5 Principles for the Agency of the Future

Messiness by RI Pizzo This post is a "sound bite version" of a more elaborate piece, based on a talk titled "Emerging practices in Branding".

This blog has been dormant for a while, and I expect it will stay low frequency. I still hope this will get some attention, as it summarises so much of my work and thoughts of the last years. Not a very web-like time-scale, I guess…

On September 25th, I gave a talk at the Strategic Branding forum in Romania. I was asked to speak about "The Future of Branding". I used the opportunity to bring together some of Brandinstinct’s and my ideas about how branding should be practiced. This is stuff that has been dominant in the way my team(s) and me do things over the last couple of years. These are also trends I recognise increasingly among leading members of the creative industry.

The full article deals with 5 important aspects of branding work (methodology, relationship, culture, identity and engagement) and, "to put money where my mouth is", uses examples from some of the Brandinstinct projects I managed (From the projects used, the Sohar project is the only one I didn’t lead.). In this short version, I’ve left the examples out and focused on summarising the principles.

  1. Methodology: Use an emergent theory approach to replace black box limbo
    The marketing of marketing has hijacked many agencies, companies and marketing endeavours. Beware an agency who has THE METHODOLOGY™. Methodological dogmas are more dangerous than ever.
    Reality is too messy, complex, sophisticated and unique to fit into black boxes and templates.
    Instead, take an emergent theory approach to discover the hidden meaning. Let the uniqueness of the situation direct what you’re picking out of your eclectic and proven tool-box.
  2. Relationships: Let go of outdated "chain of command" structures and collaborate
    Old school / Big agencies have collected unnecessary etiquette protocols creating disconnection from clients and among themselves. Meaning is lost along the way.
    Instead, getting both client and the full team to work together and often directly, even if their agendas are conflicting, eliminates political tensions and increases the chance to produce breakthrough ideas.
  3. Culture: Embrace local insights to make a bigger difference
    What works in some countries isn’t automatically right for others. This may sound redundant, but some consultants (and designers) are still marching into new cultures like conquistadors whose international-marketing-guru knowledge cannot fail .
    You can’t have enough respect for the delicate ecology created when local and global cultures interact. That’s why we try to combine our international experience with local insight. In my experience, it is usually the local parts which triggers true differentiation and relevancy, which pulls it all together and makes it work.
    (The above is not only true for geographical/ethnic cultural diversity but for any tribe/community)
  4. Identity: Deal with the full range of business needs
    Branding has become the "prima donna" of marketing. Over time, it emerged more and more as a practice that handles the "higher needs" of marketing communications. Shying away from "the dirty work" and leaving it for sales and advertising is one of the main reasons many branding programmes do not achieve the ROI they should.
    Create brand identities as systems which support everyday business needs, not just the "aspirational" stuff.
  5. Engagement: Engage the entire organisation
    Most branding failures happen on implementation because the organisation won’t get behind a programme people don’t believe in.
    Instead, we recommend engaging the entire organisation from day one of the programme and increasing this engagement after launch.

The common thread:
Embrace the messiness to find meaning, instead of trying to fight it. Life is messy. Markets and marketing are getting messier and messier. By recognising the messiness, you don’t give up meaning, but actually improve your chances of finding unique, authentic solutions.
Prefer to be systemic, not systematic . Instead of a purely analytical, "modernist", approach that claims to paint a full, rational, map of a situation and then attacks a single aspect, try to see the whole hidden in the parts, and create a state of flow that is in harmony with the basic interconnectedness of all things.

When you appreciate it’s all connected, you can create sustainable brands.

You can read a long(ish) post summarising the talk here, or download it as a PDF article.
Both have links to further project case studies and longer posts.

This is the presentation on SlideShare, with full picture credits and links on the last slide (visible in full screen mode).

An apologetic aside: I’m often told that when expressing my views about the state of marketing, I tend to sound a little negative. Indeed, even this blog’s central metaphor’s opening point looks first at the trouble we’re in. But this time, it’s about what I believe the alternative is. This is probably because when I work, I’m in a much more progressive/appreciative state of mind, which is crucial in order to be creative. If I tend to be critical, it is because, like many dreamers, I have a very clear view of the way things should be ; while the reality of our world, and what major effects of the marketing discipline inflict on it, is so far from it.

6 thoughts on “5 Principles for the Agency of the Future

  1. Pingback: פוסט אחד, חמש וחצי שנות עבודה - TheMarker Cafe

  2. Pingback: Marketing Babylon » Blog Archive » קשה לעורר בלוג מתרדמה, שלא לומר תרדמת

  3. I think the principles here are absolutely right. Branding is only effective if it embraces the entire marketing experience.
    I think as well, there needs to be an understanding on how the brand translates in to the entire business and it’s interaction with consumers. Corporate paradigms are as important as the outer facing aspects.


  4. Pingback: No Man’s Blog - A strategy for strategy

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