The foundation of your organization is your identity

Alan Siegel , chief executive of Siegelvision Picture: Conor McCabe

Alan Siegel, chief executive of Siegelvision Picture: Conor McCabe

Alan Siegel, chief executive of Siegelvision, says companies need to focus marketing plans on building a clear identity

The marketing and advertising industry is a copycat, devoid of leaders, and is in the middle of a complete disruption, according to one of New York’s most famous ad men. 

Alan Siegel, who is a veteran in brand and corporate identity consulting and the current chief executive of brand consultancy firm Siegelvision, said that companies and organizations copy fashions when it comes to their marketing strategies, rather than trying to communicate what they do. 

“Fashions come and go. I just don’t think that many people in major leader positions are savvy and strategically orientated and really know how to go about building an identity,” said Siegel. 

“The foundation of your organization is your identity: Who are you? What do you do? Why are you doing it? Why should people pay attention to you?  “Then you have to have the credible messages to support it. 

“It’s really more about strategy, and its messaging the voice and how you talk to people. Design is a modest part of it. It’s one of the elements of building a voice.” 

In an interview with The Sunday Business Post, Siegel said that the problem with a lot of advertising was that the people behind it were more concerned with the design and how it looked rather than the message itself. 

“Designers frequently aren’t verbal and more concerned with how they look as opposed to solving problems,” said Siegel. 

“I personally don’t think that design is a great innovator. I personally don’t think that most designers know how to build a team or drive a team. I think design thinking is bullshit.” 

Siegel, who was speaking at the technology conference Inspirefest last month, has worked in branding for over five decades. Beginning his career in the Mad Men era, he set up his first firm, Siegel+Gale, in 1969. 

A graduate of Cornell and New York University (NYU), he had previously worked at a number of famous ad agencies, including BBDO, Ruder Finn, and Sandgren & Murtha. 

“I went to law school in NYU for a year and a half and I took a leave of absence to work in the army for two years,” said Siegel. 

“When I was in Germany, I did 200 court marshals defending enlisted men in Germany and I said I don’t want to be in law, so I came back to New York. I was doing photography and I worked in a major advertising agency BBDO. 

“Then I was recruited to work for a corporate identity firm new business in the mid-60s. I had a contract and said if I did certain things, I would be a partner at 27 years old. So I did all of those things, but they said they couldn’t make me a partner. They said I was too young. 

“After that, I was put in touch with somebody in Citibank and they gave me – without a business plan or anything – $200,000 in a line of credit and I opened up my own company.” 

Starting as a logo and design-focused company, Siegel+Gale later focused the company around the development of corporate voice and simplification. Its notable clients have included Dell, MasterCard, the NBA, Caterpillar, 3M, Xerox and American Express. 

“Everything that I do, I see how can you simplify the underlying process and how you can connect with people. Make it clear, simple, elegant and functional,” said Siegel. 

“When I first started the business, I did banking notes and mortgages and change policies. I did government regulations and I did tax. I’ve simplified virtually anything you can think of.” 

In 1988, Siegel+Gale became a wholly owned subsidiary of the global brand advertising and marketing firm Saatchi & Saatchi. After ten years, Siegel+Gale organized an employee buy-back of the firm, but it was sold again in 2003 to the Omnicom Group. 

Siegel established Siegelvision in 2011 to work with charities, medical organizations and universities. 

With many of these organizations, said Siegel, many of the people running them are not trained in marketing and have trouble executing a marketing plan. 

“How do you build a distinctive message and separate them to the other major charities and how do you talk to people? You have to be straight,” said Siegel. 

“With a drug addiction clinic, you have to say addiction. The whole point is that you’re rising above addiction. 

“You have to be sensitive, but you have to be straight.” 

One of the biggest pitfalls of the industry today, said Siegel, is not using the data given to them from their customer base. 

“If a bank writes you a letter, they don’t know the difference between somebody who has $2 and $2 million in their bank account. That’s ridiculous. If you want something to do something and have authenticity, you have all this data; use it,” he said. 

“In the future, marketing is clearly going to be much more personalized and customised and they’re not going to be victims of watching this nonsense on TV.”

By Leanna Byrne  - Twitter @leanna_byrne

Leanna Byrne is a news reporter with the Sunday Business Post. Byrne was previously editor of The University Times, Ireland's largest student newspaper, in Trinity College Dublin. Under Byrne's editorship, The University Times won Student Publication of the Year. In 2014, she was selected to participate in Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel's ''Leaders of Tomorrow conference. Byrne, a Trinity graduate, holds a joint-honors BA in Business and Politics.