Dodging The Camel

by Blake Howard    May 7, 2013

Branding initiatives fail for various reasons, but more often than not it simply comes down to poor decision making. Hence the phrase, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

For those considering undertaking a branding initiative (new name, new positioning, new visual identity, etc) here’s a helpful guide to avoid making common branding decision-making mistakes.

Avoid Large Groups

Small groups committed to the entire branding process will allow for faster & better decision making because of a shared journey. This group together becomes an expert on the problem, the objectives, the strategy and can quickly identify the right solution. The ideal size is roughly around 5-8 people from diverse functions of the business, not just marketing.

Large groups, on the other hand, suffer from group think (making irreverent & poor decisions) and coordinating meetings with them can be like herding cats. Big groups prove true the old idiom, “a camel is a horse designed by committee.”

Avoid Democracy

I love democracy and I love America, but in a branding conversation equal say can hurt rather than help. There needs to be a clear leader to cast vision and drive the right decisions for the group.

Avoid an “Us vs. Them” Mindset

Branding work is the result of how well the agency and client work together. It often comes down to how much the client truly trusts the agency and, likewise, how much the agency trusts the client as experts in their business. It is a two-way street. The best work is done in collaboration with mutual respect and trust on both sides.

Avoid Selling Upstream

Rarely can a big change, like a rebrand, be made from the bottom up (sorry to be a dream crusher, but it’s true). Usually, someone up the food chain, not part of the process, will swoop in, disagree with a fundamental strategy, and derail everything. There needs to be a mandate from the top for change, commissioning the work to be done, and an agreement with the business problem.

I hope avoiding these pitfalls can help you make better decisions and create more inspiring work. Of course, you can always hire us to help.

3 thoughts on “Dodging The Camel”

  1. Truthfully, the camel idiom doesn’t make much sense to me. Consider the camel for a moment, without linking it to any other similar looking species: it is uniquely adapted not only to survive, but to thrive in its environment.

    The camel could easily be an example of an extremely targeted, well designed brand, but with a poorly executed purpose. If you give a camel to a committee, and they haven’t decided how they’re going to use it, of course they’re just going to come to the group decision that it’s a horse.

  2. @Lucy — Thanks for your thoughts. I’m not sure of the origin of the camel saying, but my interpretation of it would be that a Camel isn’t GREAT at anything (other than surviving, which is a great point). They aren’t fast (like the horse) and they aren’t great at farming (like a mule). They are somewhere in the middle and in branding that’s bad news. Regardless, it’s a metaphor and all metaphors break down somewhere. The point is to make strong decisions in the branding process to ensure strong results. Thanks again for thinking out loud and sharing your thoughts. Cheers.

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