This is thirsty work.

 

For many, branding is also uncomfortable work. You can’t run your hand along it and give it a reassuring pat, like you can with a building. But “intangibles” are getting ever more tangible: now there are ISOs for calculating the fiscal value of a brand. Intangibles made up 15% of total enterprise value in 1975. Today, it’s 80%.

 

Up to four-fifths of your value… tied up in how you’re perceived. Treat this as a slap of paint at your peril. This isn’t surface, this isn’t “just a logo”. This is as deep as it gets, it goes to the roots of what drives behaviour, it’s pure leadership, and it’s the best tool there is to wrestle (or charm) some control over your future in this chaotic, fast-changing world. 

 

But how do you give the whole process the time and investment it needs, without knowing what it is or what it does? Let’s be honest here, most people – even within branding – flounder when it comes to trying to define it, and even amongst those with coherent ideas, few agree. Who loses out in the fog of misunderstanding? You, the client. You’re either hoodwinked directly into paying too much for substandard work, or you fool yourselves that it can’t possibly be that important. But few things are as important.

 

Many great clients of mine didn’t fully know what they had bought into until we’d gone through the process of building it together. They knew they needed a logo. Or a website. Many had put their brands together ad-hoc and piecemeal. We educated them in our business while they educated us in theirs. Not one has regretted the process. My advice: make it your business to know as much as you can about branding. You will never regret the time you invested.

 

To that end, then… first are some words on branding. Then some words on choosing an agency. If you want to skip that, please scroll down for credentials, clients, awards and testimonials. For more on the importance of writing in brand strategy, visit the ‘Thinking’ page.

On branding

What is a brand?

It is how the world is disposed towards you.

It is the emotional point of connection people have with you, created by the sum total of every interaction they have with you, and it is everything you can do to influence that.

It is what you do and how you do it and why; it is what you say and how you say it and why, it is what you look like and how you manage that and why… it is all of your behaviours of all of your people, all of which adds up to how you are perceived, what people think and feel about you.

And in that is your power to change things.

Which is a bit more than a logo.

 

What can branding do for you?

– Revolutionise credibility

– Influence the big decisions people are making about your company (and the small ones)

– Influence the big decisions people are making within your company (and the small ones)

– Radically alter morale and engagement internally

– Improve your talent acquisition

– Support and shape your business strategy

– Increase business leads and new business

–  Increase revenue

– Buy time and provide stability and reassurance in more turbulent times

– Drive up sale price / interest for an acquisition or IPO

– Change the future.

 

What is brand strategy?

It is the coordination and unification of all of the forces at your disposal behind a single powerful idea to inspire the change that will deliver your business strategy.

 

And brand strategy with Bard of Bray?

We use the power of words to:

  1. articulate with greater accuracy and impact what you do and what you stand for
  2. identify where and how behaviour can be altered to solve problems
  3. inspire designers to produce captivating work
  4. set you apart from your competition
  5. change your world.

1. We’ll help show you where you are:

Through research, surveys (if need be) interviews and then workshops we’ll help you understand the current state of your brand. What works, what doesn’t:

– visually

– verbally

– internally with your people

– externally in the context of the market

– directly with your clients

– in relation to your business strategy.

 

2. We’ll help you understand and articulate what you need and why…

Together, we’ll set out a vision for change: what you want to achieve and the mechanics of what needs to happen in the real world for that to take place.

 

3. We’ll show you where you could be…

The order in which things are done is important. We build up from simple verbal elements at the centre of things to the big idea. Where’s the magic? What’s special here? What do we want people to feel? We do this collaboratively, with you, and immerse and involve as many key people in the process as we can, pushing, probing, listening, always listening. This will be your brand, built organically by your people, and owned by them. You’ll need them to believe in it and fight for it, and they’ll do that if they’ve contributed to it. These things work less well if they’re imposed. First we’ll establish:

– Positioning and proposition development

– Values

– Principles for unique tone of voice (which we hone by working together on writing)

 

If you’re a start up, and you can leave your naming until after this process, do.  The more that stems out of the big idea, the more coherent and effective you’ll be.

 

 

4. We’ll get you there…

We involve designers in the process from the start wherever possible, because they always see things from a different angle… but only once we’ve agreed on the core verbal elements do we begin to explore how that might get expressed visually. Whether it’s creating a new brand from scratch or helping to get your existing brand to work more to support your aims, change direction, or respond to a new challenge, we’ll give you creative options and show you what’s possible. The practical ‘deliverables’ include:

 

– Brand identity creation and development:

  • logo / logotype
  • colour scheme
  • imagery
  • fonts
  • illustration

– Cohesive ‘architecture’ (if required) to unify disparate elements of the brand

– Internal engagement

– Guidelines

– Creative internal and external communications:

  • Print and digital campaigns
  • Marketing collateral
  • Packaging
  • Corporate communications
  • Website design and build
  • Animations and films
  • Advertising.

 

5. We’ll keep you there. Or show you where to go next.

Too often organisations break links with their creative partners once the work is done. Everyone relaxes, corners get cut in-house, and little by little momentum, engagement and direction is lost. Don’t do that. A brand is like muscle: it needs exercising and feeding to stay alive. We’ll provide the ideas that help you think and stay ahead.

 

Do we do standalone campaigns and individual communication pieces?
Yes.

Direct clients
We help everyone from SMEs and start-ups through to established multinational organisations… in all sectors. If you want to change something in your (or the) world, you qualify. Unless you do bad stuff. Then you don’t.

 

Design and branding agencies
I also collaborate with a number of agencies to i) provide insight on brand strategy and the verbal element of strategy work, and ii) write. I still accept writing commissions for standalone campaigns and individual projects… as I have done since 2000. Both together is best for the work, I think. Having your writer work with your design team from the off is a huge advantage.

As I just mentioned, any strategy work with me will almost certainly involve a visual team, and it’s in your interests that they are there from the outset. I’m very lucky to work with some extraordinary brand and graphic designers, relationships that go back nearly 20 years in some cases. Later in the process come illustrators, animators, photographers and web developers that are at the top of their professions. You’ll get exactly the right team for your particular project. “I” don’t change anything on my own, our collective efforts do. But, just as fundamentally, as I also pointed out, the work is done in very close collaboration with you, our clients… we draw everyone into the process to give everyone ownership of the outcome. It’s “we” and “us”, not “I” and “me”.

Choosing a creative agency? Look for… 

Three ways branding (done well) will repay you:

  1. Increased revenue.
  2. Intangibles that only emerge in the longer term: better morale, recruitment, decision-making, customer and employee retention.
  3. Continuity. Ill-considered projects fall apart quickly under pressure or never gain traction. Repeating is costly and disruptive. Brands and the ideas that drive them capture a truth can last for decades.

Ask anyone you talk to to show evidence of this in their work.

Creativity for its own sake doesn’t cut it. Creativity in the context of tackling business issues is what cuts it.

Building a valuable brand takes:

  1. Experience and knowledge: to get at what matters.
  2. Skill and creativity: to express what matters in a way that reaches people and stays with them.
  3. Time: to understand what is unique and to hone the work so that it rings true in every detail.

So don’t be satisfied with beautiful looking images. Get the context. Hear the narrative through time. Ask to be talked through previous case studies:

  1. Ask what is happening in each one.
  2. Ask why are things as they are, why creative decisions were made.
  3. Ask the agency to explain why this particular work was right for this particular client.

That’s value. To create relevance and meaning for people. To ring true.

With intangibles, it’s the closest you can get to patting a building.

That something looks like a car at first glance, does not mean it goes. Your brand has to do what it’s supposed to do.

What’s the best way to achieve this? An overview of the options.

  1. London mega-agencies.
  2. Our approach.
  3. Race to the bottom.

London mega-agencies are slick and effective. They have reassuring foyers. They can charge eye-watering sums for branding projects: hundreds of thousands of pounds. And get this. It’s still worth it. Companies who understand brand (SMEs as well as mega-corporations, by the way) buy peace of mind with these agencies because they know that, despite the outlay, the branding will pay for itself, probably many times over. I’ve worked with such agencies. All the designers I collaborate with learned their craft in them. Here’s what we can tell you:

  1. You’ll pay a premium for overheads (like that foyer).
  2. You’ll pay a premium for ‘client managers’.
  3. Despite these premiums there’ll still be pressure on the resources given to your project.
  4. Senior creatives will spend less time on it than you imagine.
  5. It will likely be less personal.
  6. It’s a sausage machine.
  7. But despite all this, it will be effective.

We’ve seen it first hand, we’ve lived it, it’s not for us.

We think there’s another way, a better way. More effective. Less expensive.

  1. In place of the foyer, the client handler schmooze and the cardboard cut-out creative director who barely knows who you are, we’ll give you the top-level creative director with 50 or 60 industry awards… actually working on your project, all the way through.
  2. Removing client handlers removes a barrier between creative minds and clients, as well as an unnecessary layer of expense. Bye!
  3. We’ll give you a commitment to gaining a profound knowledge of your organisation and its needs, something which makes us USEFUL!
  4. We’ll give you enjoyable relationships that grow in value and complexity.
  5. We’ll give you hand-picked teams properly suited to your project.
  6. We’ll give you the same calibre of work and execution as a top London agency.
  7. What we won’t give you is that big city price tag.

That said, neither will we be joining you in a race for the bottom on price.

We’re with Ruskin on this: “There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey.”

But sure, you can:

  1. Cut out the research.
  2. Interview less.
  3. Interview worse.
  4. Think less.
  5. Think worse.
  6. Omit details.
  7. Use templates.
  8. Copy.
  9. Recycle.
  10. Knock it out in a month

Sure. We’ll be here for you when you’re done.

  1. Find someone whose idea of success is YOUR success.
  2. Find someone who is sensitive to your needs within your organisation, as well as the organisation’s needs.
  3. Chemistry is vital. Trust your instinct.
  4. Awards are a good indicator of creativity generally; but ‘Design Effectiveness’ and ‘Transform’ awards, which focus on creativity that positively impacts organisations, is a great indicator of a design team inspired to make a difference in your world as opposed to theirs.
  5. People who will walk through walls for you are useful.

Track record

Trusted by world-class names; a history of happy clients; over 60 awards.

Writing (+ strategy)

  • ABN Amro
  • Allen and Overy
  • Arts Council Wales
  • Austin-Smith-Lord
  • AXA
  • Bacardi
  • Berkeley
  • Bombay Sapphire
  • British Heart Foundation
  • BT
  • Currencies Direct
  • D&AD
  • First Direct
  • Gordon’s Gin
  • Grey Goose
  • Ideaworks
  • Insight Investment
  • John Thompson and Partners
  • Knight Frank
  • KPMG
  • Land Securities
  • Liverpool Victoria
  • Mercedes
  • NESTA
  • Natural History Museum
  • Pearson
  • QinetiQ
  • Royal Mail
  • Salvation Army
  • Slaughter and May
  • Standard Chartered
  • Tennis Foundation
  • Travelex
  • Twinings
  • Unilever
  • Wedgwood

Strategy (+ writing)

  • Aguilar Castillo Love
  • Aquapac
  • Ayming
  • BKL
  • Carling Partnership
  • Dew Gibbons (Free The Birds)
  • Doorstep Library
  • Emergence
  • Conjura
  • Dénia Townhouse
  • EMaC
  • Innovation Group
  • Mustard
  • Proxima
  • Salubrium
  • JTP

Design and branding agencies

  • Clout
  • Dew Gibbons / Free the Birds
  • Dragon Rouge
  • Dutchscot
  • Duchenne Design
  • Hat Trick Design
  • Interabang
  • Kimpton Creative
  • Magpie
  • Mark Studio
  • NB Studio
  • Radford Wallis
  • Rose
  • Sutherland Studio
  • The Allotment
  • The Partners (Superunion)
  • Together Design
  • Ziggurat Brands

Awards

  • Winner National Student Playwriting Competition: ‘Sketches in the Dark’
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – writing for design: FJ Cleveland trademarks brochure
  • DBA Design Effectiveness Award – finalist: Wedgwood brochure
  • D&AD judge, writing for design, 2002
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – “Touching base with a game plan”: Trickett and Webb calendar
  • McNaughton awards – winner, self-promotional items: Verbatim direct mail
  • PAMADA – winner, websites: The Hamptons
  • Design Week Awards – finalist: Verbatim Plane
  • ADC NY: Merit – NESTA Subject to Change brochure
  • D&AD Wood Pencil: NESTA Subject to Change brochure
  • Benchmark awards – ‘Best in Show’: Natural History Museum identity
  • Design Effectiveness Awards – finalist (Highly Commended): Bournemouth Hotel School
  • Marketing Design Awards – finalist: Bournemouth Hotel School Project
  • Fresh Awards – winner, corporate literature: ABN AMRO Wholesale Clients Brochure
  • Fresh Awards – winner, Gold Award: ABN AMRO Wholesale Clients Brochure
  • McNaughton Awards – shortlisted, books: The View
  • McNaughton Awards – shortlisted, brochures: Land Securities ‘Spirit’ book
  • ISTD Awards, Promotional Literature
  • Communication Arts – ‘Now here’s a funny thing…’
  • Design Week Awards – finalist, posters: Urban Remedy
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – direct mail: ‘Now here’s a funny thing…’
  • D&AD Graphite Pencil – writing for design: ‘Now here’s a funny thing…’
  • D&AD judge, writing for design, 2005
  • PAMADA – winner, ‘Plain English Award’: Land Securities ‘Spirit’ book
  • McNaughton Awards – ‘Best in Show’: Salvation Army ‘101’ book
  • McNaughton Awards – winner, books: Salvation Army ‘101’ book
  • Design Week Awards – finalist, promotional brochures: ‘Now here’s a funny thing…’
  • Print European Annual – ‘How do you do’ book
  • McNaughton Awards – highly commended, self-promotional: ‘How do you do’ book
  • McNaughton Awards – winner self-promotional: Boss brochure
  • McNaughton Awards – winner, brochures: Boss brochure
  • McNaughton Awards – ‘Best in Show’: Boss brochure
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – writing for design: Boss brochure
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – self-promotional material: ‘How do you do’ book
  • Design Week Awards – winner, promotional brochures: Boss brochure
  • Design Week Awards – winner, editorial books: Salvation Army ‘101’
  • Design Week Awards – shortlisted: Piccadilly Lights brochure
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – Radford Wallis ‘Farmer Foiled’ Christmas card
  • Design Week Awards – commendation: Farmer Foiled Christmas Card
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – new branding schemes: New Street Square
  • Benchmark Awards – nominated, brands: Alquity Investment
  • New York Festivals – finalist: Proxima, ‘Catalytic thinking’
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – Gordon’s Brand World
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – The Graphic Lexicon
  • Communication Arts – Award of Excellence: GREK packaging
  • FAB Awards – GREK packaging
  • Fresh Awards – Silver: GREK packaging
  • Design Week Awards – shortlisted: GREK packaging
  • Brand Impact Awards – GREK packaging
  • Art Director’s Club – Merit: GREK packaging
  • Food and Beverage Awards – Gold: GREK packaging
  • ADC Awards – GREK packaging
  • Transform Awards – Silver: BKL branding
  • Transform Awards North America – Silver, best identity for professional services: Ayming
  • Transform Awards Europe – Silver, best identity for professional services: Ayming
  • Fresh Awards – Silver, writing for design: Mustard pencil boxes
  • D&AD Wood Pencil – writing for design: Mustard pencil boxes
  • Transform Awards North America – shortlisted, “best implementation of a brand development project”: Ayming
  • Transform Awards Europe – shortlisted “Best visual identity, professional services”: Emergence
  • Transform Awards Europe – shortlisted “Best strategic / creative development of a new brand”: Conjura
  • Transform Awards Europe – shortlisted “Best brand development to reflect changed mission/positioning”: Conjura
  • Transform Awards Europe – shortlisted “Best creative strategy”: Conjura
  • Transform Awards Europe – shortlisted “Best use of copy style /tone of voice”: Conjura