With many companies shrinking their brand teams and bolstering their CX, design and marketing offerings, has brand management been relegated to a role of compliance?

In recent years we have seen a shift within marketing departments as teams responsible for brand management shrink in contrast to other capabilities which continue to expand – think customer experience, service design, experience design and visual design. It raises the question of whether design is now more important than brand.

To wrap your head around this, first you need to acknowledge how the language of design has changed. In the past, design largely applied to visual elements whereas now, it has expanded into multiple different areas; there's visual design, experience design and organisational design. Given this, it makes sense for design teams to grow given that the context of design has evolved beyond visual elements to solving problems.

But should brand teams be shrinking to accommodate this? That depends on the organisation and the function of its brand team. Brand means a lot of different things to different people. It could be visual, organisational or related to experience. For many organisations, however, brand has been treated as a matter of compliance with teams focused on whether activities and outputs are “on brand”. It boils down to a tick box.

Branding agencies such as Principals see brand teams as having a much broader role. Brand encompasses all elements of an organisation, both internal and external. It’s how customers experience the brand. It’s how employees are empowered to bring their whole selves to work. It’s the signal a business sends to the world as to how the organisation positions itself among its competitors and peers. Therefore, brand needs to be the filter or litmus test for any aspect of design. In our work, we empower brand teams to come to the table and have a say on areas such as customer experience but if they haven’t been included in decisions such as these, you can understand why they may see resources shift to other parts of the business.

We have seen firsthand the changing makeup of brand and design teams. One of our clients has reduced its brand team to six. Conversely, their customer experience team is now made up of 200 people. Culturally, this sets up the dynamic of the brand team feeling disempowered to have a say.

So what is driving this change? The desire for businesses to be more customer-centric is a major factor. If you're the CEO looking for a way to gain the most customer advocacy through Net Promoter Scores or similar metrics, it makes sense to invest in customer experience because that will have a tangible and almost immediate effect. It’s hard to deny an attraction to short-term results being measurable through CX and marketing activity as opposed to longer term brand KPIs.

The salient thing to remember for marketing teams is that, for the most part, the experience is the brand. If you’re looking to demonstrate your brand purpose, the only proof you have is how your customers and employees experience it. And in order to deliver on this promise, you need to be thinking about brand and experience as ingredients to a potent and memorable perception of the business, both for employees and customers.

The brands that will triumph in the experience economy are the ones that understand this dynamic and harness the great power that’s unlocked when the two can work together.