Guenette: how Flavour stole back a piece of the branding pie

One Canadian agency that is doing a lot of branding work is Flavour (formerly Wolf Group Advertising) under Rob Guenette, CEO of the Toronto agency since moving from Molson Canada earlier this year.
Guenette says the biggest case study for the agency so far has been its own rebranding.

In the late ’90s, agencies realized they had dropped the branding ball and that consultants had picked up the slack. They blamed the agency cutbacks of the early ’90s and vowed to reclaim their turf. At that time in the U.S., some multinational agency groups bought independent management consultancies, while in Canada branding shops sprung up and some agencies established stand-alone divisions such as Grey Canada’s now defunct War Paint Brand Directions.

Although some agencies have developed branding as a core discipline, the majority of branding and rebranding exercises in this country are still being handled by consultants.

‘The strategic work is increasingly being done by brand consultants,’ says Alan Middleton, associate professor of marketing, Schulich School of Business at Toronto’s York University. ‘Brand consultants like Spencer Francey Peters [in Toronto] are getting more business and clients are increasingly looking to them to design the parameters of what the brand is all about.’

But Middleton says clients are also taking more control over branding these days. ‘They’re bringing in various consultants and are no longer leaving it to the most junior people in their marketing departments to work with agencies on this.’

He adds that clients realize they had ceded responsibility for their brands – their most important assets – to their suppliers and that they now have to reclaim ownership.

Patrick Dickinson, president of fledgling Toronto brand consultancy Storefront Communications, says clients are turning to consultants not because agencies don’t have the ability to handle branding, but because they aren’t doing it.

‘They are not getting a consistent strategic approach. Agencies have the talent, but the wrong orientation. Quite often they’re more interested in delivering the materials (advertising) than the heavy lifting of what is this company, what does it deliver, is it meaningful, does it have to change to be more meaningful and how should it change?’

Conversely, Tony Altilia, president and COO of Vancouver-based Palmer Jarvis DDB, says although most Canadian agencies have the talent and capabilities to handle the branding piece, the opportunities just aren’t there because of the repatriation of so many packaged goods brands to the U.S. and the trend towards global branding.

This in turn, he says, has really cut down on chances for both clients and agencies to train the next generation of marketers.

‘The opportunities of sitting down and assessing what’s going on and actually creating a positioning and then creating marketing communications, packaging and everything that fulfills that positioning aren’t as vast as they once were,’ says Altilia. ‘[So we can't] train people because the best training is done on a day-to-day basis.’

The bigger issue, he points out, is whether there are enough people being drawn into the business today – on either the client or agency side – who are brand stewards, brand champions and are ‘knowledgeable and passionate about what brands are and how they operate.’

One Canadian agency that is doing a lot of branding work is Flavour (formerly Wolf Group Advertising) under Rob Guenette, CEO of the Toronto agency since moving from Molson Canada earlier this year.

Guenette says the biggest case study for the agency so far has been its own rebranding, but it will be working on a rebranding project for Country Music Television and is getting ready to embark on a branding exercise for Toronto-based real estate and shopping centre company Cadillac Fairview. The agency is also shortlisted for a branding project for a U.S. brewer and has worked with Ontario Power Generation.

Flavour didn’t consciously set out to pick up branding assignments, says Guenette, but it is now building a core competency in this area.

What is the nature of Flavour’s branding business?

Many of those principles that go into a look and feel of a brand – the meaning, the platform, the architecture – those are natural disciplines that advertising folk have.

Identity work, [graphic] design, that’s a separate core competency. In terms of getting at the right name, the right look, the right feel, the right personality and the right strategic personality – that’s something we [can] handle.

What has drawn these branding assignments to your door?

As an ex-client, I was behind a lot of that for some 16 years. Aldo Braccio, head of strategic planning, has a master’s degree in psychology but also has an MBA and was a researcher. (Braccio was most recently at Cossette Communication-Marketing in Toronto and before that at Molson Canada.)

Flavour has two ex-clients and two creative directors leading the shop. Before any creative is done, we follow a strict strategic discipline that usually involves market research.

All too often you just throw some creative bodies on it and you get something that’s pretty cool and it may be engaging and intrusive. We try to ensure every time that we achieve all those things, plus a sound strategic underpinning.

What is the name Flavour meant to convey?

When we did our research we [found] the Wolf brand needed a significant refreshment.

It was under the radar largely. When we probed what it stood for, what it meant, we really didn’t get any clear answers.

We wanted a name that stood for our idea. Flavour is the quality that makes our work stand out from the ordinary. The recipe for the right flavour requires equal parts passion and reason or to put it another way, creative and strategy. To get to the right flavour you need discipline. Flavour also connotes that something will be customized.

What process did you go through to get to Flavour?

We deployed our own research and we hired some external help. We found some of the agencies that were extremely successful had names that stood for ideas, like Taxi, Zig and Mother in the U.K. Everything is a GRP, an expression of your brand.

We hired identity firm Toronto-based Dinnick & Howells. We were too close to our brand to do it. Flavour is a loaded word. We wanted it to be balanced. We wanted our business cards applicable equally to a Fortune 500 company as to a hot retailer on [Toronto's trendy] Queen Street West.

How are you getting the Flavour message across?

We just did our first trade ad. The side panel of our reception desk is visible from the street so we wrote a little message there. One of our boardroom walls is a giant billboard. We have two display monitors in our lobby and our logo treatment runs on them 24 hours a day.

What training or experience are you looking for when hiring staff?

I look for folks who are client-focused. The creative development process starts with the client and it ends with the client. We have to treat the client with respect. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to give them what they want; we’re going to give them what they need. But we’re going to do that in a way they want.

What benefit is there to clients to bring in Flavour early to handle rebranding and then the execution?

It makes the whole project aggregate, ensures a consistency and a flow that is uninterrupted. So when you’re starting with a rebranding and some communications to support that, it is holistic.

For me, everything is advertising – from your business card to how your front lobby works. Branding and advertising are inextricably linked.

What kind of issues are you discovering for clients through these rebranding exercises?

A lot of brands get stale and when they get stale they lose some equity and relevancy with their intended audience. [Doing this] internally is just as important. Everybody that works for a company is part of the DNA of that brand. [So is] everything they do, not just the work they commission and creative they approve, but also how they behave. If people are just answering the phone flatly or performing their tasks mechanically, you don’t have a healthy brand.