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The Perils of Building the Box Before the Product. Or How to Save Your Brand $100k.

Good Thinking | August 4, 2016 | 2 min read

Recently I have been both the victim and perpetrator of an evil that seems to be more and more prevalent with clients currently seeking agencies.

Brand consulting.

I have nothing specific against these Mensa-certified bastions of mission, vision, and positioning tool magic. The best, help define brands and elevate purpose. But it’s when they take the precipitous next step of “setting a design-look, feel, and voice” for a brand…without actually having any concept of a campaignable idea…that my wife doesn’t sleep well next to her tossing, turning husband.

We’ve all seen the templates. They usually involve a frame of corporate color. Or, a slanted pin-line with a logo-shaped notch. Or, a translucent tint that must be incorporated in every execution–print, digital, and broadcast. And don’t get me started about light rays. Feels like most of these templates are sourced at the same paint-by-number factory producing the couch paintings at Sears.

On the surface these well-intentioned efforts are designed to differentiate and define the new or evolving brand. Often they are the result of painstaking competitive reviews. Color studies. Comparison testing. But in truth, even an attractive look without a real idea behind it is just like graffiti. You may notice it once, but you quickly stop looking, and hate the way it messes up the buildings.

Modern brands develop a consistent look and feel as part of their branding campaign. They know the power of a design-look and a brilliant idea working together. Their marriage brings more to the party than either could alone. The best ones fit like paint on a new Tesla. When you try to design a rake to fit in a toaster box…everybody looks silly.

Before I get too high and mighty, we’ve done it ourselves. Pre-packaged templates for common elements like banners, brochures, print ads, and posters that international agencies must use, or the clients’ internal teams. But these days we only do it grudgingly, knowing we’ve likely just ruined the day of the next team down the line.

My wife’s tearful plea to clients is to save the thousands of dollars you will spend making the packaging first. Campaigns with real ideas in them are messy. Challenging. Only after you have an idea that works brilliantly for your brand, in multiple channels, should the elements of that campaign become the basis of a consistent template. If it’s based on the right big brand idea it will work with campaigns in the foreseeable future too. Then your brand communication will work authentically and seamlessly with a power you couldn’t have imagined.