At the top of the market, competition comes from the giants of management consulting who can offer their multinational clients advice about branding along with other areas such as change management, process re-engineering, and IT.
What can a firm dedicated to branding offer a client that the others can’t? Mostly, the ability to tie all the strings together and bring a multidisciplinary view to brand projects. As in the old fable of the shortsighted creatures who could only see parts of the elephant (its leg, its tusks, its trunk, an eye), brand consulting fulfills the vital role of seeing the whole beast.
In The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al Ries writes that a brand like Kodak ought to be allowed to die because it lacks what he terms “credibility” outside the area of film, which has been made obsolete by digital photography. But this argument overlooks the essence of what has made Kodak a great brand. It transcends its product, film, to stand for something more universally appealing—capturing memories. That, of course, can be done on any medium. Kodak may yet fail to make the leap from film to digital, but effective brand consulting would help it succeed. A consultant would have to unite change management, manufacturing, and PR, along with areas such as alternative marketing, to ensure that the values which made Kodak a great brand for film can persist into the digital age.
And where is the discipline of branding headed? Undoubtedly, a brand manager will need to master alternative branding techniques, such as network marketing and brand integration in entertainment and games. As traditional advertising and PR decline in impact, these new techniques will be much in demand by brands desperate to gain a toehold in consumers’ lives.
Traditional branding is still important in developing countries. The economies of countries such as India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and China—to name a handful of the biggest—are just beginning to exploit the power of brands to add value to their manufacturing and services, and to benefit exports. Marcello Minale, the Chairman of MinaleTattersfield Design Strategy, observes that in developed countries like the UK, truly challenging opportunities in branding are becoming rare. So many brands are well established—and so many capable designers and branding experts are ready to serve them—that most jobs call for an incremental makeover at best. The exciting projects that call for an end-to-end branding solution tend to be in places like the Middle East, Asia, and South America. In a discussion of African brands on the Kenyan website www.brandscape.co.ke, Fanis Nyangayi, owner of Target Marketing in Tanzania, wrote, “We marketers have actually been spending time building other people’s brands while having none of our own to be proud of.” Local brands will grow, and this will undoubtedly change.
Brand managers in developing countries have one huge advantage over earlier generations of their counterparts in the West: they can draw readily on a wide body of know-how, much of it shared freely via the Internet. In online discussion forums such as brandchannel.com (run by Interbrand) and marketingprofs.com, many of the most avid readers and contributors are residents of countries in which the transition from commodity exports to value-added marketing and manufacturing is now underway. In the future, as these countries feel the pressure to differentiate what they make, and to build demand for their offerings in the face of new exports from poorer nations, brands will play a deciding role.