Jill Nykoliation: Brand evolution: scalpel, not butter knife

What agencies will look like in the future is actually taking shape right now with those who are nimble. Finding our audience is an art. Brands are being shaped as much by non-traditional messages as traditional ones. Integration is no longer about creating matching luggage. Breakthrough creative ideas are communication ecosystems, not campaigns. Digital is critical, not an option. The implications for agencies are significant, and exciting.

By Jill Nykoliation, founder/president of Toronto-based Agency Juniper Park

What agencies will look like in the future is actually taking shape right now with those who are nimble. Finding our audience is an art. Brands are being shaped as much by non-traditional messages as traditional ones. Integration is no longer about creating matching luggage. Breakthrough creative ideas are communication ecosystems, not campaigns. Digital is critical, not an option. The implications for agencies are significant, and exciting.

Get in early, and go deep. As it gets harder to reach our consumer, we must shape brands with a scalpel, not a butter knife. What makes brands like Apple, Madonna and Harley Davidson great are their clearly defined guardrails. Guardrails inform everything: product design, operations and innovation as well as advertising. One of our clients couriered us a Rubbermaid container filled with a handmade prototype from their R&D bench, along with a 900-page binder of raw data. From there, we designed the brand from the ground up: the product, the brand identity, packaging, merchandising, innovation pipeline and, yes, the communication. It was true brand building.

Redefine the creative department. Gone are the days when an art director and writer cracked an idea for a TV spot and then handed it off to other departments to run with. Art directors and writers need to be digitally astute. Designers are critical for their longitudinal perspective. Consumer and media strategists not only write the brief, they need to create linkages within the idea. These people need to sit and work together. They need to trust one another. Clients should expect this

multi-dimensional team at their creative presentation. Creative development isn’t a relay; it’s a dogsled team, working together.

The consumer is the most influential medium. We are already witnessing how powerful this is through Lululemon, Dove, Burger King and, most recently, Barack Obama. Engage consumers with an authentic brand story, and let them carry your brand’s message. YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, blogs, etc., aren’t the media; the true medium is the consumer who authors the content on those vehicles. To harness the consumer’s power, we must relinquish some control of the brand to them, which is hard to do. But the results are worth the discomfort.

Exciting times, indeed.

Jill’s pick: Obama

A brand that has upped the bar on branding precision is Barack Obama. His team built a focused, compelling, mass-to-grassroots, 360-degree communication system. His platform is based on a universally desired, unobjectionable value – hope. His well-crafted ‘O’ brand mark is dripping with implied meaning. He masterfully embraced social networking, dominating YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs. The result is an enviable emotional connection between the Obama brand and his audience. Branding strategists marvel at his branding precision. Rightfully so.

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