Opinion

Brave new (client) world

The big, successful brands of the future will be the preserve of the brave client.

For once we’re not looking at the amazing brands and the big ideas that are changing our world but looking at where these big ideas start – with the client and the agency. Sounds obvious, I know. Yes, the best big ideas do usually come from the most creative agency but only if there is a brave client prepared to challenge and push us to do the best and most creative work. To be better—to be the best—is to be braver, and not everyone has what it takes. The big, successful brands of the future will be the preserve of the brave client.

It will be those brave souls who seek a truly creative agency—and give us permission to ask questions and challenge thinking rather than just expect us to have all the answers—that will succeed in a world where it is very easy to revel in mediocrity. We’ll admit, it has probably always been easier to find an average agency to deliver against your commercial objectives, but it has seldom been the better choice. We’re not suggesting that better is ever easier, in fact we’re doing the opposite. We want to attract a unique group of clients who understand that delivering on commercial objectives is only part of the problem for the future evolution and uptake of their brand.

It’s always been a problem, or at least something of a conundrum. Design change can scare even though it has been asked for. Therefore the value of design change can be quickly eroded as new and fearless creative ideas become subjected to risk-averse mentality—and not a change mentality—on both sides.

What it really boils down to is about recognizing that we work best with people who value and want great design but who also know how to affect change—effectively. So the problem is not just in the process that both designers and clients individually go through to ‘do a project’ but also in properly evaluating each other’s ability to adopt and work with a new way of thinking and push change through. And for us to also take back the responsibility for educating the client about both the process and value of design.

And as and when this happens, not only will the client find the agency they want but we will find the client we want—the brave client. The client who approaches us and simply says ‘We’re brave enough’, ‘We’re ready’, ‘Let’s go’…

It does happen. In 2011 Waitrose bravely came to us wanting to create a health and wellbeing brand that would follow a simple philosophy of wholesome and delicious food focusing on taste, variety and returning pleasure to eating. They were brave in moving away from a bland and worthy representation of health as it had always been and brave to go with our idea for a colourful and emotion-led brand: LOVE Life.

Photo: Waitrose LOVE life identity

Photo: Waitrose LOVE life identity

Photo: Waitrose LOVE life soups

Photo: Waitrose LOVE life soups

Not only was Waitrose the first to celebrate health food and move away from restriction to spawn a whole new generation—and design aesthetic—of vibrant health food offers but, by challenging its own commercial objectives, ended up actually exceeding them. With the launch of LOVE life, Waitrose built on its brand equity in a way that it probably never imagined with the new brand selling 8x more than its competitors in just the 3 months following launch.

Finding the magic formula between an agency and client brand will create a long-standing design partnership that will lead to growth in the brand equity—and truly realize the best and most brave brand ideas. And it is a very real—and ultimately very simple—formula: a challenging, brave client x future-focused design agency = big and game-changing creative ideas. And these are the kind of ideas that inspire people internally and externally to be braver.

Designers don’t often realize the fear they create and, frankly, it’s not often mentioned from the client side—maybe for fear of not being in control?  But, just remember, when it comes to creating big ideas and building brand equity, fortune does favour the brave.

About the Author

Jonathan Ford is a designer and co-founding partner of Pearlfisher.

He oversees a portfolio of award-winning designs, including a high-profile list of ethical, entrepreneurial and iconic brands. He is also a frequent speaker at high-profile international industry events and regular contributor and commentator in the design and brand press.

Jonathan can also be followed on Twitter—@Jforddesigns

related