Charles Wright on Changes in Global Branding (Part I)

The-Makegood_charles wrightCharles Wright was recently hired as a senior partner at Lippincott’s London office. Lippincott is a global brand strategy and design firm. Charles most recently served as managing director of Wolff Olins in the Dubai office, where he built the company’s presence in India and the Middle East.The Makegood recently spoke with Charles about his new role and the challenges of global branding.

The Makegood: Can you elaborate on your new priorities as a senior partner in Lippincott’s London office?

I am very happy with the move I have made. One aspect of my move is from Dubai to London, the other from Wolff Olins to Lippincott. Lippincott’s view of its role on the planet is ‘creating tomorrow’s best brands’. It’s hard to argue with that kind of sense of purpose, so my role is to become part of the team and to win and lead work in Europe and beyond. That’s what a senior partner does.

The Makegood: What are the differences and challenges in brand communication in Europe and the US?

There are three areas where I see interesting divergences between firms in the US, Europe and, for that matter, Asia when it comes to branding:

a) Brand as communication

We all know that branding is immature relative to advertising, for example (as my friends on Madison Avenue delight in reminding me). But it’s not just in Manhattan that the two are readily confused. I see many briefs that move seamlessly from describing a branding need to defining a communications deliverable. For the Indians and Chinese who have recently discovered the fascination of branding, this is almost the rule and perhaps excusable. In the West it is (slowly) becoming the exception. It may not be insight of the week, but if brand communication remains essential, it is rarely sufficient to solve business problems beyond a basic lack of awareness. Branding is about what you do, not what you say.

b) Brand as possibility

I was recently in New York meeting my new partners. I love being in that city and it is hard to avoid being infected by the sense of opportunity that exists there. Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai are similar in terms of their optimism (even if they do moan that economic growth is low at 4, 6 and 8% respectively). In all four cities, branding is literally about creating new possibilities; the question is ‘how?’ not ‘why?’. Clients are willing to invest to grow because they believe they can. By contrast, Europe is gloomier and there are fewer businesses that feel positive.

c) Brand and technology

The US differs from both Europe and Asia though in regard to attitudes towards technology. In the States, I sense a greater acceptance that existing business models are changing, often unpredictably. This uncertainty makes branding even more important. Both to drive innovation and to forge stronger bonds with customers- and in service businesses, with staff. By contrast, European and Asian firms seem less willing to embrace the new; indeed, branding can become a means of trying to manage change and prevent disruption. Sadly, this is an ultimately futile exercise: technology transfers power from companies to the rest of us. It means that branding is becoming democratic. You don’t own your brand, “they” do.

The Makegood: Thanks, Charles. (Read Part II)