Doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing. I have often been asked to review RFPs to contract for a branding initiative. Most are jargon filled documents even the author has a hard time explaining. These poorly written RFPs are an open invitation for an agency to strike gold. Confused clients are the easiest to please and to generate revenue from.
I once was a panelist for a place branding discussion session. At the time, I was the executive director of the Ohio Business Development Coalition (a company charged with branding the State of Ohio). My three panel colleagues each represented advertising agencies. During the Q&A, an economic development professional from a small community explained that she had a $10,000 branding budget and asked for guidance on the best way to spend it.
Each of my fellow panelists, in turn counseled her to initiate exploratory research to develop a comprehensive communication campaign that could be rolled out in the future. Their argument was this: foundational work would payout in the long run. My counsel was to invest the money in a highly targeted sales effort to attract a company that would complement their existing industry portfolio.
When I relinquished the microphone, the other panelists respectively, and strongly disagreed with my perspective. I defended my position by explaining that initiating an underfunded branding exercise is a surefire way to waste money and burn precious political capital. I also pointed out I was the only panelist not seeking to put my hand in her pocket.
If you cannot or do not adequately fund a branding initiative you shouldn’t bother initiating one.
The world has too many exploratory branding research reports collecting dust on somebody’s shelf. I am a big believer in action-focused learning. You should seek to gain insight so it can be turned into action. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake rarely delivers a return on investment.
This lesson is just as important for entrepreneurs and small business owners as well. Understand what you need before contracting an agency partner. Remember, hiring an agency is simply a means to an end. You also need to know what that end looks like, how to measure its achievement, and what it is going to cost (time, money, and political capital) to achieve success.
In my three-decade career, I have had an opportunity to speak with hundreds of economic development professionals who complain about how difficult it is to convince management to invest money in branding because the company tried it previously and it failed spectacularly.
Every time I unpacked the details surrounding the failure, the root cause was inevitably a lack of clarity on what was actually contracted for. The experience was tabled as a branding failure when in fact, it was actually a failure in understanding what was needed for success. Unfortunately, this type of bad experience can significantly “poison the well” for any future branding work.
Don’t start a branding exercise without first doing your homework on what is required for success. Don’t invest in another research report that will collect dust on the shelf and never deliver a return. I always think of the late Zig Ziglar’s words of wisdom – “Plan to Win. Prepare to Win. Expect to Win.” You simply can’t expect to win without the planning and preparation. You are better off doing nothing rather than doing the wrong thing.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Ed Burghard and excerpted from his book Building Brands: What Really Matters
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