Edward Leaman, a branding expert and Stanford professor, believes we are at the height of a new era in brand building
By Roseani Rocha in Meio & Mensagem
He has already been involved in the repositioning of brands such as Stella McCartney, Giorgio Armani, Porsche and Nike and believes that communication between brands and their customers, today, must be based on a sustainable relationship project, which would even involve companies considering the sale as a consequence and not its primary objective. The British Edward Leaman serves as a professor at Stanford University, in the United States, and was in Brazil this week for a lecture to students at the Faculty of Economics and Administration at the University of São Paulo (FEA-USP). The theme he addressed at the event organized by Wish International Events Management was “Innovation in brand experience”. The expert argues that brands should strive to establish relationships of emotion and meaning, as it normally exists between people, art and culture. Check out some of his points of view, in the interview given by email to Meio & Mensagem.
Meio & Mensagem – What role can art play in the development of a brand?
Edward Leaman – When I talk about art, I talk about the courage of a brand to address who it is and what its beliefs are. Just as artists can only really understand and communicate with themselves – as well as others – through their art, I believe that brands unfold their beliefs through their processes. Only by being bold and transparent can brands really change behaviors.
M&M – Do you imagine that attributes of the artistic world have more adherence to premium brands, such as those for which you have already worked, or can it be used by any brand profile?
Leaman – No, I think that brands should think and act in an inclusive way, as art does. People look to the business world more than any other institution in the expectation that it will influence social change, and the responsibility of brands at any level is to connect with customers and prospects at the human and anthropological level. My belief is that technology is fueling a new anthropology and this is relevant to any level of brand thinking and execution.
M&M – How can art and culture be used as resources with good results by brands in a context like the one we live in, with a retracted economy?
Leaman – Art is a lens into the state of culture at any time, as is the business world, and for me the question is how brands will connect with people in a place of meaning and awareness more than in a space of power. In many ways, brands can be built for difficult times, because in good times everyone is doing well. Good brands do well in difficult times because they have established their relevance differential, main competence and sustainable competitive advantages and, therefore, are more resistant to survive and even to prosper in times of difficulty. It is the art of branding and its impact on culture that stimulate me.
M&M – Do you believe that any brand manages to reach the same level of depth of emotion and meaning that art or culture establish with people, assuming that we all know that a brand wants to sell something and an artist does not necessarily? (maybe a worldview, a point of view…)
Leaman – I really don’t believe this is what a brand should be looking for – selling first. A brand should know that the goal is to serve customers/the public and the result may or may not be a sale. Serving is the ethical essential of a brand and, when serving, the active ingredient is service. There are no sales without a buyer and connection on the emotional and feeling level, but having the courage to communicate because you are the way you are becomes more authentic, real and meaningful.
M&M – Isn’t it contradictory that art is important for brands and that at the first signs of crisis, companies that sponsor art cut off resources linked to projects in the area?
Leaman – Again, I call art the ability to be true, real and courageous. Hard times demand that all of us connect more strongly to the place of values and beliefs, values and beliefs that are true in good or bad times. You cannot and will not cut values and beliefs, as you would sacrifice those for whom you lose your soul. Values and beliefs allow a brand to be real. For me, art is about the real and living only in the field of the ideal would lead to a lack of meaning.
M&M – And what to do when joining new cultures brings problems to brands? Recently, here in Brazil, the cosmetics brand O Boticário had its campaign for Valentine’s Day, celebrated by us on June 12, criticized by conservative sectors for showing homosexual couples exchanging gifts.
Leaman – If a brand has values and beliefs and knows that what it sells has the answers to its own question about why it exists, my answer is that it must remain firm, because you can only do what you are, then, be yourself.
M&M – You say that today it no longer matters what brands say about themselves, but what people say about them. But in its origin, every brand is required from its own discourse, isn’t it?
Leaman – I believe that brands verbalize their beliefs in alignment with the place where they see the world going and seek to create what I call “behavior space” for consumers by moving the answers to the question “why?” through the answers of what they do (product) and how they do it (brand experience). My definition of a brand is “a promise delivered and measured” and brands should measure themselves by evaluating how well they deliver on their promises. In other words, measuring customer satisfaction has become the new customer promise. This is called Zero Moment of Truth. The promise is created by what others have experienced with the brand, even before the brand is able to remake the promise about itself to the communities it seeks to serve.
M&M – What is the structure of the course that you teach at Stanford? Do you feel that these contents are taken from the academic world to the daily routine of companies?
Leaman – I have some brand building structures that I created as models, based on years of work in this area, and they help guide students and companies towards building their own brands. Some of it is art, some is science and part of it I call “shopkeeping” because of the details and interconnectivity within a brand – of processes, innovation, social impact and healthy profit – that create the need for what I call the scenario of the Four Worlds. Modern brand building requires a series of lenses to be placed on one idea at once and these lenses are individually and collectively important today. Another way of saying this is that our job is to take complexity and solve it as simplicity. You can have complexity and simplicity living together. However, you cannot have complexity and complication living together and surviving. Complexity made simple is the modern ethics of brand building.
M&M – In the case of USP, the theme of your lecture was “Innovation in brand experience”. What are the highlights of the material you prepared?
Leaman – I hope that people liked the ideas from the moment I try to join ideas and practices of brand building based on a huge respect for the consumer and on the amount of potential that exists in brands to do well, correctly and in new ways. Brand is how I navigate the world I live in. It is a kind of poetry and I am in love with it.
M&M – Brands in general talk a lot about innovation nowadays. Do you believe that they are really being innovative? Do you believe more in radical innovation gestures or in the style of those who promote small and constant changes?
Leaman – I think that it (innovation) can be reached in many ways. Some believe that you can’t “trickle down” so it all starts with a powerful conviction about changing the world. Others believe that a group of tactics can become a strategy over time. What excites me is that technology and data are creating new ways of understanding many different levels and types of empathic relationships with customers and prospects. I believe that we are at the height of a new era “centered on feeling” in brand building and that makes us all more human, responsible and reliable, because there is nowhere to hide from the transparency of the truth.
M&M – We received the information that you acted in the repositioning of several global brands. Could you summarize what you suggested of changes for Stella McCartney, Nike, Porsche, Giorgio Armani, GAP and The Body Shop?
Leaman – My work for different brands over so many years has taken many forms, so it is difficult to answer that question. Sometimes it’s product development, sometimes it’s creating brand experience/customer experience, sometimes it’s determining the language of beliefs and values and then deploying that in marketing. Brand is not a single thing; it is the connection and combination of many things in the name of the relationship between it and its users. What I say is that the most important role I have ever had in my life is that of a teacher, because ideas inspire younger minds and they, not me, will create incredible realities out of those ideas. Shaping ideas into brand format is, if you like, my art.
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