Perspectives - August 2021
By Veb Anand, Chief Strategy Officer
The origins of modern brand consulting can be traced back to the 1950s, when consumer packaged goods companies like Procter and Gamble, General Foods and Unilever developed the discipline of brand management.
As the quality of goods and services improved to parity, brand managers became responsible for giving a product an identity that differentiated it from nearly indistinguishable competitors.
Around the same time, large corporations also started to undertake massive design programmes to streamline their corporate look and feel. In 1958, Gordon Lippincott coined the term ‘corporate identity’, and in 1965, Wally Olins co-founded the agency Wolff Olins. Over the following decades, large holding companies like Omnicom, WPP and IPG acquired corporate identity agencies, scaling them up via acquisition and adding competencies such as research and strategy.
The prevailing purview of brand consultancies is still limited by a legacy of corporate identity.
A straightforward, context-free interpretation of the phrase ‘brand consultancy’ might assume that such an organisation helps client businesses achieve growth via brand development, delivery and management. But the truth is that most esteemed brand consultancies have lived solely in the world of brand development, and that brand development is usually synonymous with the development of a corporate identity.
Corporate identity is indeed critical to the brand – in most cases it’s the most visible manifestation of the brand and can act as a critical reference point for personality, culture and vision.
Brand strategy and design are just two links in a complex chain that delivers the brand experience to stakeholders and creates value. Those that ignore the rest of the journey do so at their peril.
Other brand custodians, be they management consultancies or advertising agencies, are equally limited with their respective focuses on strategy or communications.
They are usually faced with a moment of truth when questioned by commercially astute and operationally- focused business leaders, who are equally interested in the practical, operational and financial implications of their recommendations as they are in the strategy and creative design. It’s at this critical point that they are unable to deliver.
Maintaining integrity across the strategy - implementation chain.
Strategic integrity or intent gets eroded as organisations progress through the strategy- implementation chain (see fig 1), particularly given the current ways in which client organisations and brand consultancies typically engage with one another. Somewhere along this journey, reality sets in, exposing the mismatch between strategy, design and practical delivery dynamics – which often occurs when handing off between agencies and other partners at various stages in the process.
Among the criticisms of brand consultancies are that they are too theoretical at the strategic end, too unrealistic at the creative end, and unequipped to fully tap into the potential of digital transformation.
The risk to client organisations is immense. They end up with strategies that are more self-important than practical, an identity that cuts through but is unimplementable, and a brand solution that does not permeate through culture and operations.
Client organisations have learned to live with their limited expectations. They’re either resigned to the fact that they will need to do the cultural and operational heavy-lifting internally, or there begins the endless cycle of appointing multiple specialist consultancies to make brand solutions work. Either scenario adds time, expense, and adds up to several missed opportunities.
Principle is built on the belief that powerful, well-implemented brands are instrumental in realising vision and creating growth.
End-to-end capability that helps brands achieve change.
Principle was founded as a brand implementation business almost 35 years ago. In its early days, Founder & Chairman, Richard Butterfield, partnered closely with Wally Olins, as well as many of the other corporate identity pioneers of the time. Olins understood the value of implementation, incorporating Principle’s capabilities with Wolff Olins’ from the very outset of client engagements. This early relationship would set the scene for Principle’s evolution into an integrated brand and implementation consultancy.
Principle’s ambition is to maintain strategic intent across the strategy-implementation chain, resulting in a better delivery of the business vision to stakeholders, and as a consequence, creating greater value. Principle is built on the belief that powerful, well- implemented brands are instrumental in realising business vision and creating sustainable growth.
We’re creating an integrated offer that will help organisations manage through that entire complex chain with an end-to-end set of capabilities. This will assure the delivery of the intended strategy, maintain its integrity and deliver operational efficiency at scale.
A brand and business consultancy that sets strategic direction and develops platforms for growth.
Honest by Principle
A creative studio that crafts powerful brand identities and experiences across every channel.
Principle Management Office
A programme management office that drives brand transformation efficiently and effectively.
An implementation practice that executes sustainable brand change at speed and scale
Each individual link between these Principle entities (see fig 2), will also translate into an advantage for client businesses. For instance, the link between brand strategy and project management will allow for the understanding of different branding scenarios and their implications. Co-operation between design and implementation will ensure greater efficiency and practical solutions that are fit for purpose. And integrated digital and technology expertise across all disciplines ensures transformation in both experience and efficiency.
It’s time for a different kind of brand consultancy practice that’s born from practical implementation – not just corporate identity design.
Organisations aren’t just looking for great ideas associated with their next logo, name or positioning statement, but partners that can apply their end-to-end understanding of all the richness and complexity that goes into brand building and delivery.
Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and expectations of higher performance, organisations can’t afford to have their brands operating as a passive asset. But the process of turning brand into a competitive advantage is one that goes much beyond simply theory and ideas – it requires creativity and implementable solutions that deliver the desired experience without losing the integrity of the idea along the chain of implementation.