by S. Caro
After eight months of staying in the company’s central offices in London, this publicist who has lived 12 years in our country, came back to head the shift in focus that the company wants to apply to building brands.
It is no coincidence that Gabriel Badagnani heads one of the panels in the next Icare Marketing Congress, dedicated to brands. This Argentinean publicist, trained at Universidad de Palermo, is a more than authorized voice when it comes to building brands, and cases like LAN, Entel and CMR are part of his experience, added to his knowledge in country image and his work in Peru’s particular case.
He started his career at Grey and then Idemark, the Argentinean consulting company that in the year 2000 was the gateway to Latin America for the multinational company, leader in branding, FutureBrand. He worked there until in February 2002 he became a part of FutureBrand Chile, an office he had opened a few months earlier. He arrived as brand manager for the LAN account and in 2003 he took over as managing director.
Last year he left for eight months to the company’s headquarters in London to soak up in the change of focus that the company wants to establish in its 25 subsidiaries around the world. “In terms of methodology, what FutureBrand did was go back a bit to the origins of our own name, which speaks of a vision of the future for brands; so how to articulate and create those ‘future brands’ has to do with what people want today to build that future, and the good thing about that future is that something is yet to come,” he says.
How has the focus in branding changed?
When we talk about brand positioning, it’s in terms of the idea that the audience has of a certain brand, not what we think it is but what our clients or customers think. In that context we redefined ourselves, we’re a company that has to work every day to build that future for the brand. Brands are not the only vehicle or means that exists to connect a client with a company, and consumers are searching for surprising experiences in each of the contact points; so when one talks about brands, it is not about logos, whether it’s ugly or beautiful, whether it communicates what the company wants it to communicate, it’s about the brand’s impact on the reputation. If LAN talks to me about “the charm of flying” and I can’t even check-in online, there is damage in the brand’s reputation and it has nothing to do with whether the design is correct or not.
Today’s consumer is not a passive being but one that is informed and has different ways of asserting his/her opinion. Can they be integrated into the process?
There is a co-creation work that didn’t exist 10 years ago. For example, the very consumers changed GAP’s identity because they felt it had nothing to do with the essence of the brand, and they had to go back to launched campaigns, so it’s not that the customer is more informed, that’s part of the past, no one cares, all general managers know that; it’s about what are you going to do with that empowered customer, are you going to give it roles and responsibilities? Because it’s easy when the responsibilities are simply that brands communicate something, the challenge is how to make customers participate.
How do you define your audience?
Brands are not segmenting by traditional variables, they stopped talking about “target”. They started searching for what the customers’ needs are. If the conclusion is that they need to dress better and cooler, then Adidas shows a revival of Adidas Original; it isn’t high performance technology but it’s cool. Or if I’m a runner and I want to buy sneakers that help me run better, I have Nike Running, which is different from being a skater and wanting to dress with Nike clothes, then Nike finds a special need there and launches a brand for that niche, which is sportswear, but it has more to do with urban clothing than with sports.
That’s something that was always said, that the point was to satisfy the consumers’ needs but the brands invented those needs. Now it’s the other way around?
Exactly. The point is that before needs were discovered by companies o were generated by brands. Today it’s about understanding that need, because people don’t want to be told how it should be.
That’s the karma of advertising, it has always been accused of creating needs that do not exist.
But that is a prejudice of the advertising world, that it was really communicating what one wanted in terms of the intrinsic attributes of products. It may be a trend of the past, not of today, because the brand has to understand and be next to the consumers. There is a change in the relationship, beyond the advertising paradigm. We are defining which will be the future scenario for the brand, and in order to do that the methodology must start by recognizing the brand’s DNA, understanding what is the brand. Back in the 80s when Coca-Cola launched New Coke, it failed to understand what the DNA of the brand was. They made millions of studies on the taste, and the brand is not just about the taste: in fact people buy Coca-Cola because of the experience, happiness, because it’s their usual drink; nobody will ever understand the irrational act of getting a dark drink inside their body, one would tend to drink clear liquids which are healthier; but hey, that’s the brand, it is an emotional element rather than a rational one.
In a competitive market, where all products tend to be equal, how does a brand detect the opportunities to differentiate itself from others?
That is when another important element comes in, innovation. If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse, because they didn’t imagine anything else. Or when Steve Jobs launched the iPod and said now you will have thousands of songs in your pocket, it wasn’t because someone said, “I want to have a thousand songs in my pocket,” because they didn’t know that could happen. When working on innovative products, one has the opportunity of finding a niche and generating a need, and that’s not bad. It’s about first understanding the DNA; second, the insights, and from two perspectives: what people want from my brand and the context, which is what the market lets you say. The third area of action is the foresight, the most interesting one because it projects the brand into the future.
What is the difference with the traditional way of building a brand?
Before, we analyzed the trend, the competition, something about the consumers and what the company wanted to do in terms of vision. Today a different element comes into play which has to do with being able to project and predict how an industry will be in the future, and that’s the interesting part of the methodology, why people make decisions every day: I wake up and turn on the shower and I have a relationship with Aguas Andinas; whether I’m aware or unaware of it, with Nestlé I prepare my coffee, or when I eat bread I have a relationship with Bimbo, and that’s how brands define the type of profile I have. It is what we call category trends, which is the first stage to start predicting where the world is going, how it’s moving forward.
“What we can do as a company is to start discovering which is the category trend that will interest us today to start building on that future. That’s where branding strategies are adding value. Once you understand the present, there’s a creative process where the idea of the brand into the future is defined.”
Second are megatrends; if I want to be healthier I go jogging, that’s an answer to being sedentary and it’s a macrotrend, which are related to four great worlds: the first one is the environment, the planet (you know that natural resources are finite, the ozone layer opens, there’s global warming); then comes health, money and community (family, friends). They are the major concerns in the world and brands respond to them with trends, megatrends and category trends. What we can do as a company is to start discovering which is the category trend that interests us today to start building on that future. That’s where branding strategies are adding value. Once you understand the present, there’s a creative process where the idea of the brand into the future is defined.
In that scenario, is it more difficult to launch a new brand or is there an advantage over one that already exists?
It has pros and cons, but DNA also sheds light on them. If I have a brand that has some kind of damage in its reputation, maybe it’s better to launch a new brand to tell a new story; now, if I have a brand that is greatly positioned, maybe I should get a second reading, an evolution of the brand to be able to capture new audiences.
Internationally, the FutureBrand agency created a ranking – called Country Brand Index (CBI) – measuring the perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of brands in over one hundred countries in the world. In Latin America, the 2013-14 measurement is led by Brazil. Chile is in fourth place, followed by Peru, which are the two cases Gabriel Badagnani has worked on.
What is happening with the country brands?
That’s an area in which we have a lot of experience, from having worked with several brands in the world. The country branding changes a bit the scheme of traditional brands, because it’s everyone’s, simply because it was born in a territory, or if I live here, I’m a foreigner, but I also have something to say.
What the country brand does is that it promotes a country, helps generate visitors, loyalty and articulates three large worlds: that of attracting investment, promoting exports and tourism, and that also has to encompass the public and private worlds. You have to do a big job of segmenting messages, unlike what happens with consumer or corporate brands. It is not the same when the country brand Peru speaks to another country or to Toyota to see where to put its next plant in Latin America, or people who want to go to Peru just to eat. The export promotion campaign can be very different from the tourism campaign and they both have to connect. It’s a super challenging job.
How are the attributes of a country defined, as a product?
What country brands do is find what is their potential, the story that the brand wants to tell. Some take leverage from culture, so China, Japan, Mexico, are countries that have a certain type of culture, tradition, that attracts me. But if I say innovation, fashion, in my head I’ll start thinking of French and Italian people. So it’s about understanding and being believable. If I talk about fashion and I’m Italian, or if I talk about watches being Swiss or chocolates being from Belgium, that’s a link and then what we do is we find the attributes that will articulate that brand promise and generate that future idea. When we developed the Peru brand and we said it is a country made up of many things, we discovered that the future idea was that there was a Peru for everyone, so there was a gastronomic Peru, one for investments, for beaches, and the jungle.
In the case of Chile and its diplomatic conflicts with neighbors, can the work of the country brand help?
Totally, from reviewing lots of studies of perception, one of the things we discovered is that if we continued building on “Chile does well”, like the good student, which is not always the one you like the most, those things didn’t affect the brand in a positive way. To appear talking about how we are number one in every ranking, that is not something good neighbors do, we weren’t being empathic with others, that when someone comes here there is warmth and kindness from people. The problem with the country brand Chile is that it wasn’t generating emotional ties, it was pure rationality, efficiency, organized institutions, no one said “it’s fun”.
What can you do with that diagnosis that makes us look so bad in the region?
From diagnosis comes the new idea that Chile attracts because of the vitality of contrasts. It is a polarized country all of the time, but that’s what makes it rich, and then it’s finding that Chile is rustically sophisticated; from the product of the farmer in Paine, to the salmon export; from the clay from Pomaire, to the Alma observatory, those are powerful things and this idea is articulated in a new photographic style, a new typography, a new communication, where rankings will stop being the focus, to move on to dialogue, empathy. It is a really nice project that is just being built and in which we had to articulate many audiences, from former presidents to ministers and people from the entertainment world. Who better to talk about how Chileans are than Coco Legrand, or listening to (Ricardo) Lagos and his holistic vision of politics – in fact in his interview he barely spoke of his time as President but instead he spoke more about this work of building Chile; of the class differences or the younger generations, 17 to 23 year olds who didn’t know anyone that had been detained and had disappeared, no link, (at best they knew) Pinochet died and they think they are scholars because they know that. So what we believe is still a weight carried by the country, kids do not see, and that will go down in history as it happened in other countries: go ask about Hitler in Berlin, or Mussolini, like all dictators Pinochet will also disappear and that is looking to the future, it is not being anchored here today, it’s something that will be built and brands have to participate in that construction.