Building meaningful brands through lean creativity

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” – Edward de Bono


For this month’s blog, I thought I’d take a back seat and share the thoughts of one of my fellow directors at TANK, Jim Antonopoulos.

Jim recently presented at the 15th Annual Government Marketing and Communications Conference, addressing the theme of ‘Limited Resources, Unlimited Ideas’ by exploring the concept of ‘lean creativity’. Here, he looks at eight ways lean creativity can help marketers build meaningful brands.

Creativity is forever evolving. And by borrowing a page from the tech industry playbook, it can get even faster, smarter, and more efficient.

A popular misconception is that lean methodologies are better suited to the manufacturing industry. Not true. Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organisation.

Businesses in all industries and services are using lean principles as the way they think and do.

Get it right, and lean creativity is a winning formula: product and brand communications are not only easier and faster to execute, but more targeted and effective – ultimately leading to deeper brand connections and increased sales velocity.

How do we do that? By taking on board three key lessons: start fast, listen and learn, and work collaboratively.

There are many, but here are some simple tools that will help build meaningful brands by using lean methods.

1. Understand identity

By understanding identity, then we can understand a brand. A brand is not a logo, a colour, a product or a person – it’s everything a company does, says, looks and acts. A brand is a company’s identity. By understanding an organisation’s identity we start to understand the brand at large.

Marty Neumeier said it best: “A brand is not what we say it is, but what they say it is.”

2. Develop one simple brand idea

A core idea can be a story, a statement, a sentence or a manifesto. It doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that it must be simple, memorable, inspiring, meaningful and most importantly – true. A core brand idea is a succinct representation of the business’ strategic intent – the one idea.

Nike stays true to one simple idea that inspires every body to be an athlete. Every piece of communication from Nike stays true to this idea whether it be depicting a chubby kid jogging along a long road or an elite athlete jumping higher than we ever imagined to land a winning score.

3. Start fast – get clarity on the problem

Many times a marketing team will have a different idea and understanding of the problem at hand than their C-level counterparts – this in itself is a problem.

Always work hard at the outset to get a unified understanding of what the problem is – articulate it clearly and most importantly put the customer/client/people first. Articulate it in their voice, not your own.

Ensuring we have a common understanding of the problem at hand is paramount – how can we solve a problem when we all have a different idea of what the problem is?

Dive deep, understand your audience, understand the problem and listen. Ask questions:

  • what are the business reasons behind your branding effort? How does it link to the business strategy?
  • internally you need to get honest. What is the problem? Have you lost touch with the audience? Does the visual identity of your company reflect the brand?
  • what are the external problems? What are your customers facing. What problems are your suppliers facing?
  • who is the audience and what do we want them to do? Who are they, what do they do, what inspires them and motivates them into action?
  • undertake a brand perception health check. How does your audience feel about the brand. Are they loyal, have they lost trust, was there ever trust, or have they only just discovered you?

4. Listen and learn

Undertaking research isn’t a new concept but the ongoing monitoring of consumer opinion and insight is something that has been born of modern technology. We now have the tools at hand to begin the research process with gusto.

There are numerous affordable or even free tools that enable you to undertake your own research and get a deeper understanding of the problem at hand, the conversation, opportunities and of course, your customers.

Discover what and where the conversation is and how the business can become apart of the conversation, don’t demand to drive it.

5. Build a brand team

When building a lean creative framework for your brand there are four key roles that every brand leadership team needs:

  • the brand custodian: this is an internal role, performed by a marketing director or brand director. The role is focused on brand management across the organisation and is owner of the brand’s integrity, working in conjunction with the brand guardian.
  • the brand guardian: the brand guardian can be an internal or external role. This person has a strong focus on the visual and communications perspectives of a brand. The role is often performed by a creative director or design director.
  • the brand ambassador: the brand ambassador is a person who internally or externally promotes the brand. Brand ambassadors are paid by your organisation – they may be employees or external parties (often high profile identities) who embody the brand values.
  • the brand advocate: the brand advocate is a loyal customer, client or employee who is engaged in active promotion of your brand without being paid to do so. They advocate the brand because of their positive experience with it.

6. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Don’t start again every time you have to start again. Build a brand platform and adopt a publishing model to handle content.

Create content authors in your organisation which are autonomous and focussed on content creation – words, pictures, video; content that is engaging and above all meaningful.

Have content editors act as the filter and curator of content – people who are in place to approve, edit and curate content before it ‘goes live’.

7. Creativity comes from everyone

There are many ways to develop ideas, however, it is our ego that stops us from developing methods. Develop a method for idea generation that allows and welcomes concepts from any part of the business or community. The goal here is to develop lots of ideas from the outset.

8. Understand the world we live in

A research study by Google revealed Australia has the highest smartphone penetration in the world at 37%, and we’re also consuming more apps. With half of Australia’s population using a smart phone, research indicates that 90% of our media interactions are now screen-based.

We’re also quite good at not using one device in isolation. In fact we move from one device to another, and sometimes we use two devices simultaneously to accomplish one task. Brands need to understand how they can provide consistency and connectivity between the various screen-based devices as well as a unified story and compelling user experience across all platforms.

Time to get lean

It’s both an attention and location economy and we must work better, faster, leaner if we are to create meaningful connections with our customers.

We must put people at the heart of our brand building effort. Get to know them, understand them, who they are and how they tick.

By putting people first, we are able to develop communications that connect in a truly meaningful way.

Note: Jim Antonopoulos is the executive creative director at TANK and current president of the Victoria Council of the Australian Graphic Design Association.

Richard Foster
BY Richard Foster ON 9 October 2012
Richard Foster is the head of writing at Melbourne branding agency TANK. Richard’s focus is helping organisations find clarity and meaning in their written and spoken communications. For more information visit