The Brand Inside

As the dilution of paid-for media accelerates, ad agencies, not surprisingly, are going through a metamorphosis. Many are circling wagons around “branded content.”

But will branded content be enough to fill the void? If agencies want to succeed in the future, they need to think beyond merely extending their grasp across a wider array of brand-expression media. The real opportunity lies in applying the policies of “brand inside” clients.

What do we mean by brand inside? It means working out how the brand vision becomes an intrinsic part of the company’s day-to-day mode of operation. It involves placing much more emphasis on how brand-building ideas become living entities within a company. In short, how the brand is operationalized.

Disney operationalized its brand, in part, through the Disney Univer sity, which orients new “cast members”‘ into its traditions, philosophies, organization and the way it does business. 3M took its brand inside through multiple policies to stimulate innovation, including the “15 percent rule,” which allowed employees to work on their own projects for 15 percent of their working day. Saturn reinvented every facet of its company from the inside out. From new production-worker freedoms to the salesroom nonpitch, Saturn is a different kind of company.

The demand for brand-inside services will grow. Companies that have built their operations around clearly defined, compelling brand visions historically outperform their nearest competitor by some margin.

In the future, as technology enables more and more of the truth behind a brand’s communications “veneer” to be exposed, the difference that brand-inside creativity and compliancy can make will be magnified.

With many clients, agencies are poised to grasp this opportunity. It is often the agency, through the process of developing a communications brief, that distills the company’s business idea, its purpose, the role of its brand.

Intellectually, it’s a short step from here to asking, “How will this affect the company’s manufacturing policy, its recruitment needs, its training program?”

The tougher challenge is developing a process that can build the brand inside. When the primary medium for the brand is the company itself, agencies are going to have to work more effectively inside their clients’ organizations. They will have to present brand-building ideas to people beyond the marketing function and work with them to translate their ideas into policies and processes with teeth.

How should agencies manage this array of new touch points? For shops that believe great work only emerges when you can keep the client at arm’s length, that persist in the tacit understanding that direct client involvement only makes things worse, this is going to involve a considerable culture shift.

Agencies will need a much more consultative and collaborative approach, one that harnesses the knowledge and expertise of the people inside the company who embody the brand. Most importantly, it must be an approach that creates brand evangelists inside first.