Given my recent (minor) mishap with a motorcycle I’ve had a fair amount of time to contemplate scabs. (The owie-kind, not the labor relations kind.) Watching them form and then slowly go away, I had a small epiphany about branding firms.
My conclusion is that branding firms, as we know them today, are essentially scabs.
How are scabs born? Well, you start with healthy skin. Add trauma, in the form of friction against asphalt or a 360 pound motorcycle falling on your leg, and the skin is, um, disturbed. Eventually a scab forms over the site of the trauma. Bingo. You now have a tent of dead cells under which the living cells are busy replicating themselves and making something new.
And that’s how it is with traditional branding firms. At one time, they were healthy skin. They were alive and working, and their model of branding was quite adequate. Then trauma arrived in the form of change – change in how people relate to brands, change in how brands function, change in the marketplace, etc.
Ouch. That hurt. At that point the branding firms of today became shields of inert protective matter while beneath them living cells began to reproduce themselves. As the skin heals, the old dead scab becomes less and less vital and is eventually sloughed off to reveal the shiny new skin.
Now, if the big established branding firms like Interbrand, FutureBrand, Landor, and Siegel and Gale decided to reinvent themselves after the trauma of change, they would be the new, living and therefore vital skin, not the scab. They could have used the trauma to transform themselves. But they didn’t.
Not too long ago Dennis talked to a veteran strategist in New York who has worked at several of the big branding firms. She said she was bored. The tools, she said, the thinking, and the methodology of branding was completely interchangeable among the big shops. They were all performing the same old studies, using the same old tired language, and making the same old recommendations. You could put any one of their logos at the tops of the deliverables and no one would notice. She was looking for something new.
Her experience is confirmed by the work we see from these firms.
That’s why we’re not a branding firm. At least not as defined by the current branding firms. We understand what they do, we know how they do it, and it’s no longer sufficient. The world is demanding something new. So for the past few years we’ve been bringing together people from the four main disciplines – interactive, advertising, design, and, yes, branding – to make a different kind of agency.
We’re the busy little cells under the big brown tent. And that’s how we like it.
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