New opportunities for brand expression have created a demand for a new breed of creative consultant who is not limited by role definitions. These creative consultants, called brand architects, cross the boundaries of traditional disciplines to provide innovative and cohesive brand solutions in a variety of mediums.
Business leaders are accustomed to relying on specialists to further their business plans. MBAs, CPAs, marketers and advertising agencies have been regular fixtures in the development of products and services. But our world has changed. Competition is fierce. There are too many brands and brand messages out there. Market dynamics are often too volatile for even the most visionary business plan. Even having a great product is no longer a guarantee of consumer awareness and increased market share. The new wild card is brand recognition.
For the last few years, magazines such as Brandweek and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal have been focusing on the importance of brand identity and brand loyalty. So who are the new specialists in brand development? More specifically, who builds the house the brand resides in?
Generalists vs. Specialists
Some say it is the natural extension of the ad agency, but an agency's primary experience (and primary income) is print and broadcast media - while today's brands are expressed over an ever wider range of mediums and devices. Others say it lies in the realm of the identity specialist or the packaging designer. But a brand is no longer just a logo on a fleet of trucks or a box of detergent sitting on a shelf.
Brands are all encompassing. Brands reflect the company culture. Brands project the promise of the product. Brands are the durable, long-term ship on which the whole company and its products float in the dynamic seas of the marketplace - and just as ships are designed by naval architects who study not one, but the whole range of forces, brands are now being designed by brand architects who consider the whole and interface with all disciplines to produce a competitive, durable and recognizable brand.
So Many Mediums, Too Many Brands
An article in the Harvard Business Review identified some of the key issues that have led to the rise of the brand architect. "Mass-media advertising has long been the cornerstone of most brand-building efforts. But that norm is threatening to become obsolete. Fragmentation and rising costs are already inhibiting marketing through traditional mass media like television."
"... many U.S. companies delegate the development of brand strategy to someone who lacks the clout and incentives to think strategically. Or they pass the task to an advertising agency. Relying on an agency leads to two problems. First... it creates a distance between senior managers and
Their key asset - the brand. That distance ... can result in confusion for customers, loss of synergy, and, ultimately, performance that falls short of potential. Second, most agencies' ... incentives ... lead them to rely on mass-media advertising as their primary brand-building device."
"... many ... companies do not have a single, shared vision of their brand's identity. Instead, the brand is allowed to drift, driven by the often changing tactical communication objectives of product or market managers."
"A clear and effective brand identity, one for which there is understanding and buy-in throughout the organization, should be linked to the business's vision and its organizational culture and values."*
The Need For Multi-disciplinary Solutions
Clearly, the issues of brand development and brand management are complex. Effective branding requires creative ideas that can be executed on a broad, multi- disciplinary level.
Brand managers on the client side have helped in the definition of strategies, but there are still very few creative resources who can participate in the development of a brand at the strategic level and bring those strategies to life across all modes of brand expression. (The principal brand expressions are defined as naming, tag lines, trademark design, identity & communication systems, packaging, trade introduction campaigns, exhibit and signage design, advertising, direct mail, point-of-purchase, uniforms and employee deportment, retail design, P.R., events, promotions, new media and not the least of which ... the look, feel and performance of the product itself.) The new creative resource who will give form and substance to brand strategies is like an architect.
Working at the highest level, architects assess all the issues affecting a construction project - from site requirements to local code and from budget to the view from the president's office. Working from this global assessment, architects present an integrated proposal which is brought to life by many trades and professionals.
The brand architect assists in the development of the brand in a similar way. He makes global assessments and recommendations. He may or may not create all of the tactical marketing components, but he is more than a consultant. Like architects, brand architects are creative people who actually produce finished designs and/or an actionable plan. They design and direct the construction of the brand in all its manifestations.
Who Are The Brand Architects?
Indeed, some recent brand manifestations have been completely revolutionary. The Niketown complexes are more promotion than store. The GameWorks complexes are not just fancy arcades. They are places designed to elevate the DreamWorks and Sega brands. The recent push by Rollerblade to make inline skating an Olympic event is another form of brand expression. These new brand expressions challenge the traditional definitions of creative consultants - like ad agencies, identity consultants and package designers - giving rise to hybrids.
Since World War II, we have seen many forerunners of the brand architect. Walter Landor (whose bias has been identity and packaging), William Bernbach and David Ogilvy (whose bias has been advertising), Paul Rand (whose bias was trademark design) and Clement Mok and Richard Saul Wurman (whose bias is information design) are examples of pioneers in brand architecture. Each of these creative people pushed the limits of their discipline to address the larger scope of brand development.
Now a new breed of creative consultant is entering the scene with a mandate to develop brands from a multi-disciplinary point-of-view. In other words, we have seen a movement from macro thinking to niche thinking and back to macro thinking - not unlike the changes happening in the medical profession. Today's medicine stresses consideration of the whole body. Today's branding stresses consideration of the whole brand.
Some of the best examples of brand architect teams can be found inside the companies with the most successful brands - brands like Nike, Ralph Lauren and The Gap. In many cases, these in-house creative teams can actually be more successful than outsourced talent. This can be the case when the brand identity is already clearly understood by the company, when the company possesses the talent for brand expression, and if there is clear leadership directing brand development. The synergy and inventiveness inherent to these teams can prove highly successful and very formidable - but these teams are the exception, not the rule.
Choosing A Brand Architect
Just as most companies do not have in-house architectural talent, most companies do not have experienced in-house brand architects. And this is not to say they should. Wise business leaders are accustomed to recognizing deficiencies and turning to outside professionals for help. Consider, for instance, the efficiency expert, or the network communications expert, or the mergers and acquisitions expert. Brand architects can provide the independent perspective lacking in-house. Brand architects also provide the creative skills necessary to give expression to brand strategies and do it quickly.
In today's fast-paced world, companies cannot afford the lag time between strategy development and strategy execution. Hiring pure theoreticians or brand consulting firms who cannot implement their own strategies is a luxury.
When hiring a brand architect, companies should look for three traits. First, the brand architect must be a creative person with multi-disciplinary experience. In other words, this is not the role of a specialist. Second, the brand architect must also be a strategic thinker. Third, the brand architect must have a proven track record for building brands and must demonstrate a portfolio of brand development projects which cross disciplinary boundaries.
For instance, did he or she contribute to the design of the product, did they name it or design the logo, did they create the identity system, did they direct the trade introduction campaign or supervise the ad agency, are they fluent in the language of new media and are their imaginations in scale with the opportunities presented by new types of branded consumer environments like Niketown or The Disney Stores. The answers to these questions must be 'yes'.
This is a brand architect, and this is the creative resource that will develop and define modern brands.
Originally written in 1993 and still relevant today.
Rick Seireeni is a graduate of the University of Washington Department of Architecture. He has been Associate Art Director of Rolling Stone Magazine, Senior Art Director of Warner Bros. Records and Creative Director at Carabiner International and Enterprise IG. He is currently a Brand Strategist for SeireeniChinn and President of The Brand Architect Group.