The Scenario: Your account manager has just set you up with your new client contract. To the client, you have presented an outline of your agency process: scope of work, milestone schedule, definition of processes, preliminary timeline, discovery process outline, the creative direction process, asset delivery, project assessment and ultimately implementation and celebration (usually).
The Agency: Wants to deliver a successful brand experience that is adaptable, scalable, attentive, creative, elegant, professional, personable, represents solid company tenets in some meaningful and deliberate way--and can stand the test of time. A brand that speaks of integrity, assurance and quality.
The Client: Wants to build a brand, thinking all they need is a logo.
You've all been here before. You have a professional team ready to roll and do the painstaking groundwork to make sure no stone is left unturned for the sake of your client. You want to ensure the company's enduring success in part by establishing an iron-clad brand, and subsequent Visual Identity.
Suddenly you find yourself in front of the client's team consisting of CEO, COO, VP Marketing, attorneys, and even engineers and administrative are sitting around the boardroom table looking at you with a blank expression on their faces, telling you, "that's nice" but "when do we get to see some logos?"
The client doesn't get it. And yet you have assumed you are doing everything right. After all, the account manager achieved the contract, right? Not so fast...
Design Before Strategy.
To paraphrase one CEO's recent comments, "I want design mock-ups almost immediately. I want action. I want to see a lot of logos. Show my company all kinds of options. Then bring in EVERYONE from the company organization (janitor, etc.) into the process. Let the entire group choose the creative that they like. Save some time and print out a hundred logos from the web. This would only take the branding & ID company two minutes." The client wants design before strategy... We'll just call this person "Action CEO".
First and foremost, the hundreds of visual examples in the world of company graphical identities will be likely 100% irrelevant to the specific client company brand needs. The client needs a unique brand--both in visual identity and in practice--that breaks away from the pack of the other thousand companies that are in a similar business. The client needs may even go deeper. In the short-term the client company may need to rethink the way they communicate and engage customers, vendors, and employees. That's an important enough step in beginning to create brand success, and the fruition of a strong visual identity to match. It's also doable within a reasonable timeline.
In the long-term, the company may even need to overhaul its product line, services, or core business offerings--in order to maintain or improve brand awareness and brand loyalty. That may be Phase II or even Phase III in a hopefully long relationship with this client. How do we communicate these values to the Action CEO? We engage his/her objections with key questions designed to clarify the client needs, and provide relevant data and marketing justification for brand decisions.
What do you think of this as it applies to engaging a client with your brand recommendations?
Second, 20 different stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests is a potential recipe for failure. By running the gamut of 20 people with different positions, interests, tastes, color preferences, likes, dislikes, plus various levels of business/market/brand connect or disconnect--will create a situation where 20 different decision-makers ultimately will never agree, or will agree to have the agency create a combination of the 20 things that everyone likes. The end visual result, according to the aggregation of all client stakeholders, would be a sort of round-square stitched-together thing that is a mish-mash of red, yellow, green, blue, purple, gray and shows a horse's body with a bunny's head--and using 40 different fonts in the wordmark. Or worse. Throw brand integrity out the window. Forget the marketing data and the competitive analysis. Forget any possibility of a solid brand architecture that can transcend and survive new product and packaging or company growth and expansion. In other words, a Frankenstein brand that will please no one, especially the agency which is on the verge of firing their client at this point. AND, let alone the idea of organically connecting the dots between client and audience.
In a client environment such as the Action CEO example, I try to assure the client that we deliberately want take the time to discover the unique company tenets & values, markets & competition, business climate & trends, experiences & aspirations---so we can create THE perfect brand that delivers enduring success for the company--as opposed to delivering random graphical imagery without any thought about the often very deep business reasons for a particular creative direction.
On the other hand, when we are talking about a brand launch or launch of a new business, there is often a tearing hurry within the organization. Everyone is looking at numbers, the impending targets for the years. The internal stakeholders want to see that logo, the packaging, the advert designs. There is little patience within the organizations. What makes it doubly complex is that we might not end up with CEOs who are from brand or marketing backgrounds.
According to Satya Upadhya, Asst. Vice President, Brand Communications at INX News, "A successful strategy in such a scenario is to have a well chalked out plan well in advance where you have done many consumer researches (trust me there is nothing more convincing for the board members than 'market research findings'!). And then make an identity presentation which has linkages to the business, how it will positively impact the topline and bottomline and keep the identity story relevant to the business realities."
Again, engage the client with relevant motivation for your recommendations, all the while engaging the client objections.
So there actually is hope for the "Action CEO" company if we do our homework deliberately and fairly quickly; And, if we handle client objections with a true engagement. After all, brand engagement what we do isn't it? What we are doing is selling the client on brand choices (our "tribe's brand" of brand), so that our clients can sell their company products and services with integrity in their own brand.