Q: During your 8 years in this business, you’ve seen a lot of change in the industry. What’s the most significant change, and how do organizations need to adapt?
When I was interviewing to work at Interbrand, I read a quote in the Financial Times that said brands would be the only long term sustainable differentiator between businesses. That resonated very deeply with me—and still does. The basic truths that drew me into the businesses have not changed: brands are still powerful drivers of people’s behavior. We talk about identification, differentiation, and value—in other words, people like to be identified with particular brands, and they believe they’re getting something of value from them.
The biggest shift in the industry is the recognition of the importance of brands inside the organization. In the first five years, I spent a lot of time educating clients on what brands were, and how to leverage them. Nowadays, there’s a much deeper understanding of how brands work—they’re not seen as a subdivision of the marketing department, they’re how you do business.
We talk about brands being “business strategy brought to life.” If you look at our definition of brand, which has gone from talking about trademarks to talking about living business assets, that’s a huge shift. In that regard, Interbrand has become the business I thought I was joining. It’s been a huge change—and a fantastic journey along the way.
Q: One of the most significant things that Interbrand has done is introduce the idea of brands as business assets. How do you see the role of brand valuation evolving from here?
I think it was one of the people at the Omnicom University who started calling brands “a living business asset.” But, we first created brand valuation about 30 years ago—that’s the first time anyone had put a value on a brand. Fifteen years ago, that became Best Global Brands. For the first time, there was a bridge between this nebulous, intangible thing that seemed to generate people’s desire to buy, into a deeper understanding of how it brings value to a company.
Understanding how brands add value to a business has become fundamental to making the right strategic and creative choices for our clients. Brands, as we know, have the ability to connect with human beings. That requires a creative and a strategic understanding. We don’t interact with a strategic message, we interact with a product, a service, an environment, or people.
I think the biggest recent shift at Interbrand has been away from simply valuation, and looking forward to business value creation. That cycle of understanding what value the brand creates and how we can make it work harder is the underpinning of everything we do, even as it continues to evolve. Personally, I would love to see an even more provocative statement about what brands do for your business over time.
Q: What do you think brands need to think about now that they weren’t thinking about ten years ago?
The basics of branding haven’t changed much, but the mechanisms by which you do it have changed exponentially. Great marketing, branding, and business come down to the understanding of your own capabilities, the demands of your customers, and your competitive environment.
One of the biggest things has been the proliferation of media opportunities, digital channels, and indeed the new platforms emerging in various different industries. At Interbrand, we have to work differently to help brands get very technical about what they need to be doing day-to-day. We’re seeing our business model shift to becoming a more permanent part of the team, to push along with our clients to make the real, necessary business changes.
Having the right people inside the organization is vital. There’s also been a huge change in what customers expect from companies. In industry jargon, it’s “seamless experiences.” We all want everything to just work brilliantly—if I’m on an app, if I walk into a store, if I speak to a person, if I engage a product or service—we want all of these things to connect seamlessly. The implications for CMOs, as the ones that understand the customer base, is that they need to be able to influence and take people on a journey across the whole organization.
That’s a big shift. In order to do that, you need to make sure the people, the processes, and the platforms you use are fit. We have a practice called Marketing Capabilities which specializes in that area, and we believe that this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue going forward because of the demands of customers. If customers want seamless experiences, companies need to organize themselves in order to deliver that.
Q: What would your advice be companies just breaking into the market?
Think about your brand.
I was involved with a very successful startup during the dot-com boom that’s still continuing to grow. There were two things that marked them out as different as a company. The first thing was the sheer detail of their business plan—you have to have a clear business strategy. The second thing they did was build a clear business vision and understanding of their brand. Right from the beginning these two things were in lockstep: the brand was the business the business was the brand.
It also comes back to understanding the people involved first and foremost. If you look at some of the brands that have transformed our market in the last 5 years—like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb—these businesses have appeared almost from nowhere and changed how we live our lives. That’s the clue: they understand how we live our lives. The brand has also been a deep part of what they’re trying to do from the very start. If all of those things are not in place, you probably won’t be successful.
Stay tuned for Jez’s deep insights on the forces of branding and business growth, as we continue to celebrate our CEO’s 10-year tenure throughout the coming weeks. Read Jez’s advice for leaders here: https://www.interbrand.com/views/10-years-of-growth-lessons-in-leadership-with-our-ceo/