“This is a good time for brand and marketing leaders to look at their brand and say, ‘Is it as strong as it could be?’”
Brand strategy plays a crucial role in building trust and loyalty for both employees and customers. A successful brand can give you purpose and direction. It can cultivate brand advocates, raise awareness, increase revenue, and ultimately drive business growth. 77% of marketers thinking branding is a key factor in future growth (Circle Research). Where should marketing and communications professionals begin when launching or refreshing their brands?
Paul Sears, Managing Director of brand and engagement strategy in our San Francisco office, spills the tea on common misconceptions and mistakes and reveals what a good strategy looks like.
1. What is your role and how has your role evolved over the years at A+P?
I lead our Brand and Engagement Strategy Team (aka. B.E.S.T.). I originally joined Allison in 2015 to lead our integrated marketing function. At the time it was a small handful of folks primarily in the U.S. In the first five years, we set up quite a few different offerings, with brand strategy being key among them. As the team grew, I spent time here in the UK to help globally expand our marketing function. Once the integrated marketing team became even more self-sufficient, I moved into a strategy-focused role. It allowed me to pursue my own passions for brand strategy and go-to-market planning. I could also bring more strategy into our work and broadening our capabilities.
2. What is B.E.S.T. and why did you want to pursue this specifically? What do you hope to accomplish?
It’s a descriptive title, yet also quite broad. Brand and Engagement Strategy covers many areas. From brand strategy to product marketing to customer engagement. It has to join up customer experience and go-to-market planning, as well as campaign strategy on the creative side. For a long time, I have had a real passion for strategy. I enjoy the upstream strategy and planning work more than some of the other stages of the lifecycle. I hope to grow this into an international business. One where we do major rebranding projects and launch significant products into the market. I want to help define strategies that help brands become famous and iconic. This is through the strength of their brand and through award-winning campaigns.
3. What are the biggest challenges brands come to B.E.S.T. with?
Brands usually come to us for verbal repositioning and visual rebranding. Sometimes it’s less of a full overhaul and more about changing the visual expression: colours, fonts, imagery, graphics, campaign assets. If a company looks to commercialise and launch a new product but hasn’t decided on key marketing factors, such as who the best audience is, how to sell it or where to sell it, price points, product branding, etc., we can help there as well. We help clients determine what their go-to-market investment should be. Or how they should best communicate to target audiences, which channels and assets are needed when campaigns should be on and off, where geographically to focus, and so on.
4. What are the common misconceptions people make about brand engagement strategies?
We’re trying to drop the term strategy when we talk about the offering. Instead of talking more broadly about brand and engagement. To that end, we try to reinforce that brand and engagement is a wider, cross-functional offering. It’s not just focusing on strategy as one piece of the puzzle. One of the common misconceptions is that we’re a small and narrow piece of a larger integrated agency. Therefore, dropping the word strategy and showing how the offering is more inclusive and more cross-functional can help to overcome that objection. We truly have many of our core marketing and creative functions involved when it comes to a rebrand. For example, research, analytics, creative, account management, and paid-earned-shared-owned go-to-market planning are all involved. And they’re all in-house, which is great.
A lot of CMOs I’ve spoken with say they wouldn’t hire a PR agency for a rebrand. Our job is to remind them we’re just as creative as any branding firm or ad agency out there. Unlike those kinds of firms, we have a unique ability to connect stakeholders and bring people together. We can assess a total brand landscape. This can be done through brand strategy, verbal and visual language, risk and reputation and purpose. We can bring them all together in a way that a branding firm or an ad agency wouldn’t necessarily do. We’re invested in the success of the whole enterprise and the entire brand lifecycle. We can help make that enterprise work together well. We connect the meaning of the brand with the internal and external stakeholders. This makes it as strong as possible in the market.
“Brand is a team sport.”
5. What are the common mistakes brands make when setting out their brand engagement strategies?
A brand strategy should govern everything an enterprise or division does. How you behave, how you speak, how you show up visually. There are a lot of enterprises out there that look at the brand like a window dressing. Something that comes after all the other business and commercial decisions have been made. But really it should be very closely intertwined. Brand and business are inseparable. A brand is who you are and what you believe in. A brand is why your whole company gets out of bed every morning, a shared purpose. It’s the values that outline what you believe is important. All those underlying beliefs should govern business decisions. Not the other way around.
“What I have learned is that the brand and the business are very closely intertwined. If there’s a mistake people make, it’s thinking of brand and business as two separate entities.”
6. Which brands are doing this well?
One of our large, global healthcare/health technology clients. A large and complex organisation with approx. 10,000 team members around the world. We began working with them a couple of years ago around brand governance. The rules, workflows, technologies, and processes that determine how a piece of communication should sound and look when it’s created and deployed in the market. They have different field organisations all around the world. Unfortunately, they were inconsistent in how they were bringing the brand to market from region to region. It was diluting the brand and hurting its financial power.
“Brand consistency can increase revenue by 10-20%” (Marq formerly Lucidpress)
We began to work with them on orchestrating the brand across multiple markets and helping make the delivery and creative expression of their brand more consistent in every region. We helped them set up a global brand council, that was made up of their internal stakeholders, and leaders for each region. Then we helped them write a charter for how that council should function.
We realised regional leaders were challenged by not being able to apply the existing brand to the current situation in the market. For example, the regional leads were coming up with new products and solutions and things that are very innovative. But brand didn’t cover how to talk about these new offerings. They realised they needed to evolve the brand to give space to these new innovations. We helped them embark on brand evolution. We worked with their C-Suite and stakeholders to help move the brand forward. The project started attracting interest from a broader group of stakeholders. Leaders were starting to see the value of brand as something that would help guide their business decisions. This was a significant breakthrough. It elevated the stature of brand, and put it on the front burner as something key to the organisation’s financial success.
“Brand should govern the business and not the other way around.”
7. What does the future hold for B.E.S.T.?
We’re focused on sustaining our growth. This reframes our perception. We’ve been helping a lot of companies historically with repositioning. It’s very intuitive to call a PR agency for something like that, as we’re seen in the market as storytellers. But we’re trying to push past that, to show up as the creative agency we are. We have helped a lot of companies to expand their visual presence. To completely rethink some of those decisions around the logo, imagery, colour, typefaces, packaging, and creative campaigns. We start every decision-making process with a deep understanding of what makes the customer tick. We can then design everything around the customer, and ground all the work in a strong why. That’s what’s made us successful. We’re not creating brands so we can win awards, we’re doing it to drive our clients’ business forward.
8. Finally, what are your professional aspirations and motivations?
I want to work with more brands, bigger brands, innovative brands, and challenger brands – and do work that gets them famous. I enjoy the process of discovery and transformation, when you find something unexpected, when you have a dramatic before and after, on a bigger scale, internationally. Everything else like growth and revenue will follow.
Learn more about our Brand + Engagement Strategy: https://allisonbrand.agency
Paul Sears is Managing Director, Brand & Engagement Strategy. With 20 years in advertising, brand, and marketing strategy, Paul spends his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.