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Posted by on Dec 29, 2014 | 0 comments

7 Hot Branding Issues, 23 Experts: Branding Roundtable 2014

branding consultants, branding expertis, key topics in branding


Earlier this year I launched The Branding Roundtable for Branding Magazine, to provide an industry forum for deeper discussion of key topics. Each of the seven issues to date, featuring from three to 16 branding experts from around the world, has produced a fascinating trove of insights from the hundreds of years of combined professional experience represented. Here are just a few highlights (and I encourage you to read each Roundtable in its entirety):

Brand Co-Creation: Branding Roundtable No. 1

Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer, Prophet
[Co-creation means] engaging and partnering with all of the stakeholders, internally and externally, that will ultimately either have to bring the brand promise to life or will get to experience the brand’s promise firsthand. Brands developed in a vacuum are generally dead upon arrival as there is often lack of alignment, buy in, understanding and engagement across those that are critical to the brand’s success.

Jorge Aguilar, Executive Director of Brand Strategy, Landor
Co-creation, in its broadest sense, is a must for brands today. Any brand that thinks it’s too secret or too cool for school is missing the point on engaging stakeholders in a broader journey. This does not mean that consumers dictate the future of the brand. It means that different perspectives are included to enrich the overall value proposition of brands. Co-creation is not about seeking approval, but about uncovering opportunities. Big difference.

Dominik Prinz,   Director, Strategy, Interbrand
What makes modern day co-creation truly powerful is the immediacy by which we can get real-time feedback through social and digital media and online communities.That offers risk reduction, increases speed to market, and unlocks huge efficiencies throughout the development process. Another key benefit is the level of engagement that can be created by involving, e.g., customers or employees. People feel easily empowered, become invested and ultimately advocate for the brand if they feel appreciated and taken seriously.

Purpose-Driven Branding: Branding Roundtable No. 2

Tom Adams, Global Strategy Director, FutureBrand
We define purpose as ‘why’ the brand or organization exists– its higher-order objective beyond making moneyor attending to a specific functional need or market opportunity. It unifies everyone working for a company or brand around a common cause that they are constantly striving to address. A purpose, unlike a mission, is something that can never be completed. We are never finished in our attempt to deliver on it, and it should motivate us in our work every day.

Carol Cone, Global Practice Chair, Social+Purpose, Edelman
To us, the two most important elements of a purpose-driven brand are authenticity and integration. It’s one thing to believe in something, and another thing to stand for it. True purpose-driven brands leverage their purpose fully. They consistently act on it, rather than just talking about it. Purpose is clearly integrated into the brand identity, the corporate culture and operations from product development, to sourcing of materials, philanthropy and CR strategy, even distribution systems. So consumers see, feel and experience the purpose by engaging with the brand – and soon, the purpose becomes the central, powerful influence why people keep coming back to buy more.

Russ Stoddard, President, Oliver Russell
[The main obstacle is] patting purpose on the head like a little tow-headed do-gooder instead of recognizing it for the powerful market force it’s fast becoming. Or looking at it in the old cause-marketing paradigm as a way to create a short-term sales bump with a one-off promotion to benefit a nonprofit. This isn’t first and foremost about a transaction; it’s about forging a relationship and brand loyalties that lead to a lifetime of repeat purchasing.

Mick McCabe, Chief Strategy Officer, Leo Burnett USA
[The essential element of a purpose-driven brand is] human truth. A purpose that allows people to access the great heights of the human condition, and the possibility of us at our best, is irresistible. And tension. The best tensions have friction, conflict and an enemy that a brand is trying to help right on behalf of people. Without it, I have found purpose to wilt a little.

Employer Branding: Branding Roundtable No. 3

Carolyn Ray, Managing Director, Interbrand, Canada
At its core, employee branding should seek to create employee behaviours that align and support the business strategy, and build trust and credibility for the brand. This requires a diverse set of skills across diverse disciplines including marketing, HR and communications… All of this needs to flow from the brand, or purpose of the organization. Marketing’s role is to connect employees to the brand and customer experience. Communications crafts the inspirational story and employee messages, and helps leaders walk the talk. HR aligns processes across areas such as recruitment, orientation, training, and performance management. As a brand consultancy, we can often act as the integrator, and bring different teams together to solve a shared problem.

Ed Barzilaij, CEO, Maximum Employment Branding Group
I believe that in the best cases, the employer brand is entirely “baked into” the corporate brand. At this point, notions of corporate brand and employer brand become pointless and academic. The two are inseparable facets of the same emotional essence. One cannot think of one without the other. Google is probably one of the best examples of doing this effectively.

Michael Savage, Director of Employer Brand, JWT Inside
The activation of an employer brand should not be forced or dictated to your employee population. Instead, it should be co-created by the employees who work there – enabling them to take ownership of its development and participate in its implementation. Make it participatory and respect cultural and geographic nuances and you will limit the risk of any “organ rejection” by your workforce.

 How Branding Agencies Brand Themselves: Branding Roundtable No. 4

Veb Anand, Executive Director of Strategy, Americas, Brand Union
Our belief, in short, is that the experience of the brand is the brand. Experiences form the basis of all human relationships. We believe it’s just the same for brands. Successful brands make a lasting impact as a result of continual positive moments of interaction. Ensuring that these moments leave a positive impression is a more complex task than ever before. It also offers the greatest potential for building equity and value through brand behavior and communications. Our belief provided the direction for developing a new methodology to assess, build and measure brand experiences – the Experience Framework.

Sean McCoy, Chief Executive, HKLM Group
HKLM is defined as a strategic brand and communication design consultancy and had multi-disciplinary business and creative skills from the onset, ensuring a robust balance of approach to the formation of the agency itself, bringing rigour to the strategy of the business as well as the creative process. This, combined with a fierce independence and entrepreneurial spirit, would ultimately shape the development of our own essence as ‘challenging’ and clearly define us as a challenger brand in our own category.

Jon Bailey, Chief Relationships Officer, i.d.e.a
Out mantra at i.d.e.a. is that “we move people, products and culture.” So if we move people, we’re motivating people to take action… to buy a product, attend an event, engage in a service…. we’re truly motivating people. [As to that second part] moving products… if we’ve motivated people correctly then they’re buying something. And ultimately there’s the culture part, which is critical… We’re shifting culture… the way people view a brand and the way the brand views its place in the world.

 Vladimir Djurovic, CEO, Labbrand
We demystify branding for our clients. Branding is not a mystery; it’s the actions we take. Thus, we help our clients understand the market, the culture, and the consumer, in order to define their business and their brand. We strategically position their brand or product, create a verbal and visual brand identity, and manage their brand over time. In one sentence, we demystify branding and help our clients to transform innovative insights into brand actions.

Heather Stern, Chief Marketing Officer, Lippincott
At Lippincott, brand is synonymous with possibility. We see it as a transformational force, to inspire employees, motivate customers and drive lasting business results… This belief set involves activating the brand through equal parts story and experience, and equal parts creativity and strategic rigor. It encompasses bringing together diverse capabilities – in Brand Strategy, Design and Expression, Experience Innovation and Organizational Engagement. – in a highly connected way.

Alfredo Muccino, Chief Creative Officer, Liquid Agency
We’ve learned a lot of this from working in Silicon Valley where we were lucky enough to work side-by-side with some of the most creative thinkers on the planet… We’ve come to call this milieu Silicon Valley Thinking (SVT). We like to describe SVT as an attitude combined with a process, supported by new tools. Essentially, it’s a commitment to challenging the status quo based on a belief that nothing new comes out of doing things the same old way. We are constantly trying to push the limits of what’s possible, exploring new territories through design and experimentation. We encourage immersive collaboration and co-creation with our clients and partners, and fully embrace the concept of rapid prototyping as a way to pressure test ideas.

Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer, Prophet
Simply put, Prophet helps companies grow better. We’re more than a brand and marketing consultancy; we’re an indispensable ally for companies that count on us to apply the right combination of insights, strategy, creativity and imagination to deliver better insights, better brands, better experiences, better designs and better paths to growth. That is who we are and that is our brand.

Bruce Levinson, VP, Client Engagement, SGK
Clients hire us to be architects of desirability through strategic design and to tell brand stories that are meaningfully disruptive. We are enablers of profitability through efficient production and workflow solutions. Simply put, SGK is in the business of delivering brand performance.

 Brand / Customer Experience: Branding Roundtable No. 5

Thomas Mueller, CXO (Chief Experience Officer), Siegel+Gale
On one side is customer experience – the experience a customer or employee is engaged in when they come in contact with your product or service. On the other side is the brand experience—the experience delivered by a brand through its interactions and communications across its touch points. Ideally both experiences are perfectly aligned, so that the brand experience delivers on the brand promise, and the customer experience meets and exceeds the needs of the audience. The reality is, few companies are organized internally in a way that enables them to align brand and experience.

Don Peppers, Founding Partner, Peppers & Rogers Group
As for “brand experience” – sorry, that term is either completely redundant and synonymous to “customer experience,” or it’s absurd and nonsensical. (Although it does point out an interesting nuance about how we use context to interpret language, because if “customer experience” is how the customer perceives their interactions, then “brand experience” must be how the brand perceives its own interactions…?) Language quibbles aside, I just can’t see any useful difference in these two terms, and personally, I prefer not to add to the already voluminous supply of navel-gazing marketing jargon.

Eric Villain, Managing Director of the US Brand & Customer Experience Division, GfK
The relationship a consumer has with a brand is a journey. “Consumer journey” can mean many things, and different companies have crafted and stated their versions of it. Embedded in that thinking is the realization that the brand equity constructs designed decades ago – whether they were funnels or pyramids (really the same constructs) – were overly linear and a function of conventional “push” communications, from a brand marketing perspective. The power of the consumer as a voice in this dialogue has opened very different thinking, in which brand owners are looking at each experience as important, and to the continual tug and pull in this dialogue by all brands.

 Verbal & Non-Visual Branding: Branding Roundtable No. 6

 Alexander Haldemann, PhD, CEO, MetaDesign
A verbal identity is the verbal expression of the brand and what it stands for and how it is differentiated from competitors. It includes unique words and phrases and a distinctive voice and tone. A good verbal identity is one in which you can take away all of the visual elements of the brand and still recognize the brand.

 Martyn Tipping, CEO, TippingGarnder
Comprehensive Verbal Strategy guidelines are essential for any brand that wants to take language seriously. Sadly, most brands still limit Verbal Strategy to a paragraph on “Tone of Voice” in the brand guidelines. Verbal Strategy guidelines should go beyond a list of personality attributes and approved language. They should incorporate the best examples of brand writing, and help non-writers identify what to look for in great brand writing.

Claude Singer, Executive Vice President, Senior Brand Strategist, Siegelvision
Humans communicate by choosing and using words. Brands — which represent organizations, people and ideas — come to us through their words and the words others use about them. Ah, but which words? They better be the right ones. The words chosen to represent a brand shape its image in the minds of all who know it. If you make readers and listeners slog through a series of static nouns — as in “our community education policy initiative” — you risk losing their interest and respect. You might as well call Interbrand and tell them not to bother ranking your brand equity. On the other hand, if you represent yourself and your brand in vibrant, verb-centric language — you have a chance to reach and motivate people. If your words seem to come from living and breathing human beings, you have a chance to leave a positive impression. Such is the power of language in branding.

Challenges and Opportunities for 2015: Branding Roundtable No. 7

In this year-end issue, I invited Roundtable participants to forecast the up and downsides for branding in the year ahead:

Tom Adams, Global Head of Strategy, Futurebrand
The biggest challenge for branding as a discipline is to demonstrate the continued relevance of classical brand strategy – from positioning to identity and architecture – whilst simultaneously ensuring that this is genuinely brought to life through peoples’ behaviours, service design and products themselves.

Jorge Aguilar, Executive Director of Strategy, Landor Associates
Right now, the greatest power that brands have is to become more agile. This requires brands to be ultra clear on what they stand for, have a distinct set of principles and values, and hold themselves to those standards in order to express their purpose in new ways and quickly evolve with the marketplace.

Jon Bailey, Founder/Chief Relationships Officer, i.d.e.a. brand
One of the greatest opportunities for brands in the coming year will be establishing a purpose – a commitment to benefitting the greater good through business. Fact: one survey found that 73 percent of people said they will recommend a company that “stands for something.” However, only 5 percent actually believe companies will deliver on their promises.

Carol Cone, Chair, Edelman Business + Social Purpose
Successful companies and brands will thrive on a core reason for being, concentrating not on making money, but HOW they make the money… These purpose-built or purpose-evolved companies will rely on compelling missions to unlock their overall differentiation, talent acquisition and retention, organizational energy and performance.

Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer, Prophet
In this era of infinite expectation and persistent change, absolutely nothing is more critical for a brand than to be and remain relevant. Those brands that have an unyielding commitment to making smart, bold moves, meet customers on their terms, push competitors out of consideration, and even define entire categories – all while remaining unwaveringly authentic to who they are – will win.

Vladimir Djurovic, CEO, Labbrand
The biggest opportunity in branding for 2015 on a global level is the internal engagement of brand employees to live the brand on social networks. This trend has already started in the B2B environment with examples of brands like Philips turning their employees worldwide into branded content curators and social network ambassadors

Alexander Haldemann, CEO, MetaDesign
Adaptive design is all the rage, but it goes deeper than mobile. Brands need to become flexible ecosystems that can react and adapt immediately to changes and requirements in channels, technologies and audiences.

Margaret Malloy, CMO, Siegel+Gale
The challenge for brands in 2015 is also maintaining a laser focus on brand experience, however they may reimagine it. With the proliferation of new platforms and devices, it is easy for marketers to become distracted. The vehicle to deliver on better customer experience is simplicity.

Sean McCoy, CEO, HKLM Group
I am of the opinion that the role of the internal brand will be the greatest opportunity of 2015 and will likely also remain a key challenge for client and the industry as a whole.

Don Peppers, Founding Partner, Peppers & Rogers Group
[The big opportunity for brands in 2015 is to] become the leader in trustability, or proactive trustworthiness, in your category. This would mean always acting in the customer’s interest, even when it costs money to do so.

Dominik Prinz, Senior Director of Strategy, Interbrand
I believe what will both be the biggest challenge and opportunity in 2015 is what I like to call Brand Democratization…an organization’s willingness to let go of the desire to control every single step of the customer journey.

Michael Savage, Director of Employer Brand, JWT INSIDE
Let’s write the obituary for “Employer Branding” and usher in a new era of “Culture Carrying.” Have you defined your purpose, put your values and practices on display for your candidates to see? Have you aligned your workforce behind your purpose and cause and built a culture that’s enabling them to succeed? That’s Culture Carrying.

Claude Singer, Chief Strategist, Siegelvision
The world is in a heightened state of anticipation… In this swirl of uncertainty, vibrant commercial brands offer reliability and reassurance. Successful not-for-profits offer the promise of action for good. These brands can bring sighs of relief in an era of intense doubt.

Russ Stoddard, CEO, Oliver Russell
I believe corporate values will move from the realm of motivational posters in corporate hallways to become a full-fledged component of the customer value proposition in 2015.

Rob Swan, Executive Creative Director, Brand Image / SGK
Maintaining relevancy in a climate of dynamically changing cultural influences and values is a huge challenge for brands presently.

Eric Villain, Managing Director, Brand and Customer Experience, GfK
I believe the opportunity for branding in the future lies in realizing that the traditional, linear  “brand funnel” is no longer relevant, particularly among Millennials.  The use of the internet for information gathering and shopping as well as the proliferation of social media…circumvents the “funnel concept”.

Watch for More from The Branding Roundtable

The above gives you just the slightest recap of our inaugural half-year. I hope you’ll read the Roundtables in full, learn what these experienced, and varied, branding experts have to say, and then watch for upcoming issues on Rebranding, Branding in the Digital Age, Financial Branding, B2B Branding, Not-for-Profit Branding… There is no end to what we can explore in The Branding Roundtable, on Branding Magazine. I hope to see you there.


Chuck Kent is a freelance brand strategist and writer, a Contributing Editor for Branding Magazine. and the creator/moderator of its monthly eBook feature The Branding Roundtable.

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