The Contradiction of Specialized Branding
Why Specialization Should Force You Out of Branding
May 8, 2012 at 11:32 am by Blair
The two main positioning variables of the specialized firm are the disciplines they bring to bear and the markets they serve. When one is narrow, the other can sometimes be quite broad. As an example, a UX design firm probably does not need to narrow its market by focusing on certain industries, but a broadly positioned full service, integrated or branding agency likely would be forced to choose a vertical to reap the benefits of positioning.
But even when broad service offerings are aimed at narrow verticals there are some common mistakes to avoid. The most common is clinging on to branding as a discipline once you've narrowed your focus to a vertical.
The goal of positioning is to reduce or eliminate competition. This is done by amassing a deeper expertise and the easiest path to deeper expertise is a narrow focus. In a profession where inability to focus and desire for variety are rampant there are a lot of half-hearted attempts at focus, or what I might call a focus in language only.
A branding agency that heeds the call to specialize and then picks a vertical (e.g. healthcare, professional services or financial services) should realize that branding as a claim of discipline expertise is nowhere near as relevant to its new target market. Branding for healthcare is still just branding. There isn't a creative firm on the planet that would not claim to be able to do it just because the client is a hospital and not a breakfast cereal. But hospitals (and other verticals) have very real and quite specific challenges that do require specialized marketing and communication programs to help address. Physician recruitment, service line introduction, employee engagement, and, in the US, a whole host of uncertainties in the face of healthcare reform. A firm specializing in healthcare marketing or communication would offer these services, be able to speak to these needs and would open up sales conversations with specific questions in these areas. These specialized areas of need are where the specialist leaves the generalist in the dust.
Yes, hospitals and other verticals will still require branding from time to time, but for a vertically specialized firm to lead with branding as discipline expertise is to admit that they haven't learned enough about their target market yet. The move from branding generalist to any type of specialist should almost always leave the word branding behind, at least in the firm's own description of itself.
Tags: branding (3)