15 April 2013

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article written by Wolff Olins CEO, Karl Heiselman. His main thrust was around a strong brand being created as an effect of what it does: doing things to create growth, rather than obsessing about positioning or logo tweaking. His points in part, chimed with how we’ve been working with a long standing client of ours, Southern Water.

By Andy West

Where it’s worked for us

Over the past few years, we’ve been lucky enough to help Southern Water deliver a number of projects that tackle a variety of challenges from stakeholder engagement on future plans, to getting a water saving message across to children. This process has been very much a case of branding by doing; essentially using the design of communication pieces to slowly evolve the brand to reflect who the company is and better connect it with customer needs.

A nod to start-ups

The approach is far more iterative and akin to the start-up world than the utilities sector. But it’s an interesting approach nonetheless and quite unusual in the corporate world — where the typical approach might be to swoop in, set-out the law, police it hard for a while and then ease off as people tire of it. However, in times of restricted budget, when value is king and what you spend is scrutinised to the penny by customers, it’s quite a useful tactic. It also means the brand can iterate, interact and respond to customers far more easily. The brand is alive everyday, rather than periodically every five or 10 years when a new identity scheme is introduced.

Conditions for success

Seasoned brand folk may very well disagree with this thinking. But it can work if the firm is clear on its purpose, what its customers expect and need, and has some simple brand principles to set-out the desired tone. They also need a trusted design agency helping them to deliver it.

But it’s not always the answer

This approach isn’t appropriate in all scenarios (like a merger, for example). But it’s a manageable option for organisations to distribute their budget on delivering applications over the year, rather than spending it on a heavy guideline (or guidelines) and then have nothing left in the pot to actually produce anything.

Souther Water customer website