Keeping it together: how brands can keep their messages cohesive

Ask marketing managers to list the agencies they currently work with, and they’ll likely rattle off enough names to cover off the fingers on at least one hand. This is just the nature of the modern media mosaic, which has forced clients into finding partners operating between the fractures.

With so many new disciplines and channels emerging, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single agency that can deliver the same level of quality across every available touchpoint. And if clients want the best quality across every channel, then they’re going to have to avail a few additional chairs in the creative meetings.

Over the last 30 years, Insight Creative chief executive Steven Giannoulis says he’s seen the marketers’ mood oscillate between the full service and specialist argument time and time again.

“There’s certainly merit in both sides, but I’m of the view you should use specialists for specialist disciplines, which might have nuances that only some agencies do well,” the Insight boss explains. Much like the average DIY  project, this looks easy on paper but things can quickly fall apart when it’s put into practice. The reason behind this is largely attributable to the difficulty that comes with asking a number of different agencies—each with unique creative approaches—to develop a cohesive brand, despite operating in their specialist areas. Further exacerbating this issue is the tendency of agencies to push the bounds of a brief as they venture toward a space that’s legitimately creative.

Steven Giannoulis

“It creates a dilemma,” Giannoulis says, “because if your agencies aren’t pushing the dial then you’re probably talking to the wrong partners. You want them to be pushing the brand. You want them to make people notice it. But at the same time, everybody has got to be pushing in the same direction.”

This issue often manifests as incongruence across media channels, with, for instance, a social media campaign, a digital execution and TV ad each taking a slightly different creative direction.

“If you’ve got three different agencies all working on the same campaign, those three executions could be quite different. You want to ensure that they understand what directions to push it in, so that everyone is pushing in the same way.”

Advertising commentator/ philosopher Jeremy Bullmore wrote that people build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws “laid in our path by the brand’s owner – the packs, the promotions, the price, the advertising – in the cunning hope and expectation that the brand we thereby build will be the one we’ll come to love and favour”.

If those scraps don’t fit together, and the brand is left with gaping holes in consistency, then all it does is create doubt in the mind of the consumer. Without being able to pull the pieces together, the consumer has little more than bits of brand rather than a cohesive whole. 

Earlier in his career while working on the client side, Giannoulis was often required to keep brand messaging cohesive despite working with numerous agencies.

To keep the brand on point, he would invite all the partners to a meeting, during which they would discuss the key idea behind the brand, the desired brand outcomes and the roles everyone would play across the brand. It’s a tradition that worked so well on the client side that he carried it with him into creativeland and still employs it to this day.

“We like to have a regular review with our clients, and we’ll often get their partners into talk about the brand,” he says. “What we’re doing is looking at how we can apply the brand ethos consistently and to address any issues. It’s an opportunity for everyone to share what’s working and what’s not working. Often, you might find that the other agencies around the table are facing similar struggles. It’s in their interests as well to participate and share.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee of these meetings always going according to plan. 

Agencies all have their own interests, and they all like to own the big idea. No one likes to execute someone else’s thinking. So to co- ordinate discussions and ensure that the best idea rather than the biggest ego determines the brand direction, Giannoulis recommends that marketers appoint a strategic brand agency to lead where the brand is going.

“This agency doesn’t necessarily have to do the work, but it needs to coordinate the process,” he says. “The responsibility of this agency is usually to ensure ideas work and that the different parties are contributing in the right places and in a consistent way.”

More than aesthetics on the surface, Giannoulis says that the key role of the lead strategic brand agency is to ensure the brand is delivering the right perceptions, behaviours and outcomes the company needs.

“People base a brand off their experiences with a brand, so what you build internally is the single most important thing about the process. Brands are always built from the inside out.”

Brands aren’t made in books

Most organisations have a brand book, which clearly outlines the fundamentals of the brand. However, a neat list of characteristics included in a brief doesn’t guarantee cohesiveness when a brand is placed in the hands of your agency partners.

“People often fool themselves into thinking that they understand the brand, because they have the brand book, but all they understand is the rules, not the thinking behind it,” says Giannoulis.

“Usually the brand book is about the visual identity guidelines, but often they do not explain what a brand stands for and how it should make audiences think and feel.”

Quite often, these brand books are bequeathed from one marketing manager to the next, which means the original story and thinking behind the brand might become lost.

“Brands can get unstuck a few years down the track when new staff, who weren’t involved in the original conceptualisation, try to interpret what the brand stands for from vague guidelines in a book. Add to this, both they and their agencies trying to put their own spin on it.” 

  • Insight Creative is a branding and design agency with 40 years’ experience in developing and working with some of NZ’s best brands. They are a strategic creative agency, delivering big thinking and effective design – across both print and online mediums – that changes perceptions, drives behaviours and delivers results for their clients.
  • Get in touch with the team today: [email protected] 

This story is part of a content partnership with Insight Creative.

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