It wasn’t so long ago that the design-fuelled branding machine seemed unstoppable.
But then the credit crunched, the rock crumbled and we began to realise that so much of what we believed to be brand reality was little more than bland rhetoric as corporations exploited the power of branding and the creative industries to encourage us to pay for ‘new and improved’ promises, features and benefits that so often proved to be little more than creative smoke and mirrors.
All driven by an obsession to drive short-term shareholder value at the expense of delivering true and sustained value and improvement in the customer brand experience.
We all played our part in encouraging this brand boom both as consumers and as the creative industries but deep-down it was only a matter of time before we all got busted.
So it’s no surprise that alongside the finance, property and retail industries the branding and creative industries are also facing some home-truths about what we’ve been doing and how we can best survive and flourish in a post-crunch era.
This of course doesn’t mean the end for branding and design – far from it – but it is likely to usher-in an exciting new era of personal, collaborative, authentic and ultimately better branding where integrity, creativity, performance, accountability and sustainability will be key.
An era that demands we take responsibility for the design of the total brand experience inside and out as opposed to a bit of tactical shop-window titillation now and again.
I also believe this will be as true for the development of successful design agency brands as it will for the client brands they work with.
In 2005 I set-up The Brand Experience Consultancy to help brands explore the commercial, creative and communication possibilities of the experience economy.
Since then I’ve been working with clients to bring my own ‘cocktail’ of business consulting, brand strategy, experience design and change management to deliver brand-inspired, design-driven business improvement and transformation programmes across my four experiential business cornerstones of People, Product, Place and Promotion.
An exciting journey that’s seen me move far beyond the design of experiential communication towards the design of the experiential enterprise itself and given me the privilege of working with dozens of new creative collaborators.
Along the way several design businesses have asked if I could also help with their own agency transformations and what I’m finding is extremely encouraging.
Far from the cliché of the obsessive designer with little business acumen that we so often read about there’s an increasing number of highly informed, ambitious and entrepreneurial creative businesses out there who are completely in-touch with the right industry issues, insights and information and who have an intense desire to change, improve and grow their agency businesses.
From what I can see there’s an awful lot of design businesses that have already had the away-days, bought the business books, been to the lectures and are awash with business growth tools, techniques and tips but for whatever reason have yet to reach their own tipping-point for nailing “Where Next?”, joining-up the dots and making real transformational change happen across their total agency experience.
But if there’s one thing I’ve found over the years that unites all successful design businesses it is their unshakable dedication for making design projects happen right on brief, right on time and right on budget. No second chances. No second-hand excuses.
So my approach to working with creative agencies on the transformation of their own agency brands has been blindingly simple. Do what you do best and turn it into the singular most exciting new creative project on your job-sheet.
Give it a name ‘ProjectYou’, give it a job number, budget, team, process, outputs, outcomes, measures and a very, very specific deadline. Make a total commitment to it, make it highly visible and involving throughout the agency and make it happen.
But most of all write a great brief for ‘ProjectYou’. One that paints a compelling creative and commercial picture of where you’re going and why, that inspires and challenges you in equal measure, that demands your team get involved and step up to the plate. Then harness all of the passion, energy, creativity and discipline that you would bring to bear for your most demanding client. Because that’s what you’ve just become.
We all know its crunch time and that the branding and design landscape is going to change beyond recognition. This is not a spectator sport and many will fall upon the sword of inertia or complacency but our design industry will become all the better for it.
Because all great design businesses have always been great agents of change.
The time has now come to turn these natural talents inwards to drive your own agency transformation and – as Gandhi once said – “Be the change you want to be in the world.”
The most exciting brand you will ever build can be your own. The most compelling project case-study you will ever tell can be your own. The next most important client in your agency is your agency. Don’t let them down. Blow them away. Do what you do best and deliver your ‘ProjectYou’ like you’re future depends on it.
It almost certainly will.
- The branding and design landscape is changing.
- An era of more personal, collaborative, authentic and accountable brands emerging.
- This will be as true for agency brands as it will for client brands.
- Design agency brands need to innovate across the total agency experience.
- The next most important client in your agency is your agency.
- The next most important project is your own agency transformation.
- Design and deliver ProjectYou as you would for your most demanding client.
- Unleash your natural project passion, talent and abilities to make it happen.
Ralph is an internationally recognised expert consultant on branding and experiential design and respected writer and speaker with over 20 years experience both client and agency side in the creative industries.
Today Ralph’s passion is for harnessing everything he’s learned from what he calls his “20 year apprenticeship” to now work with smaller and medium sized privately-owned UK businesses – both corporate and creative agencies – as an independent board-level instigator for change to help them deliver accelerated and coherent brand-led, design inspired transformation and growth across the total experience – inside and out – of their businesses.
Ralph is an accredited member of the DBA Experts Register.