to advise them on this are rarely qualified to do so and frankly talk complete bollocks most of the time.  But the question remains, how do you tell the real thing?  Well, here are a few pointers:

The starting point in any brand development programme HAS to be the creation of a brand model.  This will define your business vision and mission, brand character, point-of-difference (your cause), positioning and promise.  This is every organisation’s bible, it will influence everything you do in every corner of your business so if your “brand consultancy” don’t ask you for it or help you produce one they simply aren’t the real thing.

The term “brand development” is synonymous with “business development” – brands drive business and they are influencing every function at every level of your organisation.  This is not about “dressing to kill”, its about genuineness, how you behave, delivering your promise, being true to your cause.  So if your “brand consultancy” doesn’t start by introducing you to the principles of internal marketing (because this is what brand development is really about) then they are imposters.

If you are approaching marketing in anything like the right way, you’ll be making a realistic investment in marketing already.  One of the founding principles of Full Effect Marketing is that before you increase your marketing budget you should strive to optimise the efficiency of the investment you already make, whch for most businesses isn’t difficult.  In this context this usually means diverting a proprtion of investment away from external communication (making the promise) to internal marketing (delivering the promise).  If you don’t adjust your focus in this way you will be, like many organisations, just papering over the cracks, which may have worked in the past for many, but it’s no longer a sustainable practise.  Research of all kinds from all over the world supports this kind of redirecion of investment and those organisations who have taken this route have been vindicated by their subsequent business performance.  So, if your “brand consultancy” starts by explaining what the cost of entry to the world of brand development is show them the exit.

Judging by the hit-rate I achieved in my search for “brand consultancies” worthy of the title, I can understand that this whole subject is a minefield for most businesses.  I hope that I have introduced a few key pointers to those who may be looking for advice in this area, but if you want to know more you know where I am.   

Michael Weaver
December 11, 2007

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