'Breathing new life into brands' - Jonathan is interviewed by NZBusiness Magazine

Auckland-based VOICE is a specialist agency not afraid to get into the regions to assist companies with branding. Principal Jonathan Sagar uses a case study to highlight the dos and don’ts of rebranding.

There are many design agencies in New Zealand that list branding as one of their many services. That’s called providing a ‘generalist’ service.

But in order to be classed a brand ‘specialist’, you must be aware of where the brands you work with will be seen and how they will need to tell their stories.

That’s the view of Jonathan Sagar, who heads up Auckland-based brand agency VOICE. His team is well aware of the need to build brands that are flexible and capture people’s attention quickly and strongly.

“In today’s world that’s saturated by content clamouring for attention, building brands that are inherently attention-grabbing is critically important,” he says.

Gaining peoples’ attention is important for branding to be effective. Sagar has other concrete dos and don’ts too:

• DO truly reflect the business; have a clear strategy; and build value and differentiation into the brand (because we live in a world dominated by sameness).

• DON’T follow fads; make assumptions about consumers, or change for the sake of change.

“Brand strategy is business strategy made visible,” explains Sagar. “Brands are assets and must be treated as such. If you want them to work for you, you need to invest in them; to continually monitor their performance and adjust them to ensure you're getting the returns you expect.”

You may be surprised to hear that branding is deliberately left unfinished these days. As Sagar explains: “it’s something that keeps shifting and something you have to keep working on; you can’t leave it alone or you’ll be left behind.”

He says when a company enters into a rebranding exercise, it’s the only time that company really revisits its core values and questions whether they are what they think they are.

“It’s an opportunity to really get to the nitty gritty and confront some home truths and while that may be a hard process it’s a hugely beneficial one.”

Sagar believes any branding exercise should be tied back to a business need – “either change, your customers, or you are the driver. It has to be one of these three things.

“Looking at these things closely is often the catalyst for other change and business decisions that may not have been obvious previously.”

Sagar believes brand strategy is becoming more tactical as marketers are pressured into thinking in shorter and shorter terms. “My hope is that we can re-adjust this so that brand owners take a more balanced approach to their brand assets.”

He’s noticed business owners are becoming more strategic. “We work increasingly with business owners rather than marketing teams, as they are realising that branding is deeply personal and best done from the top down.

“It’s important that business owners feel that they can follow and trust somebody and that we get 100 percent buy-in from them. This leads to the best success in any branding exercise.”

A study in refreshment

Sagar uses a recent brand refreshment exercise VOICE carried out for regional real estate firm Property Brokers to demonstrate the difference between a ‘rebrand’ and a ‘refresh’.

A rebrand is where you change a brand’s whole identity from its core strategy up, he explains, whereas a refresh, as in this case, changes only what needs to be changed, leaving everything else intact.

“We kept much of the brand's core DNA and updated the logotype to make it more contemporary. When you're dealing with a brand as successful as Property Brokers, it's important to use real discipline.”

Flexibility was key, Sagar says. “It was evident to us that Property Brokers’ MD Tim Mordaunt was deeply passionate about the existing company values, so we adapted our approach to develop a refreshed brand that supported him. He was fantastic at championing his values, he just needed branding that gave him what he needed as a brand champion.”

Mordaunt says that it was clear that the company’s 25-year-old brand needed refreshing to handle the modern media environment.

“It was 20 years since the last one and it was time. The last time, it was all about print and radio and TV. Now it’s about mobile phones. It needed a revamp.”

Mordaunt describes the refresh as “a revisit to your soul, a look at your ethics and values”. “What makes you unique? Your strengths, your weaknesses, what’s the attitude in your company? We very much approached it that way.”

He says that was difficult at times. “The brand to me is extremely personal. We’re a family. It’s not a bureaucratic, robotic exercise.”

However, if it’s not difficult, you’re not doing it right, he says.

Positive outcomes

Mordaunt describes the relationship between Property Brokers and VOICE as “overwhelmingly positive”. VOICE has authenticity, he says – “they were real”.

“Get them out of Auckland and you’d think you’ll get a bit of ‘bullsh*t and jellybeans’, but there was nothing like that.”

Property Brokers’ staff embraced the brand refresh says Tim, and on social media the brand is significantly better.

Marketing manager Tony Mordaunt believes the refresh was an opportunity to take stock of where they were as a company; its values and directions.

“It was a good chance to breathe new life into the company.”

Whether it’s refreshing or full rebranding, VOICE has applied its decades of experience to many brands, including Frucor Suntory (formerly Frucor Beverages), Aunt Jean’s Dairy and O-I Glass.

Branding works because it literally changes what people think of a product, explains Sagar.

“Think of how Lewis Road Creamery redefined the value of milk and dairy products, or how Whittakers made their chocolate the true chocolate of chocolate lovers. Both brands work well because they establish value and values. They speak for the product before a consumer even tastes it.”

The recent Nike ad ‘Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ is another example of work that has a strong point of view and makes a difference, adds Sagar.

“Again, Nike reminds us of their brand’s soul and purpose, a lesson to us all in this often unauthentic ‘instagram’ age about why we have brands and the value of authenticity.

“The brands listed above, as well as brands we’ve worked with like Property Brokers and Aunt Jean’s Dairy, represent excellence in branding via their authenticity which is genuine, and comes from the client.”

 

“Brand strategy is business strategy made visible”

Jonathan Sagar Voice, Principal