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  • 2005

The Alchemy of Building Better Brands for Less

Copy Magazine - BMA Online Newsletter January 2004

The Alchemy of Building Better Brands for Less

By Kirby Veach, Focus Design

The word "alchemy" conjures up images of magic, elixirs and mystical happenings. And in a modern context, hearing claims about creating better brand and marketing communications that cost less to produce does sound a bit like "marketing alchemy."

But there is a degree of truth to it. There is a real sense of magic when measured sales and increased brand awareness are achieved through a disciplined brand-building campaign - even if it's built one brick at a time. The irony is that it doesn't necessarily cost any more to have articulate, proprietary visual and verbal branding communications that cross several media.

The process and methodology to achieve this are really based on a disciplined approach that's holistic in nature - how each communication piece contributes to the overall brand communication. So it's important to approach even singular projects from this holistic point of view.

Through careful brand planning, each individual project can be brought into a larger context, even if the new brand has not been fully articulated in its many communication forms. So how do you do it?

Brief your design and creative team, external or in-house, so that they thoroughly understand the brand and how their work must fit within the overall brand experience - even if they're only working on one minor communication piece. You'd be surprised how many firms working on a project for an organization don't fully grasp the overarching brand. That's why we find there's a lot of "decoration" as opposed to real problem-solving design and smart brand articulation.

Then evaluate each tactical component for extendibility into the other channels of communication. For example, I've guided many clients into establishing their own visual library of photography and illustration. This may cost more at the initial buy, but positioned and negotiated correctly, can be more affordable than you might imagine. This one-time buy of conceptual visuals allows an organization two direct benefits.

First, the exclusivity of images helps differentiate one business from its competition. This is even more significant in the age of "stock house visuals." Think about how often you've seen the same visual used in various publications!

Second, when you create complex layered illustrations in collage and montage formats, that investment will last. Such illustrations can be used in their entirety, or parts can be segmented for use by different company divisions, in different campaigns, etc. In my experience, this saves money AND elevates the quality of your design.

Another way to cut down costs is to eliminate redundancy. It's amazing how often you see duplication in materials, particularly within larger organizations. By carefully reviewing current or planned communications with a thorough assessment of communication needs and objectives, you may find unnecessary and ineffective communications. And you can establish a baseline of how many pieces you really need.

Where applicable, a "systems approach" to major communication plans will lead to greater savings for the long term. Template systems, particularly when used with multi-tiered print, maintain quality and consistency while allowing for "plug and play" capabilities for in-house development of materials on an ongoing basis.

Finally, an often overlooked point: Don't forget internal communications. So much of the essence of a brand is carried (and communicated) by the people of the organization. That means the internal as well as external communications need to contribute. Granted, your company may lack the budget for more sophisticated internal materials. But you can still ensure the internal communications rise to the same level as external ones. For example, with minimal effort the lowly PowerPoint presentation can be evolved from clip art to a more sophisticated look.

Strategy drives all good design and branding work, but the ability to produce a greater number of quality, tactical components will continue to be the challenge. So back to the reference of "alchemy." Where's the magic? In the results: increased sales, communications objectives met, and a consistent, compelling brand. And this disciplined approach will help get you there.

Not to say there isn't always a little inherent magical "alchemy" in the creative process along the way...but that's grist for another article.

Kirby Veach is a partner with Brian Jacobson at Focus Design, a full-service design and branding communications firm in San Rafael, California. The agency specializes in technology, health care, financial, retail and consumer packaging, in both business-to business and business-to consumer.

At the 2003 BMA Beacon Awards & Showcase, Focus Design won the gold award for the Best Integrated Communications Program for their work with Syska Hennessy Group. The firm also received a silver award for its branding program for the California HealthCare Foundation.