So you work in marketing and you need to rebrand?
This poses a number of considerations, not least which agency you consult. Do you engage a specialist branding agency? Do you enrol the services of your advertising agency because you want a seamless roll-out of a post-brand campaign? Do you enlist an integrated agency because their joined-up thinking can cover the whole shebang?
And once you cover that off, cue another non-exhaustive list of posers:
- How will the agency arrive at a cost for each element of the project?
- How will it justify that cost?
- How will the agency take you, the client, on the whole brand journey?
- How will the agency reach its findings and rationalise its research
- How will the agency rationalise the outcome?
- How will you go about selling it on to the board?
- How will you even explain the agency’s work?
The thing is, before you answer any of the above, your first port of call at the Department of Queries should be, ‘How much branding bull can I tolerate?’ Or more to the point, ‘How much branding bull can my brand tolerate?’
Because all of the above can be answered with bullshit. And on a sliding scale from just a little whiff to high-volume weapons-grade factory-created BS—the challenge is to spot it early (my copy devil wants to call it olfactory-created—but I wouldn’t inflict that kind of manure on you).
But how. Well, here’s a few pointers … and in the spirit of not being a know-it-all, again, it’s non-exhaustive.
1. TOO MANY RULERS
Check those brand guidelines (remember the word, ‘guidelines’ for later; it’s important). A book with enough ruled lines all over your logo or your page layout to resemble the road network of a large nation, spells the unfortunate advent of BS.
We’re talking geometric formulae of Fibonacci proportions. We’re talking circles, straight lines and dotted lines. We’re smelling … you know what.
It’s random angles plucked out of thin air. It’s circles placed conveniently over what might be an otherwise perfectly acceptable logo. It’s the post-rationalised equivalent of the conspiracy theory.
And most of us know about conspiracy theories; yep, you can make up almost anything after the facts.
2. TOO MANY RULES
Remember that word, ‘Guidelines’? The clue is in the first bit: ‘Guide’.
If your agency (and we’re not just talking branding agency, here) is filling all the white space with yet another set of rules, be on your BS guard.
It smacks of:
- Your agency justifying the huge cost of creating your brand (I’m not suggesting this kind of work isn’t chargeable obviously, but there’s a big old wide spectrum out there, folks.)
- Your agency not having the confidence in the brand it has created
- An afterthought. “Hang on, we have five main colours in our palette and only four main services. How the heck are we gonna explain that fifth colour?”
- Both you, the client‑—and the agency not having the confidence in the subsequent brand or, perhaps more pertinently the professional designers, copywriters and creative directors who will ultimately implement that brand.
And that’s where the ‘Guide’ of the Brand Guidelines plays (or is supposed to play) its part. If your agency has created a robust, engaging brand, then you should be able to trust a competent set of professionals to set it free in the wild. And a guide should be all you need. Not a rigid set of rules.
3. TOO MANY REFERENCES TO OUTER SPACE
Okay, we’ve all seen justification for the treatment of graphic elements, say in the form of angles taken from typography, shapes from parts of the logo, that kind of thing. But once you get into taking your references from things in the sky …
And no not just things you can see like horizons, but stuff that’s really, really hard to see. Like energy fields, gravitational pulls and globe dynamics. Then we really know we need to take a good long shower.
This classic example from Pepsi is a case in point:
From @rerumies on TikTok
4. TOO MANY BIG OR CLICHÉD WORDS
“The brand palette lies in the intersectional space between optimism and realism.”
If bullshit had a sound, this would be it. If your agency uses the word, ‘intersectional’ question it. Other trigger words you should look out for include:
- ‘Innovation’ – when it refers to anything other than a product. A customer does not part with her hard-earned cash because your brand was the most innovative.
- ‘Millennials.’ Why, oh why, would any section of the great buying public be of the same buying mind-set because of when they were born? They wouldn’t. Stop that BS, now.
- ‘Quantum’. Quantum leap. Quantum energy. Quantum anything. We’re talking brand development here, not theoretical physics. Can the Quantum BS.
5. TOO MANY TRADEMARKED PROCESSES
You’re a marketer. You know the score. There are several ways to skin the same brand cat. And several tools.
There are brand pyramids. Brand keys. Hell, there’s even brand onions. That’s not the bullshitty bit. The bit where it gets whiffy is when the agency tries to package the process up, name it (or more appropriately—and more meta—brand it) and then … trademark it.
Look out for such gems as:
… that kinda thing.
The thing is, it’s not the branded package that will get your brand to where you want to be. It’s people.
And it’s people with the necessary experience in skills including planning, strategy, sector-specific marketing, creative who’ll get you there. Together with stakeholders within the business and customers—and of course, people who can pull the thinking of everyone together. Not a TM symbol that masks what is essentially the same process—or a derivative.
Marketing has always been a collaborative—and therefore—a people business. If you’re going to struggle to get along with the people involved in your brand project, you’ll struggle to get great results.
So put people before packaged agency processes, all day long. And if those people use a lot more integrity and a little less bullshit along the way, you’re already onto a winner.
And lastly, if you do come across an agency determined to serve up a whole heap of brand bull refer them to The BS Asymmetry Principle, aka Brandolini’s Law, brilliantly illustrated below by @Sketcplanations …