Hypothesis: Brand Strategy needs a new strategy.
[A thought piece]
Isn’t it about time we bring Brand Strategy up to speed with what brands are actually in need of?
A bit on the context:
Clients and consumers are skeptical about brand building — the first increasingly values short-termism over long-term growth; the latter increasingly distrusts whatever brand bs manifesto crap is trying to sell them.
Clients — just like consumers — are more selective when it comes to engaging with storytelling (especially if told through decks with numerous slides), and are trained to pick apart every single statement it’s grounded on, including the well founded ones.
As a result, the good ol’ brand strategists, known to be responsible for dissecting brands into sharply articulated and carefully copy-written propositions, are being left out of some of the most strategic decisions brands need to make.
Because turning complex challenges into simple-sounding solutions through proposition copywriting isn’t actually going to solve those challenges. Or is it?
The Brand Strategy that people like me were originally trained on has become a tiny fraction of the growing range of strategic thinking brands actually need.
Let’s put things in different boxes for a second just to explain my hypothesis. The type of brand strategy that’s needed and valued today gets pretty close to Business Strategy, with one minor difference — Business Strategy’s desired outcome is increased business profit and growth; Brand Strategy’s desired outcome is improved brand experiences (which should result in profit and growth).
Great Brand Strategy is playing with Business, but brand strategists are still playing with words.
It’s time for us to update ourselves, to define a new strategy for Brand Strategy.
R/GA’s Tom Morton, in his article for WARC, claimed that “the job of Brand Strategy expands from telling the brand story to building the brand system”. It’s for the improvement of this “system” that brand strategists should work. This north star takes us closer to actually understanding how consumers behave — not only through data sets and user journeys, but through cultural understanding too as you’ve gotten to have a more holistic view of the brand you’re working with. Brand systems include transactional experiences, and also the ones that are harder to measure.
To illustrate that, take the work Virgil Abloh is doing for Louis Vuitton as their Artistic Director, connecting it with pop culture; the work Fernando Machado is doing to give Burger King its own authentic voice back, from the stores to the stunts; the work John Schoolcraft is doing on Oatly — since he joined in 2012, company revenues have increased 100%. None of those people are “brand strategists” per se, but they’re at the top of the game when it comes to improving brand experiences.
Brand Strategy is too rich to be defined with a new fancy title, new disciplines or trademark methodologies. It comes down to how much we manage to adapt and adopt as Apple’s Nick Law says.
We’re still in the same game of paving the path for growth, with or without profit, and ideally always with a sense of social responsibility, clarity of thought and imagination. But we need to update ourselves so that imaginative, well grounded path actually leads us there.