Why does brand execution often kill creativity?

Rich Curtis

  • CEO, FutureBrand A/NZ
Rich is the chief of FutureBrand Australia and New Zealand, a global brand transformation company. In July 2020, Rich bought the local operations from IPG, making FutureBrand ANZ his independent branding company with the relationships and resources of FutureBrand worldwide. Rich helps businesses make sense of their brand through a combination of commercial insight and creative provocation. He has worked with some of the world’s most recognised local and global brands to create brand strategies, identities and experiences that grow their business. Rich’s focus now is to double FutureBrand ANZ’s commitment to the local market, invest locally in the company’s brand transformation offer to provide better outcomes for clients, as well as an enhanced employee experience for his diverse team. Rich first joined FutureBrand in 2014 as CEO, Australia before being promoted to CEO, Asia Pacific. Prior, he was managing director of Interbrand Australia for six years and an executive director at Landor for six years as well. Rich is also the founder of Thirty:3, a social initiative dedicated to giving time to people who need brand and marketing help. Rich has a Master’s degree from Oxford University in Litterae Humaniores – that’s Latin and Ancient Greek. He is also a Good Design ambassador, a MGSM Alumni, a husband and dad of three.

The launch of a new brand, or indeed a rebrand, is a transformation to be greeted with fanfare.  

After months of research, strategy and creativity has been invested into one of the most valuable assets of your business, it’s no surprise that you would want the world to know. To sit up and notice. To choose and use.  

To launch a brand transformation is not only to spark a connection with your customers but also to excite the imagination of your own employees. One doesn’t work without the other: It’s an opportunity to have employees engage with the brand and internalise what it means so they can deliver meaningful customer experiences (as opposed to assuming the logo will do all the heavy lifting).  

So why is it that once the brand has launched, the brand execution phase can also be the moment at which you kill its creativity?  

Look beyond the launch and you’ll find the nuts and bolts of any brand are invariably the brand guidelines. It’s a technical document. It might appear as a PDF in inboxes. Or perhaps a login to a digital brand centre. Employees might get some new templates or call scripts. Or maybe even new merchandise.  

And as the fanfare fades, the emotional message of a magical experience on offer to customers is met with a functional focus on compliance and consistency to the employees charged with delivering that very experience. 

It’s perfectly understandable but not necessarily logical. You’ve just spent valuable time and money going through the process of the brand transformation. It’s been carefully considered – yes, all those costly nuts and fiddly bolts – so now is not the time to let someone throw a spanner in the works, right?  

It’s not that simple. In fact, our world at large is no longer that simple. A sound brand strategy should set the platform for creative possibilities, especially in light of the operational reality that brand guidelines can’t literally answer every possible question on one page or another.

Think of the myriad messages, channels and interactions and you realise it has become an impossible expectation to make the brand guidelines ‘foolproof’ so that compliance is all that is required. But, with the right strategy, a little creativity can go a long way when you give your employees not only the brand knowledge but also the brand know-how.  

Why kill off creativity at the very moment that the brand transformation becomes real? Why not transform ‘foolproof’ brand guidelines into brand-savvy employees? Why not excite and inspire the very people who should be your advocates for the brand?  

If that sounds like something worthwhile, here are three ways to take full advantage of the opportunity to kick-off creativity.  

1. Team toolkit  

Firstly, to get all your organisation’s people truly excited about the brand, they need to feel enabled. More specifically, they need to be equipped with the right tools and training.  

If you’re planning for people to pick up some brand know-how, give them more than the equivalent of a textbook or an instruction booklet. And, if you’re expecting to give people the tools but not the training, then expect spanners to go flying in every direction.  

With the right brand training, your teams can build their brand capability and apply their creativity to offering customer experiences and interactions that will build the brand. The training will need to be different for different organisations, but make it immersive, interactive and iterative in order to embed itself over time. It’s this kind of brand training that enables some of the world’s best hotel brands to deliver a reassuringly familiar guest experience in all kinds of different and even unexpected ways.  

2. Widen the guardrails  

Secondly, there needs to be more to the brand than guidelines weighed down by what people ‘can’t’, ‘mustn’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do.  

Your brand is not a uniform into which you squeeze everyone and everything in order to comply. It’s a platform on which you can build interactions, experiences and relationships. If your brand is the right fit for your business, you have the opportunity to take a creative perspective and let people play with your brand – rather than assume the worst and simply protect it.  

As the customer experience grows ever richer, you need everyone with a responsibility to the customer to live and breathe the brand in ways that enable them to act in those moments that matter. In those moments, the brand should inspire action not mimic a computer-says-no mentality that renders the brand superficial at best.  

Your brand cannot be just another logo at the top of the screen – the correct size and clear space, of course – it must enable more creativity if it’s to help your people build meaningful relationships with your customers. Technology companies are the ones leading the way here, designing their interfaces to enable customers to experience the brand in ways that are ever more engaging and useful and without a logo in sight.  

3. Brand integration  

Thirdly, it’s not necessarily surprising that brand execution might lack that extra level of creativity given how much teams already have on their to-do list. Consequently, the very last thing they might need is an extra thing to do.  

The solution lies in taking an integrated approach to brand execution that is no different from the interwoven role that the brand plays in the customer experience. Your brand doesn’t function independently, it’s integrated into every step. Don’t create a separate series of brand-related activities, it’s more effective to inject the brand into those activities already happening. This could be daily huddles in retail stores; periodic training events in business development teams; and, annual reward and recognition programs, whether grassroots gatherings or gala events.  

Ultimately, brand strategy doesn’t differentiate you, execution does. To avoid a disconnect, strike the right balance between compliance and creativity and your brand will indeed transform your business.

Tags: brand strategy, brand relaunch, marketing strategy

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