The Brand Architect
Bridge Between Strategy and Expression
by Rick Seireeni
New opportunities for brand expression have created a demand for a new breed of creative
consultant who is not limited by role definitions. These creative consultants, called brand
architects, cross the boundaries of traditional disciplines to provide innovative and cohesive
brand solutions in a variety of mediums.
Business leaders are accustomed to relying on specialists to further their
business plans. MBAs, CPAs, marketers and advertising agencies have been
regular fixtures in the development of products and services. But our world
has changed. Competition is fierce. There are too many brands and brand
messages out there. Market dynamics are often too volatile for even the most
visionary business plan. Even having a great product is no longer a guarantee
of consumer awareness and increased market share. The new wild card is brand recognition.
For the last few years, magazines such as Brandweek and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal
have been focusing on the importance of brand identity and brand loyalty. So who are the new specialists
inbrand development? More specifically, who builds the house the brand resides in?
Generalists vs. Specialists
Some say it is the natural extension of the ad agency, but an agency's primary
experience (and primary income) is print and broadcast media - while today's brands
are expressed over an ever wider range of mediums and devices. Others say it lies in
the realm of the identity specialist or the packaging designer. But a brand is no longer
just a logo on a fleet of trucks or a box of detergent sitting on a shelf.
Brands are all encompassing. Brands reflect the company culture. Brands project the
promise of the product. Brands are the durable, long-term ship on which the whole company and its
products float in the dynamic seas of the marketplace - and just as ships are designed by naval architects
who study not one, but the whole range of forces, brands are now being designed by brand architects
who consider the whole and interface with all disciplines to produce a competitive, durable and
So Many Mediums, Too Many Brands
An article in the Harvard Business Review identified some of the key issues which have
led to the rise of the brand architect. "Mass-media advertising has long been the
cornerstone of most brand-building efforts. But that norm is threatening to become
obsolete. Fragmentation and rising costs are already inhibiting marketing through
traditional mass media like television."
"... many U.S. companies delegate the development of brand strategy to someone who
lacks the clout and incentives to think strategically. Or they pass the task to an advertising agency.
Relying on an agency leads to two problems. First... it creates a distance between senior managers and
their key asset - the brand. That distance ... can result in confusion for customers, loss of synergy, and,
ultimately, performance that falls short of potential. Second, most agencies' ... incentives ... lead them to
rely on mass-media advertising as their primary brand-building device."
"... many ... companies do not have a single, shared vision of their brand's identity. Instead, the brand is
allowed to drift, driven by the often changing tactical communication objectives of product or market
"A clear and effective brand identity, one for which there is understanding and buy-in throughout the
organization, should be linked to the business's vision and its organizational culture and values."*
The Need For Multi-disciplinary Solutions
Clearly, the issues of brand development and brand management are complex.
Effective branding requires creative ideas that can be executed on a broad, multi-
Brand managers on the client side have helped in the definition of strategies, but there
are still very few creative resources who can participate in the development of a brand
at the strategic level and bring those strategies to life across all modes of brand
expression. (The principal brand expressions are defined as naming, tag lines, trademark design, identity
& communication systems, packaging, trade introduction campaigns, exhibit and signage design,
advertising, direct mail, point-of-purchase, uniforms and employee deportment, retail design, P.R.,
events, promotions, new media and not the least of which ... the look, feel and performance of the product
itself.) The new creative resource who will give form and substance to brand strategies is like an architect.
Working at the highest level, architects assess all the issues affecting a construction project - from site
requirements to local code and from budget to the view from the president's office. Working from this
global assessment, architects present an integrated proposal which is brought to life by many trades and
The brand architect assists in the development of the brand in a similar way. He makes global
assessments and recommendations. He may or may not create all of the tactical marketing components,
but he is more than a consultant. Like architects, brand architects are creative people who actually
produce finished designs and/or an actionable plan. They design and direct the construction of the brand
in all its manifestations.
Who Are The Brand Architects?
Indeed, some recent brand manifestations have been completely revolutionary.
The Niketown complexes are more promotion than store. The GameWorks
complexes are not just fancy arcades. They are places designed to elevate the
DreamWorks and Sega brands. The recent push by Rollerblade to make inline
skating an Olympic event is another form of brand expression. These new
brand expressions challenge the traditional definitions of creative consultants -
like ad agencies, identity consultants and package designers - giving rise to
Since World War II, we have seen many forerunners of the brand architect. Walter Landor (whose bias
has been identity and packaging), William Bernbach and David Ogilvy (whose bias has been advertising),
Paul Rand (whose bias was trademark design) and Clement Mok and Richard Saul Wurman (whose bias
is information design) are examples of pioneers in brand architecture. Each of these creative people
pushed the limits of their discipline to address the larger scope of brand development.
Now a new breed of creative consultant is entering the scene with a mandate to develop brands from a
multi-disciplinary point-of-view. In other words, we have seen a movement from macro thinking to niche
thinking and back to macro thinking - not unlike the changes happening in the medical profession.
Today's medicine stresses consideration of the whole body. Today's branding stresses consideration of
the whole brand.
Some of the best examples of brand architect teams can be found inside the companies with the most
successful brands - brands like Nike, Ralph Lauren and The Gap. In many cases, these in-house creative
teams can actually be more successful than outsourced talent. This can be the case when the brand
identity is already clearly understood by the company, when the company possesses the talent for brand
expression, and if there is clear leadership directing brand development. The synergy and inventiveness
inherent to these teams can prove highly successful and very formidable - but these teams are the
exception, not the rule.
Choosing A Brand Architect
Just as most companies do not have in-house architectural talent, most
companies do not have experienced in-house brand architects. And this is not
to say they should. Wise business leaders are accustomed to recognizing
deficiencies and turning to outside professionals for help. Consider, for
instance, the efficiency expert, or the network communications expert, or the
mergers and acquisitions expert. Brand architects can provide the independent
perspective lacking in-house. Brand architects also provide the creative skills
necessary to give expression to brand strategies and do it quickly.
n today's fast-paced world, companies cannot afford the lag time between strategy development and
strategy execution. Hiring pure theoreticians or brand consulting firms who can not implement their own
strategies is a luxury.
When hiring a brand architect, companies should look for three traits. First, the brand architect must be a
creative person with multi-disciplinary experience. In other words, this is not the role of a specialist.
Second, the brand architect must also be a strategic thinker. Third, the brand architect must have a
proven track record for building brands and must demonstrate a portfolio of brand development projects
which cross disciplinary boundaries.
For instance, did he or she contribute to the design of the product, did they name it or design the logo,
did they create the identity system, did they direct the trade introduction campaign or supervise the ad
agency, are they fluent in the language of new media and are their imaginations in scale with the
opportunities presented by new types of branded consumer environments like Niketown or The Disney
Stores. The answers to these questions must be 'yes'.
This is a brand architect, and this is the creative resource that will develop and define modern brands.
Rick Seireeni is a graduate of the University of Washington Department of Architecture. He has been
Associate Art Director of Rolling Stone Magazine, Senior Art Director of Warner Bros. Records and
Creative Director at Carabiner International and Enterprise IG. He is currently Creative Director of Studio
Seireeni, Inc. and President of The Brand Architect Group.