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Agencies need to think about their brand

Posted 15.03.19

As an agency founder, I know how difficult it can be to spend time, energy and money on looking inward. Your focus, and rightly so, should be laser targeted toward your existing and potential new clients.

But there’s more to an agency than the work it delivers and the clients it serves. Every agency needs to define its own brand and set of beliefs that everyone can get behind.

The early days

When starting out it can be hard to define your proposition. There are thousands of agencies out there but just wanting to be better than them is not enough. But that’s exactly where I started. Wilderness was an idea I had more than 7 years ago.

I genuinely believe that agencies can be better, and I think we are doing that one step at a time. I believe that you can create an agency that clients get excited to be pitched to, and that they value working with. That you can build a team who are inspired by those around them. That you can care about your team and still make a profit. That you can create a culture that everyone can be proud to play a part in.

I’d had a failure already so Wilderness is a second attempt. My rebound mission. And I started with nothing more than a name and a simple logo and for three years that was enough (just). As we built a reputation for ourselves, grew the team, developed our culture it became obvious that we needed to take a step back. We needed to ask ourselves tough questions. We needed to define who we are, what we want to be, and how we want to be known.

Asking the hard questions

Despite having an amazing internal creative team we looked to gain outside support from a branding expert to challenge ourselves and question who we are. We wanted to distil our work, team, culture and ambitions into a clear brand positioning, identity, tone of voice, mission statement, and communications strategy (no small feat).

To do this we had to ask ourselves some hard questions. Who are we, not who am I, but who are we as a collective of people? We are confident, positive, and passionate. What do we want to be known for? We want to be known as intelligent but unpretentious experts. How do we work with clients? We act as a collaborative plain-speaking partner.

All of this lead us to a visual style, tone-of-voice and mission statement that aimed to speak to our current team of 30 strong in both London and Amsterdam and future hires as well as well as our growing list of established global brand clients.

Less But Better

Taking inspiration from the great Dieter Rams design philosophy, Less but Better we looked to great a visual style that unbranded ourselves.

We believe our service sells itself. So when we are showing off who we are, presenting our ideas or sharing success stories we want to focus on the content.

We’re free of unnecessary decorations and tinsel. It makes us honest and trustworthy. Good design is as little design as possible.

“Good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should — and must — question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits. They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”

Dieter Rams, 1980

The Social Conversation Experts

In order to define our new positioning, we explored the areas of our work that spoke the most truth and how our approach was different from any other social agency.

By influencing and shaping online conversation and having this at the centre of what we do and who we felt was compelling and honest. We also believe that there’s a better way to engage people online than simply broadcasting your message and so being the curators and influencers of online conversation is a specialism we believe will become ever more important.

We wanted to create a manifesto that spoke the truth to our current team, future hires and clients, here it is:

We are Wilderness. We start and shape conversations that connect with global audiences. With creativity that cuts through, stands out, and makes people stop. Underpinned by insight. We build teams around your structure and needs. Delivering impact. We’re the social conversation experts.

Selling the brand internally

Armed with our new bold ‘less but better’ brand design, purpose, manifesto, and tone of voice we set about designing our new London office HQ. We not only wanted to create a space that our team could do their best work in but that also re-enforced our values, beliefs and brand. An agency re-brand is oftentimes mostly internal, a chance to reflect and look inward for a moment, and create a voice and set of values for your team to inhabit and support.

It’s safe to say that having kept the brand refresh and new office location and interior under wraps from many of the team there seems to have been a hugely positive injection of creativity and passion. However, the hard work starts now. Now we must live-up to our values, beliefs and brand and deliver every day on being the social conversation experts.

Taking some time to look inward and assess who we are and where we are has been rewarding. But naval-gazing is bad for business. Most agencies that fall behind or fail do so, I would argue not because of a lack of talent (although there are a few) but because they focus too much on the impact on their business and not enough on their clients.

We now have all the tools we need to continue to grow and having asked ourselves the hard questions have a brand everyone involved can be proud of… Let’s go!

Tom Jarvis, Founder & Managing Director – Wilderness Agency