Brand Mantras from Nick Foley

07 Jan,2015

 

As president of South East Asia Pacific & Japan for Landor Associates Nick Foley is a frequent visitor to India where his firm – owned by the WPP Group – is an active player. Prior to working at Landor, Mr Foley managed strategic brand portfolios for Mars as well as Nestlé, working across insight generation, brand positioning, strategic brand planning, new product development and mass media campaigns. In a freewheeling chat with Pradyuman Maheshwari, Mr Foley talks about how Landor is doing in India and the growing acceptance of firms like his in the country.

 

Do you think more than ever before the environment is just right for firms like Landor? In countries like India, the acceptability level for consulting firms such as yours has increased over the years?

Yeah and it definitely relates to how mature the economy is and how it’s developing overall as a country. We are definitely experiencing more requests for assistance with branding.

 

Is that from any specific sector or is it overall? 

Overall, for sure. But one of the areas where we are experiencing a good level of demand right now is within real estate and property development.

 

And the fact that they come to you as against advertising agencies indicates they realise the importance of concentrated attention to branding.

Yeah, may be we don’t examine it to that degree, but one of the things people associate with Landor is that we are a good, trusted advisor. We have 74 years experience of brand consulting and, in every market that we operate in the 27 offices we have around the world, we have a consistent approach to how we develop and build a company’s brand profile.

 

But isn’t real estate an industry very Return on Investment-centric and hardnosed about deliveries. Is it the same internationally or is it only specific to India?

What we are seeing increasingly with, our clients regardless of whether they’re real estate or government departments or packaging firms or automobile industries, is that return on investment is table stakes. We are hired in the expectation that everything we do yields the appropriate financial return and that the impact we have is demonstrable in a fairly short period of time. We’ve noticed that every client we work with wants to quickly get through to an idea that they can then move on to the overall brand, which is the main impact they need. RoI is across the board with every client we are working with.

 

Are there any conspicuous traits commonly seen in Indian clients versus the rest of the region?

What I would notice the most with India is, there is an exponential level of change and that the pace is rapid. When we are hired, things move fairly quickly. In other markets Landor operates across South East Asia and Pacific, sometimes greater consideration is given at various points of our engagements, whereas in India the tendency is for projects to start quickly and move at a rapid pace.

 

Is the acceptance level for branding consultants, in addition to advertising, the same as the rest of the world or is it still slower?

Without a doubt, creative agencies are all endeavouring to be media agnostic, where Landor and our fellow competitors are different from the advertising agencies in that, we focus on the brand, not the campaign. The reason you would hire a brand consultancy such as ours, is because you want to find that tangible, engaging, desirable, distinct decision in the mind of your target audience. Typically, what we are very good at doing is coming in and helping companies to identify what a single compelling idea that drives and accelerates their brand. And of course, once you have that, which is a robust brand position that will then inform the advertising, public relations, internal communications, packaging, overall identity and messaging. What we are fundamentally good at and what I believe is the critical difference between branding and advertising is that we provide something that shouldn’t really change that much. If you think about a brand position, once you’ve created it, it should last a good period of time,. What we offer compared to advertising agencies is very different. The advertising agency has a campaign-centric mindset. Do we encroach on their space with communications? Not really, that’s not our area of core competence, and if we can help a company stand for something, and then articulating that in a compelling, engaging way then that’s our job done.

 

Besides real estate, which are the other sectors you looking at growing in India in the near future?

One of the areas across the region that we’ve been quiet successful with has been shopping malls and helping firms establish a clear brand presence within that sector. That’s one area where we will continue to work with companies, because we are building a good track record there, but again whether it be banks, airlines, telecommunication and FMCG companies, the challenge is the same. Our expertise is branding and we can apply that across a broad spectrum of companies.

 

What about governments? Is that a sector you’ve wooed?

Yeah! In other markets we have done a lot of work with governments

 

So are there any specific recommendations for the Indian government? You’ve been a frequent visitor here, so what are your impressions and what are things that you wish you could change here?

The single biggest change that India could make which would advance her economy, its economic growth and the organisations within the country would be reducing complexity and making business simpler to do. Great brands are driven by a single compelling idea.  If I was advising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s team on the message they want to send to the rest of the world, the single compelling idea which when you asked me that question, would be something along the lines of being simply open for business.

 

That’s something which every successive government tries to say… that we are open to business and we welcome foreign investors.It’s easier said than done, right?

Yup! So what’s happening there is, if you think about it that is very much at the embryonic phase, the Brand Idea, which then needs to form everything within the overall ethos of an organisation. You’ve had successive governments promising that to the world and delivering in varying degrees, so the power of the brand should be to provide the appropriate vision, let people know what the values are that feed into that brand, what the attributes are, what the beliefs are… And once you have that, how can you ensure that every government official is starting to encourage all internal stakeholders within the various departments of the government to ensure that everything they do, feeds back into that over actual narrative and that Brand Idea. At the moment it’s ‘Make in India’ So, that’s really clever, What you’re saying with Modi at the moment is what Obama did

 

And would you have a view for Mumbai, since you’ve worked for Melbourne?

With Melbourne, the brand we created for them needed to be a catalyst for change. If you look at Melbourne, what happened there was, it was six or seven councils were merged into one. So when we worked with them, they had 53 different brands and sub-brands. We simplified it to putting everything under the city of Melbourne brand mark and there were two remaining brands after that.

 

Didn’t politicians and administrators object to the all these councils and departments and being merged? Because at the end of the day you’ll are brand guys, you don’t know the complexity of the administration and the intricacies of politics. So did you ever get told that, hey guys, mind your own business, let us do what we know better.

Change is never easy, but that’s what we do and it’s interesting that the brand essence from Melbourne was catalytic which of course is heavily skewed towards change. Procrastination has no place when you’re trying to put fundamental change through, which is what are we doing and the best way to encourage change is to make change aspirational. So if you can ensure that people see the benefit of that change, which we were very clear with the city of Melbourne, then actually that becomes quite motivating. If change is brought to you in a dictatorial manner, then the likelihood of you actually gaining significant traction with it is low, I’d say one of the challenges India has is, that it is overly democratic and sometimes too much public opinion is garnered and what that actually does is slows progress down. The importance of what Modi is doing now is, he is coming with a clear vision for India, he has identified sectors where change is most required, but more importantly whether that change will be valued by the outside world. So, unilaterally, he is engaging a number of different stakeholders, which will help with that change, but if I see in India right now and again the sentiment I pick up from your media and from talking to people is one of overt optimism. He’s already started, that aspiration to create a better India, which should ensure that people then start to move with him the government for  Mumbai should be no different. Mumbai needs to drastically look at its infrastructure and how could an overarching brand vision feed back into that. Even if they prioritise three key things and how an aspirational brand would help with that transition, again, keep it simple, but identify where you’re going to make that change, how it’s going to benefit people’s lives and then use brand as the catalyst for making that transition.

 

One of the accusations against Modi is that, he is slightly dictatorial. Do you think that’s possibly not a bad thing?

I think you need to find the appropriate balance between being directive and being consultative.

 

Some of the things you said a Landor does is quite like what a consulting firm like a McKinsey would do. In what way is your consulting approach and the advice you give different from that of a McK?

Having worked with Bain and McKinsey in the past, my analogy with them is that these guys are kind of cruising at 30,000 feet in a Boeing 777 while we are hovering at about at 1000 feet in an Apache helicopter. Often once they’ve come in and identified fundamental change, we come in and personify it by using the brand as one of the key pillars for encouraging that change. What we do is very different to them and what they do is fundamentally different to ours.

 

In India, currently the word brand is used in a very loose way and everybody is talking about Brand India and Brand this and Brand that, do you think there could be be revulsion, could there be people revolting against the whole concept of Brand, of looking at everything from a Brand point of view?

Yup, that’s completely understandable.

 

Is that something you worry about?

Yeah, I do. But if people understand one of the key benefits of a brand is that it allows to you to create an emotional connect with your audience, then that’s a very good thing. Branding allows us to create an emotional connection and focus on higher ordinates for their target audience, otherwise it’s just a fairly homogeneous world, everything is commoditised and if you think about that, that’s a fairly boring world in which to live.

 

A shorter version of this appeared in dna of brands on January 5, 2015

 

 

 

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One response to “Brand Mantras from Nick Foley”

  1. ashok759 says:

    Sensible pricing coupled with delivery schedules being honoured will do a lot more to restore real estate to health than a Donald Trump style bout of brand building.

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