Brand Accountability in an Age of Transparency
I’m with Emmanuel Probst. Welcome to the show.
Greg, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
My pleasure. Emmanuel, tell everyone a little bit about yourself. You have two worlds. You teach, write books, and are also a consultant. Is that right?
I’m Global Lead: Brand Thought-Leadership with Ipsos. That’s one of the largest market research agencies in the world. I also teach at UCLA and write books. My next book, Assemblage: The Art and Science of Brand Transformation, is coming out.
I would love to have you on the show. We rarely get a lot of folks from the research world but almost never does someone have the title of thought leadership or brand thought-leadership. Tell us a little bit about your journey to that position. We are talking to a couple of thousand brand people in our community. Tell us a little bit about your world, how you got there, and what you are trying to accomplish at Ipsos.
We mentioned three roles and connected tissue between UCLA and my writing. I’m passionate about understanding why people do what they do. That has been my focus ever since I was 16 or 17. I used to collect ad campaigns literally and display this on the walls of my bedroom. I wanted to understand why advertising agencies will choose a specific tagline or picture and then what will make people buy those products.
In my life journey, I ended up in market research. I said, “Ended up,” because it was pretty random. I needed a job as an MBA student, and at the time, I could work in Ducati over phone interviews. I did this for a few months, and upon graduation, I joined a market research agency. What has not changed is this passion for understanding why people do what they do. What has changed is, “I have more experience. However, I pride myself in learning every day.” One thing I like about this industry is how humble it is and exciting to meet new people and get in touch with new ideas every day.
I came to branding and marketing almost the same way. I was very fascinated with people’s notion of why people made decisions but I went through the organizational development management line. I realized that nobody cared about how much you understood decisions unless they led to sales. That’s how I got to marketing but indeed. It’s a unique perspective you are bringing from research to branding. Tell us a little bit about your current thought leadership because you are probably producing lots of information. I know we talked a little bit about dashboards. Maybe give people a sense of what the Holy Grail is or isn’t in research.
The dashboard, it’s an important tool. It’s output. I will start at a very high level with the input. I can’t help quoting the one-liner for my next book, Assemblage but brands can no longer sell more products. Brands need to make a positive impact on people and the world they live in. As such, brands must transform us and the world. When I say transform, it indeed makes us become better individuals.
Now, especially after COVID, brands have this mission to make a positive impact on society, the economy, and people. A few years ago, we would call this brand purpose, and the terminology is still very relevant. The difference is that brands can no longer claim a purpose. They need to demonstrate this purpose. They must demonstrate that they are doing the right thing, protect people’s privacy, look after their families, and so on. That’s a high level from a brand strategy standpoint. That is what, in my view, applies to brands in CBG, in technology, in financial services, pretty much across the board, of course, in healthcare as always.
You mentioned the tools. The opportunity we have now, if you compare the old world of research with what we can tap into now, is the ability to combine disparate data sets and make sense of those data sets. Not in isolation but bring all this data to the same table literally like a public and make sense of it on a more holistic level.
We can now understand how all things work together from our side as brand marketers. Your first point is equally compelling, and so can consumers. Consumers have the same tools at their disposal to figure out our brands deliver on that human promise that people are making it. Someone who was on the show talked about this being the human era of branding because there are tremendous levels of transparency.
If you make a promise, people will find out. Are you flying in a plane? Is there a superstar talking about the environment or are you cutting down for us? What are you doing? What have you seen sort of the brand marketers that you’ve talked about? What have they had to do to not only incorporate the data but change their behavior or their company’s behavior to deliver on those promises they are making?
To your point, Greg, that’s a very important shift whereby people have more leverage over brands and have the power, not just to promote a brand but potentially to cancel a brand. Meaning to campaign against the brand, if you will. An important shift for brand managers is that you no longer control the narrative. I believe that as a brand owner and brand strategist, you guide the narrative.
People have more leverage over brands and the power not just to promote a brand but potentially to cancel a brand.
You guide the key building blocks of your brand identity. You need to feel comfortable handing over the storytelling to your audience. That’s described in that chapter in the book, Assemblage, that citizen, activists, and more details on this. You ask about the tools, and it’s important. As you said, consumers have access to many of the same tools to clarify, and we see that people are more aware of how companies monetize their data and their identity.
We call it the data exchange whereby people say, “Big tech firms, I know how you make money. You sell advertising towards my profile. I’m okay with this to some extent as a user. However, I want, 1) That you protect my privacy with the security of my data. That you respect me as an individual. 2) I want you to provide me with products and services that are helpful and innovative to me in exchange for me giving you my data.” We see the shift in digital literacy in education in almost how we serve the public. Years ago, people would say, “What’s going on with the algorithm?” Now, we sense that people are aware of the way this data is being monetized.
It’s a fascinating idea that there’s this information exchange, and there are people in the ecosystem of a brand who have agency or influence over that brand’s narrative. They may not even consume the brand. They are stakeholders or influencers. I saw an article about people protecting whales saying lobster harvesting is bad for whales, so don’t buy lobsters. They are not eating lobsters but influencing the entire narrative for that industry just by having influence.
The tables have balanced out, and brand marketers are getting smarter about having to deliver authenticity, transparency, and accountability. What problems are they running into? It’s not that easy, so we talk about, “We can all see it,” but what do you see them struggling with? How are they overcoming it?
A good example is sustainability, and here’s why. The beauty of what we do, you and I, is brand strategy and marketing. You can always finesse the tagline and work on the positioning of a product or solution. That’s one thing. However, when you have an entire supply chain, which by the way, most of the time, you don’t fully control, that becomes much harder for a brand to commit to something. Again, this goes well beyond marketing. It’s not a marketing question.
You have brands that will drill around the purpose of sustainability, and these brands have it easier. You have brands, however, that need to shift to a model of sustainability. A simple example is the car industry. Tesla was built around the concept of electric cars. I’m not saying that building Tesla was easy in any way, shape or form. It was the central building block of that brand and that company.
In contrast, think of a company like General Motors that has been building gas for our cars forever, has to retrofit plants, come up with new models, and all that. All this to say that, at least in the short-term, it is much harder for GM to come up with a solution to produce batteries and electric cars than it is for Tesla, which built its entire company and proposition around this.
That’s a fantastic insight. That’s why they’ve emerged quickly because they saw that collective unmet need and delivered a brand proposition that was aligned to it much better than any entrenched competitor. That created speed in the marketplace. That is great. If I had a new company, maybe I could design it but most brand marketers are dealing with legacy assets and have to transform. While you were talking, I wrote down this, “The notion is this brand accountability and an age of transparency.” It’s a new formula for everybody to reach to.
We talked about this notion of brand, thought leadership around it, how you have to orchestrate it, using data, and the consumers using data. If you had to summarize your feelings about this transformation, what would be the one word you would use? You can’t use transformation. I will take it away from you. What’s that word, and why do you think about it? We know you are writing a transformation book but for brand markers, what’s the feeling they might want to capture here?
I will go with the word intentions. If a brand intends to do well, if a brand shows that it wants to do the right thing, most likely, it will. Even if you make a few mistakes, that’s where the audience will be forgiving as long as you display the right intentions. Those intentions, once again, must be, don’t sell people more products, and that’s fine. As a brand manager, you are here to make profits and be a for-profit organization. That’s fine but that cannot be the only reason why you get up in the morning. You have to be willing and able to make a positive impact on me, the public, my world, the people around me, and the world at large.
Brand Accountability: If a brand intends to do well, it needs to show that it wants to do the right thing. Even if they do make a few mistakes, that’s where the audience will be forgiving as long as you display the right intentions.
Emmanuel, my intention is to get your book and learn more about it. I appreciate you being on the show. What you all are doing and the thought leadership is important to this new era as we all learn how to adjust, especially coming out of the pandemic. I appreciate you being here.
Greg, everyone, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you having me on show.
Greg Silverman, signing off for Digitally Enabled. I hope to catch you all next time. Emmanuel, have a great week. Thanks, everyone, for tuning in.
About Emmanuel Probst
Emmanuel Probst is Global Lead, Brand Thought-Leadership at Ipsos, adjunct professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, and the author of Wall Street Journal and USA Today best seller Brand Hacks. Emmanuel’s background combines over 16 years of market research and marketing experience with strong academic achievements.
At Ipsos, Emmanuel supports numerous Fortune 500 companies by providing them with a full understanding of their customer’s journey. His clients span across a wide range of industries, including consumer packaged goods, retail, financial services, advertising agencies and media outlets. Emmanuel also teaches Consumer Market Research at UCLA and writes about consumer psychology for numerous publications. He holds an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hull, United Kingdom and a Doctorate in Consumer Psychology from the University of Nottingham Trent, United Kingdom.