With the help of OpenBrand, is in-house branding killing the big agencies?

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Every status has its symbol, says an advertising slogan. When starting a business, creating this symbol is part of the foundation. Yet, as essential a part of their identity as it is, most companies leave their branding in the hands of design agencies instead of keeping the process internal.

Doesn’t sound ideal? A small team of entrepreneurs in Prague think it does not. In response they developed OpenBrand, a brand building platform they dream will soon become the industry standard.

Think of OpenBrand as the Google docs of branding. It provides businesses with a private space for their branding and marketing management, based on a set of smart tools guiding the user through the branding process.

While the designer follows their creative musings, their clients keep an overview of the branding process and are invited to take part in it. “We’re helping [designer and client] to cooperate. We are actually educating the brand owner and say, here, this is how the design process works,” OpenBrand co-founder Mirek Burkon told me.

Once the brand identity standards have been designed and uploaded – logo, corporate colours, video, sound, graphics, tagline – the platform provides tutorials and tools to tweak them and apply each to branding-related product. Merchandising, advertising, corporate letterheads to name examples.

Mirek calls it a “set of smart tools giving back control over the brand to its owner” and is convinced that taking branding in-house will bridge the gap between a company’s strategy and a designer’s execution of creative ideas. The platform is supposed to keep the brand owner in control, allow them to share the brand spirit with the designer and keep an eye on their work. If their product is the founder’s baby, OpenBrand is the Nanny Cam.

The question is, can a cloud-based platform for independent designers really compete with the big design agencies?

There has indeed been a trend slowly crystallising over the past years where smaller businesses are distancing themselves from agencies and keeping their management in-house. The reason is simple: it’s usually cheaper. Agencies are starting to feel how a harsh economic climate is accelerating that trend. In fact, only last week Amsterdam hosted a conference of the “Strategic Marketing and Branding Forum”, focusing on the shift to internal branding. The conference press release called it “moving from a tough economic period into unfamiliar (…) landscapes” and that “embracing transformation, technology and leadership are key to succeeding in this process”. That sounds like tough times for agencies.

In Prague, where OpenBrand was founded, design agencies are shrinking, Mirek says. “They are losing work because of private designers who are faster, cheaper and using tools like ours.”

So far OpenBrand is a small team of five people. They launched in October 2011 and are about to move their offices to London, aiming to grow. I think Silicon Roundabout will welcome them with open arms.