Helen Edwards on Branding: Take up the baton, maestro

Helen Edwards on Branding
Helen Edwards on Branding

A brand needs a conductor who can harmonise the marketing disciplines to form a winning team.

You're a marketer, it's the dead of night and you're having this extraordinary dream. There's an orchestra, professional, purposeful, midway through a gloriously rhapsodic piece. The faces in the ensemble are recognisable to you - not because they are famous, but because they're all people in your various marketing services agencies.

The big violin section is the advertising agency, its mellifluous evocation of the high strains of your brand essence soaring with haunting intensity. What's more - this is a dream, remember - each member of that section is in perfect synchronisation with the next, playing together in seamless unity, not one of them having missed a single rehearsal.

There, in the wind section, are the twittering flutes and warbling oboes of your social media agency, giving the brand theme flight, pinging tiny echoes off the auditorium roof.

The brass of PR introduces variations on the theme, elegantly worked and timed to bring fresh colour to the unfolding performance.

Who's that on bassoon? It's your pack designer, pointedly underscoring the central motif. There - isn't that the media planning team, mastering the complex syncopations of the percussion line? Your digital expert is confined to the triangle for some reason, but in the dream that makes perfect sense.

The music. It is rapturous - a creamy, nuanced rendition of the brand key you scored yourself, with a little help in arrangement from your brand consultants. This wonderfully endowed orchestra has taken it to new heights - shimmering, expansive, perfectly balanced and fused.

You are drawn irresistibly closer to a figure at the front, facing the musicians, arms moving in urgent authority. This imposing presence, this maestro upon whom all eyes are trained, this conductor of talents ... it's you.

Then you wake up. Why do dreams always do that just when you're getting to the really good bit? What dawns on you then, as your eyes blink in the early morning light, is that later today you really will sit facing the assembled talents of your marketing services agencies, in one of your regular sessions on the brand.

What it won't feel, though, is orchestrated. The ad agency will not all pull seamlessly together and will field a vociferous junior planner who has not attended any previous rehearsals - sorry, meetings - or read the research.

There will be jostling for who is the guardian of the brand, as though that should be anyone but you. At least two of the agencies will imply that they could do another specialist's bit. And the digital guy will make a great deal more noise than the triangle you remember from the dream.

This is what makes marketing so difficult. The profusion of channels and the fragmentation of specialist skills present marketers with the headache of reconciling different kinds of genius and encouraging them to pull together.

What can you do to help orchestrate this talent? Be clear upfront about who does what, and stick to it. Insist that the same individuals turn up for each session. Explain that everyone will follow your interpretation of the score or be out. In short, step up to the podium and conduct. Your brand will be stronger for it, your agencies will perform to their best in the knowledge that their part is secure, and you'll sleep better at night.

Helen Edwards has a PhD in marketing, an MBA from London Business School and is a partner at Passionbrand, where she works with some of the world's biggest advertisers


We've all watched Mad Men; we know there was a time when the ad agency did it all - but those days are long gone.

- In marketing communications, the big split came in the 70s when media buying and planning unbundled from the advertising agency. In the UK, Chris Ingram was an early pioneer, launching CIA in 1976.

- The media world fragmented again in the mid 90s when specialist communications planning shops were launched, with Michaelides & Bednash blazing the UK trail in 1994.

- A chief marketing officer today may find themselves working with more than 25 different specialists, including field marketing, database manage-ment, several different types of research, innovation, point of sale, experiential and signage.

- The mighty WPP claims that it gives its clients 'access to companies with all the necessary marketing and communications skills'. To do that it has built more than 300 companies divided into nine broad disciplines.

- Digital has led to an array of ever-changing agency specialists, focusing on areas such as design and build, development, email, eCRM, search, data, display, viral and social media.

- Digital specialisms are emerging in mobile marketing, gaming and augmented reality.


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