Why you can never trust an agency to build your brand and lessons from the mighty Shoe Dog, Nike’s, Phil Knight

In a decade of working in marketing, I have never seen an outside agency successfully build and market a brand for an authentic company. This is because it’s impossible.

Earlier on in my career, when I was working as a brand manager at a global FMCG company, a great boss of mine gave me some advice which I have never forgotten.  He told me, that whenever you deal with an agency, it is your job to tell them exactly what you want, and that you should never expect them to tell you what you want. That’s of course if you want the project to be successful.

I was both impressed and frustrated by the advice at the time, because it meant that I had to do a lot more work and thinking. But, the advice stuck with me, and truly, if you want to be successful in anything, you have to put the groundwork in. Even then, acknowledging his words as good advice, I never understood the full depth of it or it’s broader implications until I had worked on both sides of the agency / client relationship.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and
let them surprise you with their results.”

Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Years down the line, many brands later, and the building of my own brand to boot, it is clear to me that without a crystal clear vision from the founder, brands are nothing. Real and long lasting brands come from a core purpose and every element of the brand has to embody that purpose, as well as ensuring that it doesn’t waiver. As a founder with a clear vision, you can feel it in your gut when something just doesn’t fit. But, for a creative without that vision, it is easy to stray into the grey areas unless the parameters are clearly set.

“If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Perhaps, you may argue, that brands like Nike (formally Blue Ribbon Sports) took decades to become the brands that they are today and that the founder Phil Knight had no real clue what he was doing when he decided to go with the name Nike, or the now synonymous red swoosh. But, he did. Phil Knight may not have been clear about how the brand should look, but he was unshakeable on why the world needed his shoes. Who else was willing to fly all the way to Japan on a shoestring (no pun intended) in 1964 to realise his vision, and to endure all the struggles that followed?

“I refused to even consider ordering less inventory. Grow or die,
that’s what I believed, no matter the situation.”

Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

One of the first signs that a founder has lost their way, is when they try to fully outsource their branding and social media strategy, without being integrally involved in the process. What impresses this fact even more, is when they try to give said outsourcing to an intern straight out of school, or sometimes still even in school.

“The junk merchant doesn’t sell his product to the consumer,
he sells the consumer to his product.”

Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Now, do you think that founder would be happy to send the intern up onstage to talk about their company? And, to do it in front of the founders industry peers, competition and customer. I can imagine the answer would be no. Well, handing over control of your social media is tantamount to the same thing. And, where’s the purpose in that?

“It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business,
that will mean that business is very bad.”

Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

So, I come full circle to my boss’s wise words. Your support services should be just that, support. Yes, brand strategists are pros at growing your message and communicating it effectively. But you must plant the seed, because, who knows your message better than you? Do you want to let them speak for you? Dig deep, uncover your purpose.

Just Do It

Published by CHAI Digital

CHAI Digital helps companies build impactful digital communities through storytelling.

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