The most important parts of branding happen below the surface.
Allen Adamson
Managing Director,
based in Landor New York


The final season of Mad Men begins on April 13. For those of us in the business, it’s been fascinating watching the evolution of advertising played out against the changing moods and social mores of the United States in the 1960s. For those not in the advertising business, it’s been just as fascinating, what with the profligate smoking, three-martini lunches, and not-so-clandestine office romances. I’m not sure what to expect in terms of plotlines this season, but I am sure that anything relative to brand building will have little resemblance to what’s happening in marketing today. The shift from “on” to “inside” over the past few decades has been seismic. Revolution, not evolution, may be a better word to use to describe our business in today’s post–Mad Men era. Let me explain. 

It used to be that when you talked about branding, you talked about what you putonyour package, your delivery truck, your airplane, your signage, or your communications materials. From an evolutionary perspective, the word “brand” comes from the Old Norse word brandr, which means “to burn.” The Vikings branded their animals to identify them. In ancient China, Greece, and Rome, artisans marked their wares to signal identity and help villagers establish preferences. Fast forward (way forward): As competition increased, brand names became even more critical as a way to enhance a product’s perceived value. Companies realized how powerful, and even magical, the right brand name on the package could be in terms of influencing consumers’ purchase decisions.

The reality is that what attracts customers is no longer a matter ofon, butin. More and more often, a hot brand is not the result of external manifestations, even if the product or service meets basic expectations for quality. That’s mere table stakes. It’s the internal manifestation of the brand promise—the experience of the brand—that determines its success. In this day and age, when consumers have more choices and can see and readily share their interactions, smart companies live by the maxim “A brand is as a brand does.” It has never been more apparent that in a transparent, skeptical, show-me-don’t-tell-me marketplace, if a brand doesn’t deliver the goods, nothing else will matter.

Take Amazon Fire TV, which lets consumers watch Amazon’s extensive video collection and tap into other sources of entertainment. Whether or not this new device is successful will have nothing to do with Amazon’s smile logo or even its iconic name. It’s whether or not the content will prove to be better than that of any other company seeking to capture the lion’s share of couch potato attention.

Or, consider the Apple iPhone. Huge hit. The design was incomparable and the name on the packaging as iconic as it gets. But, it’s what’s inside—the function, the apps—that will keep this device (or any device) at the top of the list. And it’s not just electronics. Whether it’s smartphones or yogurt, airlines or retailers, consumers are warier, more discerning, and more vocal. The brand with the best inside will win.

But wait. Because consumers are warier, more discerning, and more vocal, the brand with the best inside may win, but it may win just that round. We’ve all seen how quickly in can become out. Success is not just a matter of keeping your brand experience relevant but ensuring that it’s consistent day in and day out, from touchpoint to touchpoint. Consumers today are quick to judge, and more often than not, will judge you on how good the last experience was. 

If my last experience with an airline was great, that’s great. If it was lousy, my perception of that brand falls apart. Every point of touch, every single experience, is an opportunity to make good on the brand promise. Or as a former chairman of SAS put it, “Our company has a chance to make the brand—or break the brand—100 times during every flight.” One of the best ways for a brand to tell its story is through its actions. Another way is to have customers tell the story. It’s how the brand gets talked about in social media that will likely determine its social standing at any given instant. 

Like many of my colleagues, I’ll be watching the last season of Mad Men. It’s sure to be fun, as guilty a pleasure as every other season. More than that, for those of us in marketing, it will be a look back at what was, not is, in terms of how brands get built. Branding is no longer about the surface, but about what’s inside. The experience of a brand says more to consumers about what the brand stands for than anything else. In is in.


Post first published on
Image courtesy of Jaimie Trueblood/amc. 

Category: Brand strategy & positioning
An M&A challenge illustrates the importance of strategy in branding.
Dominic Twyford
Client Director,
based in Landor Kuala Lumpur

Branding can be misunderstood; too much emphasis on its visual aspects has led many to confuse it with graphic design. Although a brand’s logo, signage, and packaging are very important, it is worth remembering the words of Landor’s founder Walter Landor: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are made in the mind.” These words were spoken many years ago, but they remain true today. 

Walter’s reference to the mind hints at a deep emotional connection between people and brands. No marketer would disagree with his statement—it is not an earth-shattering insight today—but many skip branding strategy and fast-forward to design. If you jump to design too quickly, the key steps of auditing, positioning, and brand definition are lost. Speeding through branding misses the point, making it harder to create those all-important emotional connections.

While rebranding often includes a visual change, design is just the tip of the iceberg. The real mass of work is out of view and below the waterline.


Design is just the tip of the iceberg in a rebranding project.  

Compelling reasons to rebrand

Corporate brands should think about rebranding only when there is good reason; tinkering with an established brand on a whim is dangerous. A corporation needs to ask itself some key questions: “Why are we making a change?” “What do we want to achieve?” Before moving forward, these questions should be met with compelling answers from across the organization—not just from within the marketing department.

Troubled businesses should consider reviewing their brand and communications activity. Perhaps the brand is disconnected from its target consumer, maybe market share has slipped, or competitors have become more relevant. In these cases the brand clearly needs treatment. In such instances, a brand consultancy like Landorbecomes the doctor. We help diagnose the problem and prescribe the remedy. And as all good doctors (and their patients) know, treatment without diagnosis is malpractice.

A business acquisition would also naturally trigger a brand review or rebrand. One of the key elements of an acquisition is convincing employees it’s a good idea; retaining the best talent is of the utmost importance. Bringing two organizations together to create something new must galvanize the workforce and set a vision for the future that energizes and relieves any potential anxiety. 

UEM Sunrise: A case study 

Landor client UEM Land faced an M&A challenge when it acquired Sunrise in 2012. Although operational synergies between the two companies were obvious, each had a very different culture.

From a creative perspective, the new name, UEM Sunrise, and its new identity were almost incidental. They were natural outputs of sound strategic judgment and decision making. An accurate diagnosis led us to the appropriate conclusion: We were able to treat the brand (using design) once we had made our assessment (through a strategic process).

Landor’s influence was brought to bear during the initial immersion and prototyping stages. These pre-design stages involved absorbing as much information as we could about UEM Land and Sunrise, understanding the concerns of the management team and the wider market opportunity, and setting the direction for the new brand to succeed.

We initially focused on shaping internal perceptions and creating a new company mission to drive change from within. The aim was to help employees recognize that they were integral to the success of the new merged company. Prototyping provided us with the means to rapidly illustrate brand platforms and positioning statements for the management team, making strategy tangible to internal stakeholders. 

Although we developed a new identity, architecture system, and brand guidelines, we also achieved something more fundamental. Partnering with our sister company Ogilvy Impact, we were able to bring about a big shift in attitude within the new organization through a series of internal communications activities. 

In 2012, staff members were asked to evaluate UEM Sunrises’ employee engagement efforts and its vision, mission, and business ambitions. At that time, only 57 percent of staff agreed with the statement “I feel positive about the combined entity and its business plans.” A year later, after an internal brand engagement program, 86 percent of staff strongly agreed with the same statement.

This success story supports Walter Landor’s words. Merging two organizations together can, at the very least, create a new entity. Alternatively, by involving employees and making them part of the process, hearts are won and minds are aligned. They no longer work for a company; instead they work for and withintheirbrand.


First published in the BrandLaureate Business World Review

Image courtesy of Flickr user McKay Savage


Category: Brand strategy & positioning

How matters for Chobani

March 24, 2014
Chobani succeeded because of sharp execution and a more emotionally resonant brand idea.
Allen Adamson
Managing Director,
based in Landor New York

Chobani 3.5oz -8pck _Blended _Family

“The sleeping giants woke up, and the sleeping giants were very angry.”

No, it’s not a line from a fairy tale but rather a quote from Peter McGuinness, chief marketing and brand officer at Chobani, who was speaking at The Big Rethink 2014 US, a marketing conference hosted by the Economist. The line, a reference to Tora! Tora! Tora!, got quite a few laughs from the audience. It is, however, no laughing matter to the yogurt brands that have been mightily surpassed in market share by this new category leader over the last five or six years. Any way you measure it, “zero to over one billion dollars in five years,” or “52 percent market share in eight years,” it sounds more like the tech category, not Greek yogurt. In fact, I read that a venture capitalist remarked of Chobani, “If you examined its fiscal returns and blocked out its name, you’d think it was a software company.”

So how does this level of brand success happen? The answer is embedded in the preceding question: “how.” As I heard McGuinness recount the tale of Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani’s founder and CEO, who married his passion for the Turkish yogurt of his boyhood with the serendipitous availability of an old yogurt factory in upstate New York, what struck me was that it was nothing extraordinarily creative or exciting that prompted the brand’s rise from last to first so quickly. Ulukaya was, in fact, just following the rules of Branding 101. They were not, however, the rules from the year 2000 but from the year 2014. 

What I mean is that for a brand to be successful, it needs to offer something relevantly different by way of a product or service. And, yes, the brand has to ensure that it meets, if not exceeds, expected standards of quality for whatever the brand is. But more than this, the rules of 2014 dictate that for a brand to get and keep an edge, it has to focus on a story that is deeper than just “what” it does. Smart brands recognize that consumers are increasingly connecting with “how” companies behave and “why” they do the things they do. In a marketplace where everything is transparent, it’s become imperative for companies to not just say the right thing but to do the right thing. In other words, companies have to live their values and imbue their products and services with these values.

Now, lest you think I’m onto some epiphany here, I’m not. Many marketers, and those who write about marketing, have come to grasp the importance of “how” in building a powerful brand. Dov Seidman, for example, founder and CEO of LRN, a company that helps other companies “do the right thing,” is the author of the best-selling book How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything. In an interview I did with Seidman a year or so ago, he told me, “Business, any business, is about winning by gaining advantage, doing proprietary things. Just like my family can’t copy your family, my culture can’t copy your culture. We want to make culture a strategy for winning.”

In other words, it’s no longer enough to compete on table stakes, be it building a better mousetrap, or be it yogurt. Rather, to win in today’s market, with today’s savvy consumers, you have to build your differentiation on trust and values. And that’s exactly what Chobani did. From day one, it understood that when those sleeping giants wake up (and they did, Danone and General Mills among them), what with their giant scale and bank accounts, Chobani’s winning edge would have to come from something else. And it did: Chobani’s mission and operating principle: How matters.

“You can’t operate on How matters if you can’t back it up,” McGuinness said during his presentation. “Lots of brands jump on the ‘we care’ platform, but people know if it’s sincere or not. You can spend 100 million dollars on advertising, but if your point of view isn’t authentic, it doesn’t matter. Your point of view needs to be supported by your actions. How we do things is a real articulation of what we’ve always been about.”

From my side of the spoon, as a marketer and a consumer, Chobani does practice what it preaches, whether it’s the fresh milk from the humanely treated cows, the company’s relationships with the farmers who tend the cows and the fruit trees, or the consumers—Olympic athletes included—who count on the naturally sourced ingredients to keep them fit. Equally important, when mold was discovered in a small number of packages last year, the company owned up to the issue honestly, quickly, and proactively, using “how” as a branding guideline for good, and less than good, times.

As I said earlier, Chobani’s incredible rise was not based on anything magical or even overly creative, for that matter. It was a sharper execution and delivery against a deeper, more emotionally resonant brand idea. It has linked itself to consumers in a more meaningful, more comprehensive way than just a product feature. Chobani conveys the right message for a market that has become increasingly aware of ingredients and health, certainly, but also of the culture of the companies behind the products they buy.

Chobani tastes good. Chobani is good for you. But the brand story goes deeper than that. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the planet. As McGuinness explained, “It’s a way of doing things, of treating people, not just making things. You don’t have to choose between caring and being ambitious.” At 52 percent market share and growing, I’d say “how” Chobani continues to build its brand should keep all giants up at night.


Post first published on 

Category: Brand strategy & positioning
AR shouldn’t be thought of as an add-on; it needs to be thought of as a fundamental part of packaging.
Dominic Twyford
Client Director,
based in Landor Kuala Lumpur


One of the latest mobile marketing trends is augmented reality (AR), in which smartphone images of the real world are supplemented with digital input, like sound, data, and video. The attraction is clear; with AR, traditional, static brand communications can become an entry point to an interactive and exciting digital world. Store windows and advertising billboards suddenly become portals.

Given the fact that the retail environment is the ultimate moment of truth for brands, it’s not surprising that AR is a hot topic for fast-moving consumer goods and packaged food brands. With competitor brands just centimeters apart, competition for the consumer’s attention is fierce. As brands begin to dream of new digital engagement opportunities, AR is offering a new tool for winning the war for hearts and minds in the aisles.

Nestlé, Heinz, and Kellogg’s have all used AR to enhance their food packaging, demonstrating that this technology is mainstream. As its popularity increases and companies get more used to it, we can expect to see more examples in the market.

Within the world of packaging design, the best packs are the ones that are clutter free, projecting one clear and compelling brand message or point of view. Here lies the danger for those who intend to introduce AR. As the technology becomes more prevalent, brands are in danger of creating new clutter. It might not be found on the physical pack, but rather on retail displays or advertisements, but there will be an increase of digital brand messaging and noise.

The message to brands is simple: Use technology to enhance the brand experience. Idea creation needs to be disciplined, strategic, and concentrated around a single big idea. AR shouldn’t be thought of as an add-on; it needs to be thought of as a fundamental part of packaging.


This post first published as “How to use augmented reality in mobile marketing,” in Marketing.

Image courtesy of Esther Vargas and Flickr. 

Category: Digital & social media
Brands have to listen to the values of all their customers, not just those in the West.
Ian Wood
Executive Director, Brand Strategy,
based in Landor London

Over the last decade, we’ve seen growing consumer demand for businesses to think beyond financial targets and play a wider role in society, engaging in key social initiatives. Businesses are now increasingly expected to demonstrate genuine purpose and good corporate social behavior as well as good financial performance. 

In a digital world, where choosing between brands has become easy for consumers, being good will continue to be an issue to be decided at the board level. But when the values of your major markets differ so greatly, what does this mean to a global brand?

It’s an issue we’ve seen highlighted in Russia in recent weeks. Gay rights activists around the world used the Winter Olympics in Sochi as a platform to attack antigay laws implemented by the Russian government last year. Global brands sponsoring the games were caught in the crossfire.

One such sponsor, Coca-Cola, has gone further than most in its support for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. The company has recorded a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index since it launched in 2002.

But its involvement in Sochi attracted criticism. Coca-Cola and other sponsors, including General Electric, McDonald’s, and Samsung, were pressured by gay rights groups, including OutRage! and GLAAD, to speak out in protest against Russia’s laws. The sponsors’ silence, coupled with their strong stance on LGBT rights for workers, drew accusations of hypocrisy from activists.

The debate on social media was particularly vocal. In research announced in February, We Are Social, a media agency, found the vast majority of social media conversations in the United Kingdom surrounding Sochi 2014 sponsors were critical over their failure to address LGBT issues. For McDonald’s, 88 percent of social mentions referred to the brand’s refusal to address concerns over Russia’s antigay stance. For Visa, that figure stood at 77 percent.

But are these accusations fair? It’s true that the increase in global media coverage and the explosion of social media mean that in the future, brands will need to be careful not to talk about sustainability, responsibility, and good citizenship in some markets while appearing to sidestep them in others.

While the drive for more ethical corporate behavior is seen in the West as an overwhelmingly good thing, not all markets share the same values. Reconciling divergent viewpoints and attitudes is a major challenge for global brands.

Russia, for example, has evolved rapidly since the end of the Soviet Union, but conservative attitudes remain. Brands that ignore this put themselves at an immediate disadvantage.

In a recent consumer survey conducted by Landor Moscow, 63 percent of respondents thought Western brands pitched themselves “just right” for the Russian market, while 32 percent thought they were already too permissive or provocative. Almost a third of Russians (29 percent) feel that Western brands don’t understand what’s appropriate for Russian society, while almost half (45 percent) thought Russian brands understand what’s right for Russians better than Western brands do. Our results illustrate the challenges global brands face in Russia and the careful balance they need to strike.

And where values are so divergent, what is the answer? Should a company leave socially conservative markets if operating there successfully means abandoning global corporate social policy? Clearly, that’s not the answer. It wouldn’t be good for shareholders and it wouldn’t be good for citizens in the developing world, where many brands are having a positive impact on social issues. Examples of such social initiatives range from Intel working with global and local nongovernmental organizations in Africa to expand digital literacy skills in young women, to L’Oréal training millions of hairdressers in developing countries to talk about HIV with their customers and promote safe sex.

One of the lessons of Sochi 2014 is that brands will be expected to be more vocal over such issues in the future, especially when a global platform such as the Olympics is involved. However, the drive for greater corporate responsibility needs to be tempered by pragmatism and an understanding that Western values don’t spread to all corners of the globe. One of the realities of doing business in a global economy is that brands have to listen to the values of all their customers, not just those in the West.


Post originally published by the Guardian

Category: Brand strategy & positioning
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