Nicola Mansfield is the founder and chief thinker at The Design Thinkers, a brand and experience business change maker. Nicola’s career commenced as a designer at global brand consultancy Wolff Olins; she has also been the Global Creative Director at natural skincare brand, Jurlique, Director of experience design and brand at Deloitte and Managing Director at Interbrand Australia.
While marketing spends a lot of time and effort discussing the importance of brand and branding, the brand is still not finding a place on the balance sheets of the world’s corporations. Nicola shares her perspective on brands, the role of brands in business growth, the impact of customer experience in defining brands and the importance of managing a strong brand for business growth.
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I thought they were slow to move. I think that has made for a bit of a hit on their brand valuation. I think they have the strength and the sustained depth of practice in that organization to overcome.
Hi, I’m Darren Woolley, Founder and CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultancy, and welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
In marketing today, we spend much time and effort discussing brands and branding. This millennium, there’s been some breakthrough theories on this, including Byron Sharp’s, How Brands Grow, and Binet and Fields, The Long and the Short of It.
But for all the effort put into creating brands, they’re still not finding a place on the balance sheets of the world’s corporations. Today, we will be talking about brands, the role of brands in business growth, the role of customer experience in defining brands, and measuring brand value for the business.
To discuss this, I have a guest who has experienced creating, designing, assessing, and managing brands, starting a career as a designer at the global brand consultancy Wolff Olins; she’s been the global creative director at natural skincare brand, Jurlique, Director of Experience Design and Brand at Deloitte, Managing Director at Interbrand Australia, and is now the Founder and Chief Thinker at TheDesignThinkers.
Please welcome to Managing Marketing, the amazing Nicola Mansfield. Welcome, Nicola.
Thank you so much, Darren, lovely to be here.
You have spent a lifetime or a career really thinking about brands, haven’t you?
I have, indeed.
And what’s attracted you to it or was it one of those things that you just fell into?
I started life as a graphic designer but was always very motivated by the thinking that went behind a design. So, for me, whatever lands on a page is actually the manifestation of a strategy. And what very quickly became apparent to me, is that great design needed excellent strategy behind it.
I think sometimes that graphic design is as much about information design as it is about communication, so how to make those marks on the page as compelling and as informative as possible. So, the brand came as a very natural development.
Ironically, whilst I was at Wolff Olins in the late nineties, and early noughties, the thinking around brand developed. At that point, Wolff Olins wrote the book on brand where we started to talk about personality.
Prior to that, brands had not had personality, it was corporate identity, it was marked on a page. So, I think the emotional layer came into branding as well as that strategy. And for me, it’s that convergence of the rational and the emotional that makes branding such a compelling discipline.
It’s interesting from my perspective because having a science background and then getting into advertising years ago, brands are things that consumers think about but not the same way the industry thinks about brand.
I’m just wondering, do you have a working definition that you use to explain brand to people that may be confused about what a brand is?
Yes, I would say that a brand in its simplest terms is how you feel about an organization and the memory you hold around it.
So, inherent in those two aspects is that emotional response, which is the resonance that we’re seeking, we want people to have a connection with organizations, we’ve worked those emotional layers into the way we brand, but it is also about the much more rational read of an organization.
And that’s perhaps what gets stored into the memory as well. It’s when the two halves work together, the left and the right brain work together, that ultimately, we have a really powerful definition of an organization.
Because a lot of people, and I’m talking about not marketers, but business people, think of the brand as the logotype only.
And I guess some of that comes because there’s a sort of mythology that the word brand comes from the old rancher branding the cattle. That that was what the brand was, it was somehow the brand on the steer is now the brand on the corporation. Do you think that’s a misleading example?
I think it is a true example and I was saying this to somebody the other day and they said, “You’ve just blown my mind.” They hadn’t actually correlated the burnt impression that we leave on cowhide with the principle of branding that we have today.
So, I think it is absolutely the case, but it’s a very simplistic read. And I would say to anybody who thinks that a brand is a logo, that they are missing the enormous opportunities we’ve come through in the last decade, what many have termed ‘the experience economy’, which is embracing the multi-channel existence that we live in, the complexity of touchpoints that every consumer has with an organization.
If all we’re thinking about when we think of a brand is a logo, we’re missing the vast majority of opportunities to reinforce the way an organization is perceived by its consumers.
Because the other argument I have with a lot of brand managers is about who owns the brand. And they say, “Well, we do.” And I go, “Well, actually, the brand exists in the minds of the consumer. So, does that mean you own their minds?” I said, “You’re called a brand manager because you manage it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you own it.”
And then I’ve got lawyers that go, “Well, trademarks say we do own it.” And I go, “Yes, you own a logo type, or you own a set of words, or you can own colors as Cadbury tried to own or do own purple, I think, for confectionery.” But yeah, who do you think owns the brand or does anyone?
It’s interesting, and I think with the advent of social media, the public has found its voice and its ability to use it.
So, commentary on brands is more of a factor than it has ever been before. What I would say is that creates an absolute necessity for an organization to control the myriad moving parts that a consumer could potentially comment on.
And ultimately, that means, whilst I would say the organization owns its brand, the public owns the right to comment on how truthfully they are living the principles that they’re purporting to live by. So, there’s accountability, the public owns the accountability, an organization owns the brand.
Within the organization, there are numerous owners and this is one of the really interesting things. When we started Australia’s first customer experience consultancy we understood that in fact, we were going to be able to affect meaningful change for an organization whenever we saw an integrated organizational structure. An organization existing in silos was going to be very difficult for us to affect consistency across different business silos. So, for me, there are numerous owners within an organization that have the ability to affect the way a brand is manifested in market, but 100% the public owns the accountability.
And going all the way back to that initial read of ‘brand is a logo’, we start to understand the huge mistakes or errors or potential for disconnect that that interpretation creates for an organization that is not adopting a more sophisticated view of brand.
So, it’s interesting and it’s a great view that you bring, and it gives me an extra dimension in the way I think about brand. The thing about brand is it exists not for its own sake, but it is an important part of business growth. It does have a value proposition even though, as I said in my introduction, it doesn’t appear on the balance sheet anywhere.
Yes, I think in this age of consumer-driven or customer-led economies, brand is critical to growth. Brand when done well is an external articulation of the business strategy. If there is a disconnect between the strategies that an organization has set for its business and the way that is being articulated in market, that creates all sorts of disconnect.
We’ve actually just been through this when we think about the Banking Royal Commission. Effectively it highlighted the disconnects between what the bank’s business strategies were (growth, growth, growth, growth, growth) and what their brands were purporting to be which was about customer-led orientation.
When the KPIs and the operations disconnect, we create a void into which many of the big banks fell and that was highlighted during the Royal Commission. So, what we need to ensure is that the strategies that the business is working towards line up with what the brand is communicating and the way the brand is communicating through all channels.
And this has really been touched on by both as I referred to Binet and Field, and Professor Byron Sharp, in that brand is about taking a long-term view. And in the case of Binet and Field, balancing that with short-term activities.
Yes, absolutely. So when a brand is an articulation of business strategy, then it is positioned effectively, it is positioned for growth, it has defendable position, which as you and I were speaking about the other day, in a perfectly managed brand, you actually have got such distinctive brand codes that you should be seeing yourself in a place where you could potentially write ‘cease and desist’ letters to any competitors that are beginning to converge onto area that you have clearly defined as your own.
That is a fantastic expression of how brand can be an articulation of a business strategy. And when that is done well, you are building brand. And if we think about The long and the short of it, that is where you’re starting to put down a foundation that is going to ensure any tactical activity will drive sustained growth.
But if you do not have that foundation, if you do not have that meaningful differentiation articulated effectively, then you will find more and more of your marketing budget is being spent towards short-term bursts that might deliver an immediate result but is not ultimately going to build brand value.
And also, potentially compromise future sales as well.
Yes, because you put yourself into a situation where your market depends on promotion. The beauty sector is constantly facing the challenge of having educated consumers about discounts, and consumers waiting for products to come on sale before they make a purchase. ‘Gift with purchase’, which is the terminology within the beauty sector, is the greatest constraint of brand building that anyone ever invented. It’s a tactical maneuver that drives immediate results, which a CMO can use to deliver on a CEO’s objectives. The net result, however, is a constrained market – you’re 100% right.
It’s interesting as well because a lot of conversation around brand seems to be coming from the advertising industry and when we think of marketing, marketing whether you use the four Ps or seven Ps or whatever, but advertising is primarily about promotion.
And I think a lot of times, people think that brand is a function of that promotional expression of the business or activity of the business in the same way as some people think the logo is the expression of the brand. But I think you’ve touched on this, I wouldn’t mind you elaborating because a lot of people see brand as a function of advertising but it’s not really, it’s much larger than that.
Well, I think we’ve spoken about brand as an external articulation of a business strategy. That’s how I define brand, but I would agree that there are numerous advertisers who think that brand is merely the end frame of their above the line spot.
I think there is also enormous confusion with anybody who works in the product space about the role of brand versus the role of product brand; corporate brand, product brand, it is muddy.
But I think ultimately, back to your original point on brand valuation, are you using the way your business is perceived in market to drive immediate short-term bursts of sales? Or are you using how your business is perceived in market to sustain an ongoing conversation and create value for your business?
Way too many people are doing the former; brand as a vehicle for driving immediate sales or promotional bursts. If more people understood the true bottom-line value that we can generate for shareholders or for boards or for executive or for CEOs or whomever, then we would have a very, very different view about the way we manage brand.
And we would get ourselves out of many of these short-term bursts, this short-term thinking that constrains the role of brand in market.
Yeah, because Byron Sharp’s book is interesting How Brands Grow in that he talks about mental and physical availability, and obviously, physical availability is how you purchase or engage in the service, which part of that is experience to your point. But mental availability is a combination of all these things, I don’t think it’s just advertising, is it?
No, I don’t think it is, and I think mental availability, if we go back to think about System One and System Two thinking, a well-constructed brand which has been designed to resonate with its target audience has recall. A poorly constructed brand isn’t clearly articulated, has a disconnect from core target audiences, and will be much harder to recall and retain.
Let’s assume that we’ve got the brand strategy working effectively so that all of those USPs, the CVPs, they’ve all been beautifully considered in a clean, crisp, immediate memory of a brand. When we think about how to drive value in market, Kantar does an amazing result with some of their research, and they’re saying from their salience measure, which is one of the three contributors towards the value or the multiplier of brand, that actually only 25% of that salience comes from media. They would say 75% comes from omnichannel customer experience.
So, there’s availability and there’s how we’re putting that message into market. The availability needs to be well-designed through strategy in order to be as crisp and articulate as it possibly can be. But then it needs to be expressed in an omnichannel way. It’s not just about how much you’re spending on your ATL budget.
It’s interesting you’ve brought it up before when discussing who owns the brand. A lot of this is flipped with customer experience and I imagine with the rise of social media, because a lot of the thinking back in the days when mass marketing and mass broadcasting for instance, a marketer could put their ad for their brand on television and reach millions of people.
But the consumer, if they had a bad customer experience, could tell the people they knew back then. Now, in the day of social media, it’s harder and harder for a brand to use media to reach millions unless they go with multiple media channels to try and accumulate that reach.
And yet, customers now have social media which can quickly amplify a negative brand experience because it’s like that viral thing, it’s always the negative things that take off, it’s the positive things that seem to struggle. It’s a big flip, isn’t it, in the way that we think about the management of brands.
It’s a huge flip, but in fact, I would say that the end result is probably the same. It is an organization reaching millions of people. Still, rather doing it through an ATL spot on TV, you are now reaching those millions of people through a managed conversation in social media.
So, the emphasis goes from ‘the big idea’ that has driven the advertising industry for so many decades towards the way that communities are managed through social media. And if those communities are managed effectively because there is a robust brand that has been well understood by everybody who is in control of the levers around that brand, then you have the ability to achieve what we’ve always wanted, which is engage consumers. Only you’re doing that through social media channels and community management of conversations.
And it’s interesting when you talk to community managers that are working on well-defined brands, they say often, you don’t need to come in and intervene because your community members that are for the brand, that have bought into the brand, will often defend you or support you in the face of negativity.
But I was thinking more about customer experience. I know from personal experience, and financial services and telcos seem to be the two big ones because a lot of the interfaces either through the internet or through call centers and the like, there seems to be lots of opportunity for poor experience.
And that’s the one that then gets amplified through social media, when you’re frustrated with a brand that you’re bought into and that you’re a customer of, it’s very easy now to then share that poor experience with others. And I’m just wondering if there’s some measure of one annoyed customer is worth how much in advertising dollars to try and counter it.
I think that would be a fabulous measure, that’s something you and I should be working on Darren. But I do think that what you’ve just said there, it touches on a couple of things. I 100% agree that the most effective measure of a well-articulated and managed brand is a community that is managing itself.
I think that should be a goal for business to think in such a distributed fashion. It’s no longer about ‘the big idea’ on an advertising spot, it is about a community of individuals who are so committed to a brand, so loyal to a brand, that they will manage negative conversation out of a community discussion. That should be the goal. Customer experience is the bit in the middle.
So, if you are not managing the experience that your consumers are having through the multitude of channels, if you are not delivering consistently, if you are not doing as well as you can in all of that because you’ve not managed it because you’ve not set up measures of control, then yes, you will create dissatisfaction. Part of that self-managed community goal is around a well-designed experience, and a well-managed experience.
So, three things. We’ve got a brand that needs to be an effective articulation of business strategy. Then we’ve got a customer experience that considers every touchpoint a consumer will engage with, and that it is managed effectively which requires an integrated organizational structure. And the end point of having a community of loyalists that are so committed to your organization that they will manage out any negative influences or forces.
It highlights the importance of brand internally with employees and within the organization, doesn’t it? Because again, many people will think of brand as just a function of marketing, but the way you are articulating it, it becomes a function for the whole business because it’s an articulation of business strategy.
Absolutely, customer experience really ought to be considered as a brand operationalized. I have a concern about the way our sector has gone in that brand consultancies stick in the territory of pure brand, advertisers stick in the territory of marketing that brand, and customer experience sits off to one side.
For me, customer experience and brand go hand-in-glove, and when you think about what a brand will be, you need to think about how it goes to market. You need to work with your clients to articulate that and help them understand how to operationalize those ideas.
That’s where experience design comes in, operationalizing the business’s strategy and the brand. The frontline is every single person who is in control of a piece of communication or a delivery mechanism of a product or a service for any consumer.
If everybody is not behind that brand, and unable to use that System One thinking of articulating it as quickly as the consumers can, you run the risk of not having a well defined brand experience.
And it’s the anomalies from that that stand out for people because it’s interesting that almost in some ways, brand success becomes a yoke for some organizations because they’ve created such a great brand, it creates an expectation amongst consumers about what that represents. And so, where there are anomalies, it really feels like a bit of a jab, a shot.
For a well-managed brand, the falling bits become very apparent very quickly. For a well-managed brand that has great loyalty with its consumers, then any directional change either with a new product or a new service or a pivot on an existing should be done with the consumers because they are loyalists, because you have the opportunity to bring them with you.
Random pivots can create a yoke which is a problem for a well-managed brand, but I think a well-managed brand is well-managed because they implicitly understand what their consumers want and need.
Therefore, I would imagine those businesses would be less likely to take a random move that could upset their audiences than a business who is less-connected with what its people want internally or externally.
And we’ve got some good examples just in the last couple of years because the rise of Cancel Culture and that’s an extreme version of social media power.
I think it is.
Yeah, but we’ve had examples where brands have taken a short-term hit, and I’m thinking of Adidas over Kanye West or … I’ve forgotten what his name is now, but let’s say Kanye West. But there was a big backlash amongst the Twitterati, I’ll call them. Because of the strength of the Adidas brand, 24 hours later, 48 hours a week later, the brand sustains itself because of the strength of the brand and it’s moved forward.
Of course, they decided to drop him, but then there was criticism that the decision took too long to be made. But I think it’s still evidence of strong brand management and the creation of strong brands that they can ride that out and continue on.
I would 100% agree. I think given the issues that Adidas faced, I thought they were slow to move. I think that has made for a bit of a hit on their brand valuation. I think they have the strength and the sustained depth of practice in that organization to overcome, but it did take a hit because it took too long. In the face of Cancel Culture, brand value can be an insurance policy.
If you’ve done all of the things that we said; you’ve got a brand strategy that is a great articulation of business strategy, you’ve designed your experience and you are managing it effectively. Then ultimately, you have a self-managed community that will help you protect your brand value.
Your consumers will be your advocates, which we’ve always wanted. We’ve always wanted engaged consumers, we’ve spoken about advocacy as a measure. Social media is the expression of everything we’ve wanted.
I would say people who simplistically manage their brands are at risk. They are at risk if they’re not managing brands as effectively as they could be.
I like the idea of brand being an insurance policy because I think as organizations move more to celebrity and influencer, there comes a greater risk. While there may be greater rewards if you get it right, there’s certainly greater risk of being able to control this because you’re increasing the number of people that are potentially influencing your brand and the way it’s perceived.
And distributing that further and further from the core as well.
So, having a strong core brand and very clear articulation of what the values of that brand are, becomes almost an essential platform from which you would go into, increasing your exposure to the risk of influencer and celebrity endorsement.
Yes, because there’s a consistency piece in all of this. You’ve got your brand strategy, you’ve got your experience design, you’ve got your self-managed community; but you need to be as consistent as you can be to retain that really strong System One emotional, and System Two rational, response to your brand.
The further you go from the core and the more you rely on influencers, you are not only distributing from the core, but you’re distributing the agenda as well. Those influencers have an agenda, they stand for something, they want their connection to your brand to be mutually beneficial. You are putting more factors into that simple message, making it harder and harder to be consistent.
As an industry, we’re inclined to focus on the brands that draw attention to themselves for whatever reason. But I think we often do that and overlook those that are just ongoingly doing a terrific job at building and managing brands.
And it used to be said that the consumer package goods industry, the Procter & Gambles, the Unilevers, now it’s called Mondelez, it used to be Kraft, this was effectively the University of Brand.
But it’s gone beyond that. There’s still verticals of business that are now using some of that logic and that approach or that philosophy to build their own brands outside of the traditional package goods area, isn’t there?
Yes, I think perhaps FMCG and packaged goods was where it started. But even as we’ve spoken about consumers, I’m also thinking about B2B organizations because they also have consumers. It just happens that they’re not individuals in the market. What we’ve spoken about applies across the board whether it be packaged goods, whether it be a B2C brand, whether it be a B2B organization, they all require the same things.
And when you spoke about brands that are loud, I like that and that triggered a thought in my mind about Cancel Culture. The louder you are, the more you shout, the more you are attracting attention, the more you have to be consistently doing what you say you will do. Organizations like Patagonia are much quieter by nature, but they stand for a lot more.
So, I think the loudness of shouting has also changed a little bit and has had a big impact on advertising and how we go to market. Is it about that big splashy halftime spot, or is it in fact an initiative to reduce consumption?
How we achieve volume in market has changed, and the consumers who will be motivated more purposefully are not going to be so interested in businesses or brands that shout loudly.
I think though there’s still a large mix of largely undifferentiated or low-interest categories where they have to work harder to actually get that engagement though, don’t they?
Yeah, my head is going to insurance. As a category, it’s super interesting because it’s a product that you engage with, but you hope you never ever to have to use.
Not many products can say that, so the role of brand in that instance does need to be different. I think that’s where you get into the ‘role of brand’, and I think that’s how you can variegate your approach across different categories. I don’t know if that answers the question but for me that’s …
I think that it’s very difficult to have a conversation about brand that’s one size fits all, because the other interesting area is startups. With all the technology startups they’re all suffering at the moment because the cost of money, the cost of funding has increased significantly. But at what point should organizations be thinking about creating the brand?
There is the what’s called the founder’s advantage, which is the founder articulates the purpose in some ways or the values of the organization, but I don’t think they ever think about it as brand until probably around the point that they’re about to go to IPO and suddenly, they need something to sell to the investors beyond just their financial performance or future earnings.
I think brand definitely does have stages which need to adapt to the business life cycle. I think at the very inception of a business, it’s all about the pitch, and you have to have a really crisp articulation because you are spending your life elevator pitching.
As the business matures, it’s exposed to more and more market forces, which may pull that business into different directions. In that event, in that mid-stage, the brand needs to harness everything the founder’s advantage gave. What is your core purpose? How does that influence your people? How do you want your consumers to connect with it?
And then as you become much larger and you move into mature or enterprise scale, the role of brand differs again. It becomes hugely important to engage your internal communities, to retain your top talent, to recruit top talent in the ‘war on talent’. Employer brand becomes absolutely massive. And loyalty. It’s all good to rely on the newness and the excitement of newness. But how will you sustain interest in your organization as newness comes off the boil.
So, the role of brand changes over the business life cycle. Brand is never done.
I think this is one of the things that so many marketers get wrong. We’ve done the refresh, we’ve done the rebrand, tick, move on; but they’re not spending long enough to manage all of those other aspects that we’ve spoken about; to not manage the customer experience, to not manage the communities that are forming around it, to not manage evolution of products as new propositions become essential to maintaining business relevance — it’s never done.
You have to always have your eye on brand and that’s part of effectively managed brands.
While you were saying that, it made me realize that — because there’s quite a lot of cynicism in the marketplace about CMOs becoming Chief Customer Officers, but in some ways, you need to step beyond marketing to be a brand, a growth driver, to be a chief customer officer because you need to be able to influence all of those touchpoints, as you say, where the customer interacts.
Absolutely, pricing strategy, perfect example of a place where a Chief Customer Officer needs to have some influence because they’re going to be able to position a product effectively. They need to be involved in understanding where that goes. They’ve got all of the customer insights, they know what people are prepared to spend, and they’re going to create the premium around brand. To do any of that in isolation is worrying.
Coming all the way back to Kantar’s thinking, media accounts for 25% of salience, customer experience accounts for 75%. If a marketer only has control of advertising and marketing, they are not affecting 75% of the way that brand is perceived in market.
However we look at this, the role of a CMO needs to integrate with other parts of the business. The role of a Chief Customer Officer is a pertinent move for an organization to make to control so much more of that. And their integration across the organizational structure is critical to achieving effective brand management.
Nicola, that is a great summation about how businesses should go about thinking and integrating brands and I really, appreciate your time today. We’ve run out of time. It’s been a great conversation, I really appreciate you taking the time.
I’ve very much enjoyed it, Darren. Thank you for having me on the show.
Before you go, I’m just interested, is there a brand that you are passionately loyal to?