From digital automation to agency collaboration, how do those working on the coalface of brand marketing view the trends shaping brand management?
As part of its Future-Proof Your Brand series, VIM Group’s chief executive officer Marc Cloosterman spoke with two brand champions: Nathalie Quéré, former brand director at AkzoNobel and Joost Schriever, global marketing director at Randstad.
Interview by Marc Cloosterman
(Main image: AkzoNobel’s brand management extends to participation in the Volvo Ocean Race / Image: AkzoNobel))
What is your biggest brand challenge?
Nathalie Quéré: AkzoNobel is in the middle of a big transformation as a company because we’re separating from our Chemicals division and refocusing on our Paint and Coating businesses. This impacts on our brand strategy because we’re reinventing ourselves while we are still AkzoNobel. The question is: how do you reinvent yourself within the same brand environment but with a completely different portfolio? We’re very attached to our brand, our name, and our history, but we are evolving.
"How do you reinvent yourself within the same brand environment but with a completely different portfolio?"
Another challenge is that we have a hybrid brand architecture where, in addition to our product brands, we have non-branded products operating under the AkzoNobel name which contribute to 20% of the company. This creates complexity as what you do at a corporate brand level has an impact on your product brands.
Joost Schriever: New digital HR solutions and tools are drastically changing the way people connect to jobs and the role Randstad plays in this space. That is why Randstad’s Tech & Touch strategy is an important pillar of its overall strategy going forward. It concerns the digital transformation at the heart of existing business models. The digital transformation improves the way we connect clients with candidates and puts humans first. By maximising technological capabilities, Randstad enables its consultants to focus on what matters most: giving a human touch.
Regarding brand: Randstad started primarily with temporary staffing, but through acquisitions we now offer a wide range of HR services. Our other services are more exciting and have the potential of higher margins compared to the traditional staffing, so the challenge is finding a way of getting as much as we can out of these services and enriching the Randstad brand with them. We want to be the first ones in our sector to get on Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands list. So, enriching and aligning the Randstad master brand is the overall challenge we face for the coming years.
Is brand more important now than ever?
Nathalie Quéré: Definitely. By going through this change with AkzoNobel you reflect on the importance of the brand, the role of the brand, the equity you have in your brand, and you see the importance of that. I’ve never had so many discussions around the value of the brand than in the last year when we were really reflecting on changing our company.
What I’ve seen from studies we’ve done is that people in general are very keen to understand the core values of the company behind the brand. And that is something which relates strongly to the reasoning behind our endorsement strategy – to highlight the company brand, particularly for our product brands, because we know that consumers are interested in understanding what the company behind the brand is doing. What are our values? What do we believe in as a company? How do we behave as a corporate citizen? All questions that have become very important for the AkzoNobel brand. But it goes beyond the branding exercise – it’s really going to the core and the authenticity of the brand.
Joost Schriever: Yes, because you have to find a way to stand out from the noise of the digital age. I think the best way to do this is if your brand is perceived as having its own identity and really stands for something. This is very important for a new generation who want to better understand a company and see what value it brings to the world. What is your purpose? We know that technology can support us all in our daily lives and we are already working hard to make technology work for us.
But from our long history we know above all that the human connection is the most important part of our business at Randstad. With our in-depth understanding of the world of work and our passion for people, we help people and businesses to move forward. It is our personal approach, supported by state-of-the-art technology, which truly sets us apart in the global world of work. We express that with a new brand promise: Human Forward. It’s our promise to the world that we will always put humans first.
Which trends are likely to have the largest impact on your brand?
Nathalie Quéré: One trend that affects all companies is that brands now belong to everyone. We see how the brand is challenged on social media, which means you lose a big part of the ownership of your brand. As social media has become a really strong voice, there has been a dematerialisation of the brand.
This can have a negative effect, but could also, on the contrary, enhance your brand, because you get more opinions on it. In some cases, you see people playing with your identity, which I think this is an interesting trend.
Joost Schriever: Digital will have a fundamental effect on our company processes. Our vision and solution is that digital automation will allow for more contact time with customers. Another interesting trend is the scarcity of qualified people for jobs. It is very hard to find people to work in certain jobs, for example engineering or IT. We want to find a way of tapping into talent from other countries as well as the refugee population and see how we can help them to be integrated into the country.
"We want to find a way of tapping into the refugee population and see how we can help them to be integrated into the country."
Research by the University of Amsterdam has shown that by 2050 in Western Europe there will be a considerable shortage in the labour market. This means we will have an enormous challenge in keeping the labour market supplied.
What tools and technology do you use to manage your brand?
Joost Schriever: For the past three years, we have been working with Bynder, a digital asset bank. It allows us to distribute our brand assets, from illustrations to photography and manuals. However, we need to create our own templates, as this will help solve 80-85 per cent of our local marketing needs. These templates will always be on-brand because all the options our employees will have to choose from will be correctly branded. We have started working with a company called BlueSpot, who are building our own template creation system for us.
This system will be connected to Bynder so that all our employees worldwide can access them. We managed to build this system in just 15 weeks and now 2,500 employees in the Netherlands can create their own branded messages. We are going to introduce this, and our new brand governance model (with VIM Group’s help), worldwide in the coming year.
Nathalie Quéré: We have a Brand Centre, which is a repository of our brand-related material and guidelines. It’s a central portal available to all employees and agencies. As much as we are training people to use the brand, the portal is a great way to give access. It is also a sharing platform to showcase what people around the world are doing with the brand. This is a very inspiring and a good way of getting new ideas and to stimulate creativity inside the organisation.
How has your brand department changed over the past five years?
Nathalie Quéré: A lot! The brand team really changed when we started to work on creating a strong brand strategy about six years ago. We looked at how we could strengthen the Akzo-
Nobel brand by having a stronger connection with our product brands. What has been the major change over the last year is the creation of an in-house creative team and in that sense taking back full-ownership of the brand internally. We have worked with agencies in the past, but we felt we were losing the essence of the brand, so we had a very strong business case to keep it internally. By bringing the brand back internally, we have managed to create a strong foundation and a lot of coherency. We are now able to test ideas in our brand community, around the world.
Joost Schriever: This is interesting because the brand department is only a handful of people. We don’t need a big department to keep the whole development of the concept and house style alive. Four years ago, we had only one or two people who understood SEO and SEA, but now we have a department of 20 people all specialising in conversion and testing. So the biggest change that we have seen in the marketing and communications department, and that includes our brand, is this enormous influx of knowledge and insights in digital.
Because our business is really local, each market has its own marketing and digital departments and we support them in the best way we can. We make sure that we can share our knowledge throughout the world, although this is becoming increasingly complex due to the growing number of digital specialists we have.
Which brands do you admire or use as inspiration?
Nathalie Quéré: I find the Google brand very interesting and I like the fact that its visual identity changes all the time. I find this concept utterly inspiring. It creates a very dynamic perception of the brand and the changes don’t seem to have damaged its brand awareness or value. I also find brands like Uber fascinating because they have become massive even though they have existed for less than 10 years. You use ‘Uber’ as a verb and that is a whole other level of brand ownership. So those are the kinds of brands I take inspiration from; ones which are exponential and become large quickly.
Joost Schriever: We often look at Accenture as a great example of a strong brand. It’s a relatively young brand, which came from the ashes of companies that went broke. They have been really consistent in building their brand image and they are very visible with wonderful messaging. They are now halfway up Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands List, so in a short time frame they have really built on this new name of Accenture.
Through consistency in messaging and their use of media, they have become capable of building a brand that is of enormous value. I’m a marketer who really believes that this is a feasible world – if you are consistent you can be anyone you want in the minds of people as long as it’s a real story.