Wednesday

Brad VanAuken: “Branding is still as relevant and important as it ever was”.

I just had my column published on Mundo do Marketing, which is a well-known Marketing news channel here in Brazil. Apart from writing about modern branding and microinteractions, I had the pleasure to interview Brad VanAuken - author of Brand Aid and The Blake Project’s Chief Brand Strategist.

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I thought it would be a good idea to post my interview with Brad for those of you who are not familiar with Portuguese. Enjoy!

Interview with Brad VanAuken

Gabriel Rossi: What’s the real impact of Branding in today’s peculiar economic environment and evolving digital world?
Brad VanAuken: Branding is still as relevant and important as it ever was. People continue to seek solutions that simplify their decision-making. It is imperative that brand managers know how to succeed in a digital world in which the consumer has much greater information and control over the purchase process. Brands that deliver the most unique and compelling solutions and the best overall value (at least for specific customer segments) will continue to thrive.

Gabriel Rossi: I’ve been noticing a lot of brand dilution lately. Why? Are these brands deploying antiquated tactics?
Brad VanAuken: Brands most often fail when they fail to deliver on their promises, cease innovating, stop putting their customers first, become primarily driven by cost-saving activities, are driven to grow beyond that for which they stand and when they commit a myriad of other sins. This is largely driven by new ownership or management, especially ownership or management that does not have a market-driven orientation.

Gabriel Rossi: When is Brand Management at its Best?
Brad VanAuken: When it is used to help organizations identify and consistently articulate and deliver on unique promises to their customers.

Gabriel Rossi: What’s the new role of the CEO in the brand-building process?
Brad VanAuken: The role of the CEO has not changed in the past ten years. He or she is the chief brand strategist and advocate. He or she may be assisted by a brand management department and enlist the support of all employees in this effort, however ultimately he or she is responsible for the successful management of the brand.

Gabriel Rossi: I believe brands will be increasingly more connected to causes and ideologies as social media speeds up the process of humanization of them. Does it mean that strong brands should be ‘comfortable nominating an enemy and attacking it accordingly’?
Brad VanAuken: The most successful brand managers will not think in terms of “enemies,” but rather in terms of strategic partnerships, aligned values, shared resources and the co-creation of product and service solutions with their brand’s customers. Strong brands will possess values that will lead them to support certain causes and be very appealing to specific customers.

Gabriel Rossi: What do modern brands (specially ‘digital brands’ like Twitter, Linkedin and Google) fundamentally differ from traditional ones? Do they have different values, ideals and visions?
Brad VanAuken: New technologies and ideas enable new business models, which deliver value in new ways. The same brand management principles (delivering awareness, relevance, differentiation, value accessibility and emotional connection) apply regardless of business model.

Gabriel Rossi: Does Microsoft’s new search engine Bing ,in particular, have any chance at the end of the day?
Brad VanAuken: Microsoft has proven to be a formidable competitor on whatever it sets its sights. Recall Netscape’s dominance in the browser market before Microsoft entered that market. Now, where is Netscape? Having said that, Google currently has a strong advantage in the search engine market. Does that mean Bing has no chance? No. But if there is an opportunity for Bing it most likely will be be found in what Google does wrong as opposed to what Bing does right.

Gabriel Rossi: What are the biggest lessons that Microsoft vs Google can teach branding professionals today?
Brad VanAuken: Move fast, strive for dominance, constantly innovate and aggressively promote (and protect) the brand.

Gabriel Rossi: What does the Tropicana fiasco tell us about modern marketing professionals and social media?
Brad VanAuken: Ignore social media at your own risk. Better yet, tap into its power and use it to create a powerful dialog and partnership with your customers and potential customers.

Gabriel Rossi: Does Tropicana’s case also force us to rethink the way we look at market research?
Brad VanAuken: Brand management requires left brain activity and right brain activity. Sometimes the results of one research study conflict with those of another. Sometimes quantitative research findings do not validate qualitative research findings and vice versa. Common sense and intuition also have to come into play. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback a decision when you were not immersed in the data and environment that led up to the decision. Other top brands have made similar errors. Consider the development and launch of New Coke based on Pepsi’s superior taste test results. It was a monumental failure, because (original) Coke, with its secret formula and long history was “the real thing,” something that the marketing managers at Coca-cola neglected to consider to the extent that they should have. Having said all of this, the new Tropicana packaging appears to be inferior for many of the reasons that consumers and pundits have mentioned.

Gabriel Rossi: There is a lot of discussion on the new role of Advertising. In your opinion, how will agencies and advertisers be most useful to brands in the new paradigm?
Brad VanAuken: Advertising agencies will need to feel comfortable with a constantly expanding set of media vehicles. Increasingly, marketing messages will need to be imbedded in the context of information, entertainment and the products and services themselves. Advertising and publicity will overlap more and more in what they look like and how they operate.

Gabriel Rossi: The presidential elections in Brazil will be held next year. What are the cardinal aspects that define a powerful political brand?
Brad VanAuken: We conducted a U.S. presidential candidate brand analysis in November of 2008. In that analysis, we found that U.S. citizens were mostly seeking a president that was trustworthy, intelligent, ethical and reliable. This is what people mostly look for in any brand. In politics, it is important to understand all of the voting segments and what values, attitudes, hope and fears drive them. This knowledge, which is gathered in rigorous qualitative and quantitative research, results in a much more successfully waged campaign.

Gabriel Rossi: How critical will a strong digital presence be for these candidates?
Brad VanAuken: Using social networks, especially digital social networks, to generate grassroots support is essential to political candidates’ successes, the Obama campaign proved this. Bloggers should also not be ignored. The emergence of digital social networks substantially changes the “rules of play” in getting elected


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