Branding from the inside out

Executive VP, Gabi Armstrong, talks about branding from the inside out, and how to know if your agency is the right fit.

What has changed in the conversations you’re having with clients these days?

Clients are looking at things with much more scrutiny and with a bottom line budget focus. The conversation seems to be more tactical and it always centres on business building or solving a specific problem. There can be suspicion that agencies are looking to showcase creativity, but not necessarily deliver on what’s really important to a client – you really have to listen and earn your client’s trust. It’s important that clients understand that you have their best interests in mind and that you’re not recommending a strategy that is self-serving in some way. Our process ensures that we are never guessing, and that programs are crafted with intelligence to deliver.

It’s been said that the best brands aren’t built overnight, but rather brick by brick, over a period of time. However, marketing leaders are often pressured for immediate results. How does BBN Canada help clients manage this paradox?

Our approach is flexible. When we are faced with budget or timeline challenges, we still work with clients to stay true to our methodology which can include either a very in-depth or lighter round of research – online research, materials review, speak to key stakeholders – to glean critical insights. Our commitment to good work requires that there still needs be intelligence and an honouring of our process in everything we do. Ultimately, applying one brick at a time will serve them better to build a distinct, supported brand.

When developing a new brand, it’s critical that it is thoroughly understood from the inside of the organization. How does BBN Canada help educate and encourage widespread adoption?

We believe that building a brand begins with internal stakeholders and their participation. It’s critical to have internal alignment not just at a senior leadership level, but also throughout the organization. Once a brand platform has been developed, we create an implementation and rollout plan – which could include an internal launch event, training, or a brand manifesto video – that is presented to the entire organization.

Ultimately, every employee should have a clear understanding of what the brand stands for. The brand empowers the organization and unifies it under a common vision that all employees can rally behind. The agency then builds external communications that are fully supported by the entire organization.

Some of BBN Canada’s clients are franchise brands with many stakeholders. How do you help navigate these groups and ensure unification?

Our process begins with assessing insights from franchisees, franchisers and customers, to build a single brand vision and positioning. We work to ensure brand buy-in from all stakeholder levels, developing consistent communication programs that convey the brand message at every touch-point. Delivering a consistent brand experience across all locations, and creating marketing programs that are sustainable to drive growth is the way we deliver true ROI to multi-unit businesses.

There’s the age-old axiom that out of quality, speed and value, you can only have two. Do you agree?

Quality takes time and research. Speed takes manpower and efficiency. Cheap means cutting corners and sacrificing the best talent. We’re sometimes asked to deliver on those three principles, but without a budget to support all, the final results may suffer. Out of the three, most important is usually cost so we adapt the scope accordingly. We are strategically selective to deliver what most closely meets the objectives within the allocated budget.

Some brands work with a roster of agencies. Are there advantages of working with a single agency partner?

Naturally, the ideal is to have one agency managing all aspects of a brand’s communications to be able to be fully immersed in the brand’s platform, identity, and objectives. However, today’s clients often leverage multiple agency partners. The key is to have a strong brand and guidelines that all partners can absorb and work with. Cohesive communication is paramount, no matter what platform or discipline.

We work with several clients where we collaborate with their media partner, agency of record or PR firm. It’s the client’s expectation that we will all work together to ensure brand consistency, and we absolutely do.

How does a marketing leader know if their agency is the right fit?

Alignment with the agency’s credentials and the needs of a client are very important, but never underestimate chemistry. When agency skill sets and experience are on a similar level, gut feel can play a big part. You have to trust your own instincts that the group you chose to work with is the right fit and will be the best partner. Also, If you genuinely like and trust your agency partnership, the work will shine.

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