Seeing the Bigger Picture

In the debate about what branding can do for business, some branding companies are quietly getting on with the job of redefining their role and delivering real results to the bottom line.

By Juliet Pitman

In a brave new age of branding and design, its been interesting to watch the shift brought about by business’ demand that creatives prove their ability to deliver tangible value to the bottom line. And it’s good to see the industry responding with creative solutions that push the boundaries and redefine the role that branding and design can play in business.

Rudo Botha, co-founder of REX Creative, has some interesting points to offer to the debate – and a slew of work that proves his point. “I’m firmly of the belief that branding and design not only have a great deal of value to offer business, but can in fact be the catalyst for the birth of a business’ sense of self, purpose and vision,” he says.

Botha explains further, “So often people believe that the business – complete with vision, purpose, direction and identity – comes first and that branding and design follow in order to convey these pre-existing attributes to the rest of the world in a creative and engaging way. But I would argue that this is not always the case.”

REX’s experience working on a number of recent projects – both locally and abroad – provide supporting evidence for Botha’s comment. Most notable among these is project undertaken to rebrand ACICO, a Kuwait-based construction conglomerate. A family-owned business of massive proportions, ACICO’s organic growth in different directions was reflected in the look and feel of the brand. Recognising that the application of a global branding strategy was necessary to open new opportunities in international markets, company management approached REX to create a new brand architecture.

“The company was so large and spread over so many different sectors, that our real challenge was to use design to create a sense of coherence that would bind all the different and disconnected parts together,” Botha explains. REX addressed this lack of structure by creating three holding units that sit beneath a motherbrand and group the company’s different entities into the categories of ‘services’, construction’ and ‘base materials’.

It might sound like a simple exercise but it brought about a fundamental shift in the company, opening doors to new business opportunities. “Previously, none of the entities were really connected and there was no common sense of purpose. And this meant that while ACICO owned the full value chain of infrastructural development, it wasn’t able to leverage the synergies between each of its entities,” says Botha.

By grouping the synergistic entities together, REX provided the business with a picture of what it looked like, causing the proverbial penny to drop. “It gave birth to a new sense of self that hadn’t existed before and one which, more importantly, was universal across the business’ different entities. ‘Being ACICO’ came to mean being part of the whole. With a better understanding of ‘the whole’ that they belong to, people in each business unit are able to cross-sell and make the most of the many synergies that exist between them,” Botha adds.

On a smaller scale and closer to home, REX similarly helped birth the product brand, Willowlamp, that’s currently taking the world by storm. When Sian Eliot and Adam Hoets came to REX, they had a great idea for a unique product range of lamps and lighting accessories, but knew very little about how to brand and market it. Working closely with Willowlamp’s creators, REX was able to unpack what was so unique about the brand and create an identity that’s been instrumental in helping communicate its unique selling points to markets all over the world.

These are prime examples of how branding can be used as a starting point for the birth of new direction and vision.

But what about those areas of business where the brand, vision and direction are already  well-established? Does design have anything to offer these companies, or will its best and most valuable work be confined to the creation and revamping of brands? In answer, Botha says, “What design has to offer has everything to do with approach and less to do with the actual materials we use to go about achieving a particular business goal.” He points to FNB, a banking institution with a powerful brand presence, as an example to illustrate what he means.

The bank’s ATM division approached REX to help with the redesign of the graphic elements on the system’s customer interface, but the project evolved into an exercise on delivering value to the bank’s clients and remaining true to its “How can we help you?” brand positioning. In the end, a mandate to design screen visuals became a project in which the REX/ATM team ended up redesigning both the front and back-end system of the ATM, including screen flows, screen design, the development of a unique terminology and design of iconography.

What’s exciting about this project is that it reveals what can be achieved when creatives look at things from a business perspective. REX’s starting point was to investigate what FNB wanted the ATMs to deliver to clients, an investigation that uncovered the need for an interface that was effective, user-friendly and accessible to FNB customers across a broad range of language and literacy levels.

Informed by this and by the desire to ensure congruency with the established FNB brand and what it stood for, design became the key to delivering a new interface that went beyond an attractive aesthetic to offer real business value. The seamless transition to the new interface not only delivers on FNB’s brand promise, helping it retain existing customers and attract new ones, but it reduces any future cost of redesigning the system and the manpower required to deal with customer complaints so typical of this kind of change in technology.

“When design works, it not only makes good business sense and adds value to business bottom line – it is business, it’s the very stuff of business. We don’t separate the two. One informs the other and vice versa,” concludes Botha. What he’s getting at is that design is central– whether it’s the design of business structure, a customer engagement platform or a visual identity – and when it’s done right it has a potent ability to affect the course of business.


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