Branding is not a marketing problem; it is a business problem: CEO, Brands of Desire

Saurabh Uboweja has repositioned his 10-year-old branding firm as a management consultancy. He shares why this change was needed.

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Jul 18, 2018 8:53 AM

Ten years after starting his branding consultancy, Saurabh Uboweja, CEO, Brands of Desire, has decided to reposition his firm as a management consultancy focussed on building brands. He is of the belief that the current view of branding is very microscopic in nature.

“Branding is not a marketing problem, it is not a design problem, it is an organisational and business problem,” says Uboweja. According to him, traditional creative agencies, brand management firms and PR firms have given a very different meaning to branding.

“To them, it is a pure outreach, image management kind of an exercise. The brand must also be built from the inside with the capabilities to deliver the promises it makes,” he says.

Uboweja is of the opinion that true branding problem is best understood by the CEO who is at the helm of the company. “The CMO or corp-comm head have very specific targets with respect to sales and public image of the brand, respectively,” he explains.

In what turned out to be a master-class on branding, Uboweja explained to exchange4media how he perceives the discipline and why Brands of Desire had to be repositioned as a management consultancy.

Here’s the edited excerpts of the conversation:


How has branding as a discipline evolved over the years?

Five to six decades ago, a new breed of agencies focussed on creating brand identities emerged. These were more of design-led companies that gave a slightly larger perspective to logos and said that there should be a complete identity system around logos. Over the years these agencies grew. It was boom time for identity systems and almost all global multinationals companies felt that this was a very useful way of looking at the brand identity.

But from thereon, the discipline took on more of a consulting angle. These brand identity agencies started offering some kind of consulting advice. They were not out-and-out strategic in nature, but the fact that they had to design a logo meant that a consultant had to deeply analyse and understand the company before developing a brief for a brand design solution. That’s when they went from being brand design agencies to brand consultancies.

Was it a similar trajectory in India as well?

India was a late starter to the concept. Traditional ad agencies were offering these services, but they were never experts in the field. If an agency was developing a campaign for a client and was also told that the company's logo needed a relook, the agency would task a designer to do it. There was no structured approach. This is how the Indian landscape took shape.

Then a few specialist branding firms took birth, for example Chlorophyll in Mumbai and a few others. Most of these agencies were design-led. They defined branding as a design problem and not a business problem.

How do you perceive this arena?

I believe that the brand strategy needs to be developed before developing the brand identity. Therefore, Brands of Desire created liner process by which we first build the strategy and then the identity. We also have a strong design capability because that’s what clients finally need-- a fresh look and feel. We define branding as business problem, and not a design problem. When one builds a brand, many changes need to be made inside the organisation as well, and not just in outreach programmes like marketing and image management.

The clients have appreciated this approach. But what they also desire is hand-holding in the implementation process. For example, changing systems within the organisation to deliver the brand promise, design new products or enter new markets.

Was this the inception for the transition?

Yes, this is a huge canvas to work on. We have been practising and fine-tuning our offering for a few years. Our stakeholders who are the CEOs of companies have resonated with our offering. We are now confident and so we wanted to tell the market that Brands of Desire will be a management consulting firm which is focussed on building brands. We will work similar to leading management consultancies of the world like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, but we will be unlike them in the sense that we will be focussed on building brands.

What are the areas and capabilities that you will build and strengthen now?

We will continue to strengthen our existing capabilities in strategy, implementation management, design, user experience, content, and programme management. The new areas we will focus on are: robotics, data analytics and automation. These are new age capabilities that can speed up the pace of change within an organisation.

In addition, we will also invest very aggressively on high-end research capabilities. We plan to on-board a PhD researcher who will build our research desk. Whenever we come up with models to solve a client's problem, we will publish reports and papers on the same. These can be used by a larger audience beyond our firm and clients. We want to make sure that the intellectual property we are creating is not limited to us, but can be used by business schools, other branding consultants and even shared with the media.

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