Designing Your Future

Next Brand

“The best way to predict the future is to design it,” reads the website of Next Brand, a company that strategises and designs brand identities. Founded in Melbourne in 2004, Next Brand helps organisations realise their own vision of the future.
~
CEO Lee Selsick describes the company as being focused entirely on brand strategy and design. “Every organisation has a vision of its own future. At Next Brand, our goal is to make that vision tangible through design,” he says.

In this case, design is about far more than simply coming up with a logo. Next Brand’s strategic approach to the brand helps explain what a company stands for, what it does, and how it is different to its competitors. In brief, it elucidates the brand promise to its stakeholders adding value to the bottom line.

“Brand strategy is a specialised area, though design execution, at times, requires a pretty broad brush,” Lee says. “Our design skill set covers core identity development, web and mobile app design, literature design, packaging, environmental and wayfinding design and any number of other brand collateral solutions.”

Next Brand’s strength is that their designers have the experience to understand how a business strategy translates into a visual execution. “If I said to you that our biggest strength is making a business strategy tangible through design, then what sets us apart is the strength of our strategy and the ability to execute that strategy,” Lee explains.

Next Brand has a team of four designers. The principals each have over twenty-five years of experience at the top end of the business, having served a significant number of major multinational organisations. “We are proud of the range of businesses that have entrusted their brands to us,” Lee says, “from large to small and across the gamut of economic sectors; from leisure and entertainment to sport, FMCG, finance and industry. Over the years, clients include organisations such as British Airways, Fiat, Alpha Romeo, the ICC Cricket World Cup, Pepsico and Coca Cola amongst others.”

Lee is a design evangelist. He cites a landmark piece of research; in 1993, the British Design Council began tracking one hundred businesses in the UK that were well known as investors in design as a process. After ten years, The Design Index, as it was known, had outperformed the FTSE 100 index by more than two hundred per cent – and those results were consistent through good times and bad. Similar results have been found in Denmark, Ireland and Australia. Clearly, the value that design brings to a business should be taken quite seriously. “Design is not an abstraction or egotistical part of your business or a veneer. It is a way to add value to your business,” he says.

Referring to electronics giant Apple, who has consciously gone about ensuring that its brand promise is immediately recognisable through design across its entire range of goods and services, Lee says, “An enormous proportion of Apple’s value has to do with the quality of its design and its commitment to the process. I would argue that Apple has the most completely integrated and successful design program of any organisation on the planet.” That is why people line up for days in order to get the latest Apple iPhone without fully knowing its capabilities or even having seen it before. People love the Apple brand and what it stands for at least as much as they love its products.

And this is the crux. Lee notes that having a product that is simply “liked” isn’t enough to ensure its success. “People have to love your products to ensure loyalty. They have to become advocates for your brand. The process of engaging with your stakeholders is critical and can only be done through a high level brand program. People interact with about ten thousand different brands a day, so the only way for your brand to make some kind of impact is to be incredibly consistent in intention. If you lack that consistency, your message is readily diluted.”

Committing to a brand program should be a functional part of executing any corporate strategy. This may appear simple, but it requires commitment from a financial and organisational point of view. However, whilst some argue that large organisations create great brands because their size affords them the opportunity, Lee disagrees. “Large companies do not invest in their brands because they are big, they are big because they have invested in their brands,” he says.

Next Brand is currently aiming to grow their account base. “Medium sized enterprises with turnover from $50 to $150 million are probably our sweet spot,” Lee explains. However, Next Brand’s biggest ambition is to make a difference. “We never turn away anyone who is serious about their brand and has a vision of their organisation’s future. For example,” he adds, “our journey with Victoria Electricity (now Lumo Energy) started with 10,000 customers and ended with over 400,000.”

One of the critiques Lee has of many major Australian businesses is the trend to go to advertising agencies for branding requirements. “It’s a bit like seeing a barber for a caesarean. They may know how to handle a blade,” he says, “but they have a completely different skill set. Advertisers are communicators – their messages, by nature, are temporal, but brand and brand strategy – that is a completely different kettle of fish.” He explains that advertising is about sales and marketing communication – just a component part of the overall brand strategy.

The fact that major businesses are approaching ad agencies for branding requirements is a challenge for Next Brand and the industry as a whole, because these companies are not optimising their chances of a positive outcome.

Other industry challenges include the uncertain economic outlook, but Lee cites the company’s biggest challenge as a lack of awareness of the value of design. “People generally are not aware of how design adds value to their businesses,” he says. “Design is one of the best kept commercial secrets. In fact, treated correctly, your brand is one of the most valuable assets your business will ever own. If every business in Melbourne increased their investment in design by even fifty per cent, economic growth in Victoria would be measurably higher.”

Recently, Next Brand opened up offices in Cape Town, South Africa headed by award winning designer Michele Bush. Lee explains that it was an opportunistic move. Next Brand has worked with Michele for over twenty years and she subscribes to its brand values as an organisation. “We also know that there are some synergies in our technical and creative capabilities, so she is able to contribute in areas where we have weaknesses and vice versa.” The Cape Town offices have only been running for a few months, but Ms Bush is holding her own and Lee expects this to be a major success in due course.

In closing, Lee explains that, “We have a proprietary strategic process that we apply to our clients’ businesses. This is important because many design businesses talk about being strategically focused, but very few of them do more than read the market research or employ expensive outside consultants to handle strategy for them.” In this business, it’s all about connecting strategy to a creative execution. This is where Next Brand makes a difference.

He goes further to sat that there are three important components on which every single great businesses is built: symbolism (what a company stand for), positioning (how is it positioned relative to its competitors) and coherence (how each component of the business relates one to another and each to the whole). Next Brand’s strategic approach strives to help its clients harness these three components, giving them a competitive edge, and creating wealth and prosperity for it investors.

For more information, please call Lee on 0424 253 716, or email him at lee@nextbrand.com.au. You may also visit www.nextbrand.com.au.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

July 19, 2018, 7:57 PM AEST