Brands need to demonstrate how they are open more than ever: Nick Foley, Landor

Foley, President of Landor Southeast Asia Pacific & Japan, talks about brand purpose, how to best use technology for branding and his learnings from being on the client-side of the table.

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Published: Sep 20, 2018 9:00 AM  | 9 min read

exchange4media recently caught up with Nick Foley, President of Landor Southeast Asia Pacific & Japan, when the regional head was in India on work.

A marketer in his previous avatar and an agency man now, Foley is uniquely poised to understand and navigate the agency world given his experience of working at Mars and Nestle. Debunking the myth that pricing is the main factor for deciding which agency wins an account, he said, “rarely in my 15 years of working in marketing, did I make a decision based on price.” He says it is tedious for brands to actually sit through multiple pitches and therefore it makes far more sense to have long-term partnerships.

In a freewheeling chat, Foley shared insights on the world of branding, how it is evolving, why agencies must say no to giving away their creative intellect, and why he thinks brands should listen to their social media communities.

Edited Excerpts:

You recently said that marketers need to be more clued into their “communities”, who have become an “influencing party” rather than acting as “cops” who fiercely guard a brand’s every asset. Can you explain this view of yours?

What we have seen, particularly since the rise of social media, is that it is much easier for consumers to have a say now. When I first started out in marketing in 1993, if somebody was not happy with your brand or what you were doing, there weren't too many options for what they could do about it. But today, if consumers are not happy, there are a lot of social media platforms where they can share their opinions. It's much more two-way now. So marketers need to think about influencing that opinion and engaging the communities. Millennials have now become the largest segment of the consumer group, and for them, everything is about interaction and being able to co-create. Brands need to demonstrate how they are open more than ever to the influence of others.

How can brands tap into their communities to create engagement?

If you look at the events of the last week, see what Nike has done with the Colin Kaepernick campaign. It is a brand that has always been quite a renegade and has always been trying things that other brands have been too afraid to. They clearly realise that sponsoring a controversial athlete would be appealing, and of course they've been able to amplify that beautifully through social media channels. What could have been just another marketing story in a week became the marketing story of the week because the President of the United States decided to weigh in on it. They've understood well what the community really wants and have a sense of what somebody is doing within a community and they've responded to that.

So there are examples of brands quickly understanding how their communities want them to pivot.

Signing on Colin Kaepernick is a risky choice, but most often we see brands playing it safe...

I think some brands play safe because there are so many areas where they can be exposed. I think an interesting example right now of a brand playing it safe, and they probably wish they haven't, is in Singapore. There is a lovely movie which has been released, Crazy, Rich Asians. The movie is based on a book. In the book, the key character flies out from New York to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, and talks about the experience of being in the first class, etc. But in the movie, that particular scene depicts another brand. It was a very good movie to be associated with because of the publicity it would have brought. Among all the brands (mentioned in the book), the only one that didn't appear in the movie was Singapore Airlines. And that, to me, is a brand playing it very safe. The movie reflects brilliantly on Singapore and so a number of brands were ready to be part of the movie. But maybe Singapore Airlines thought some of their passengers might take 'Crazy, Rich Asians' the wrong way. But actually no, they probably wished they got on. Because the publicity created was so positive.

The Colin Kaepernick ad by Nike was also political in nature. Can brands take a political stand? What do they stand to gain or lose, and how much of it is a calculated move that they need to make?

Most of the time I would advise against doing it. Leave the politics to political parties. It can be very divisive. But yes, it has to be very calculated, and normally, it would be betting on the fact that you would have a younger demographic that would be more engaged with the brand because of it. It's risky. It works, but it would be something that I would use occasionally.

What is the main building block for a brand?

Brands need to have a clear idea of their brand purpose. What is the purpose of things your brand is associated with? Creating brands is at the heart of what Landor does. Brand positioning is understanding the desire of creating a position in the minds of your target audience. For example, for the year, Nike's brand idea is ‘winning’, and everything we've seen, ties into that. If you don't have a strong idea that your brand stands for, then that's only going to create confusion, particularly with your target audience. I still believe that great brands are guided by a single-minded idea. Everything else is executional and should revolve around that brand idea.

The advertising business is under threat from management consultancies, how are design and branding agencies remaining relevant to brands during this period of churn?

Management consultancies basically come down to reducing the cost within a business. They are coming from accounting and moving more towards consulting. But the way creative agencies approach a brand is about how we feel and how the consumer feels. Branding is most impactful when you try to influence things from an emotional perspective rather than from a functional perspective. There is a quote: “the difference between function and emotion is that function leads to a conclusion, whereas emotion leads to action”.

There are three roles of a brand: first is to help a company build a foundation, second is premiumisation and the third is very occasionally salvation, so that if something goes wrong, the brand can help you get back up. So let's not delude ourselves, most of the reasons why anyone even bothers to have a brand is so you can change the appropriate premium and very rarely can you get to that premium through having some sort of functional advantage, it needs to be emotional.

But are brands thinking like this? Because they do seem to want to reduce cost...

Cost reduction is part of business, but it's “fool's gold”. You can reduce costs to zero, but you can grow revenue infinitely. If I was thinking about a strategy of innovation, renovation and growth, then brands pivot to that want to look at how to take cost out. Then there's a role for that, but it's a bit of a slippery slope.

Can you tell us, from the perspective of branding, what kind of technologies are you looking at to improve branding?

We've shifted from the time of it being about the relationship with the brand and the promise of the brand to it being more about brand experience. Digital is an all-encompassing word. Hand-held mobile devices can now do much more experiential than what it has been in the past. So we need to understand what the customer journey is and the points within that where the brand can be amplified in a manner which is probably disproportionate to other touch-points.

Brand experience is very important and digital mechanisms such as apps, websites or trackers can be a way to help you get closer to your target audience. But as far as the question of why people engage with brands is concerned, the reason hasn't changed much-- Is the brand relevant? Is it different from anything else in the market? Do I have respect for the brand? And most importantly, is the brand something I can trust?

Which are some brands that you think are doing it right when it comes to use of technology?

Amazon is pretty amazing. Amazon web services are changing the fundamentals of retail very quickly. Google is also amazing. Uniqlo is doing a really good job as far as online-offline retail goes. Also Coca-Cola; so far that you don't need cash to get their products (cashless vending machine). So that's a fundamental change for them.

You've been on the client's side, what are some of the learnings from there that you apply now?

Responsiveness is critical and it astounds me when I see people from the agency side not getting back to a client within less than 24 hours. Partnerships are so important. People think clients will easily swap out on agencies. They can, but the client has to get to know another agency and build the trust again. I think, we do not place enough emphasis on long-term partnerships from the agency side. Typically, you hear that's it's all price-driven, but rarely in my 15 years of working in marketing, did I make a decision based on price.

The best way to approach pitches is to talk to a number of agencies and get a sense of their approach to the problem. Don’t ask them to solve the whole problem as a demonstration. That’s just ripping people off.

The relationship between clients and agencies is sometimes very project based, your thoughts...

I do think it is good that it is becoming project driven. One of my frustrations with the retainer model, particularly for advertising agencies, is that while there might be a month when the agency is busy and churning out a lot of work, there also might be periods when the client feels that the agency is not very busy. Whereas in the project model, there is much less room for either party to have any discontentment. But does that impact the idea and the story of the brand? I would argue no. As long as my idea and brand purpose is clear, the rest is execution.

Transcription Credit: Sudha Joshi

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