Brand Leadership Workshop

When I was at uni, I thought of branding as a dirty word, probably from reading too many copies of Adbusters, plus that trusty design student bible No Logo. Post-graduation I’ve mellowed in my opinions a bit more, a dose of real life not quite extinguishing, but at least tempering my poltical fire.

This week I was lucky enough to attend a workshop/lecture on ‘Brand Leadership’ by Robert Jones of Wolff Olins fame, and I definitely learnt a thing or two about what exactly the term ‘brand’ means in contemporary business practices. There was a lot to take in, including numerous diagrams, but for I think I managed to grasp hold of a couple of points amidst the wave of information.

The brand is no longer an image that a company creates for itself and then throws at it’s consumers, it is being created the other way round, the consumer’s perceptions of the company form it’s brand, through the way it’s discussed, dissected and used. A business can build itself around a core ideal, but no-one is fooled for long if a business doesn’t live up what it’s brand purports. This is the age of accountability, which has a nice, t-shirt, friendly ring to it.

To extend this thought; a brand becomes not something that a company manufactures around itself, but rather the central philosophy on which a business is built. My brain is hurting already, so time for a diagram.

I could explain, but as I wasted so much time adding pictures of dinosaurs, teddy bears and business-guys-looking-aspirational, I fear I’ve forgotten myself.

Basically to consider ‘branding’ as just something to be tacked onto the product is missing the whole point . A real sense of value, not necessarily monetary, can be added by giving ownership of the brand to both consumers and employees. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, the notion that brand value is worth more than a money-spinning scheme. When Robert was describing the way Wolff Olins helped Mercedes to set up a driving school, the idea being to enhance their reputation as the company that understands about cars and car drivers, an accountant at another table exclaimed “the revenue streams can’t be very big!”

Are brand-led companies ‘better’ than money-led companies? That depends on what the brand values are I suppose. Virgin, Ikea and Innocent and are examples Robert used as evidence of successful businesses built around strong ideas. For me as a designer the lesson I’m choosing to take away is that creating a brand is not something that can be done in isolation, I can’t just be making pretty marks on the screen. A truly successful brand defines what it represents, be it a business, a product, or even a city.

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