Successful businesses believe in their brands. But why? What’s the point of having a brand at all?
For the launch of our new ‘Phone a frog’ segment, we thought who better to talk to about what makes a brand valuable than two frogs who think an awful lot about this matter: Andreas Markdalen, frog’s new Global Chief Creative Officer and Todd Taylor, Marketing Director. Listen in to hear about the changing mandate of the marketing function, the relationship between brand and experience, and why designers and marketers need to work well together.
Design Mind frogcast
Episode 13: Phone a frog: What’s the Point of Having a Brand?
Guests: Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer, and Todd Taylor, Marketing Director, frog
[00:09] Welcome to the Design Mind frogcast. Each episode, we go behind the scenes to meet the people designing what’s next in the world of products, services and experiences, both here at frog and far, far outside the pond. I’m Elizabeth Wood [EW].
[00:24] Today on our show, we’re launching a new segment called ‘Phone a frog,’ where we call up someone from across the frog universe and ask them the tough questions. In this episode, we ask: just what’s the point of having a brand anyway? Companies talk a lot about them. They invest in their brands. But, why? What is it that a brand actually does? What value does it offer to both a business and its customers? To get to the bottom of this question, we first called up frog’s new Global Chief Creative Officer Andreas Markdalen [AM].
[00:59] AM: Hello.
[01:00] EW: Hello, Andreas. How are you?
[01:00] AM: Hi, Elizabeth. I’m great. Thank you. How are you doing?
[01:05] EW: I’m doing good. I have a couple motives for calling you today. One is that we’re launching this new segment for the show that we’re calling “Phone a frog.”
[01:16] AM: Cool.
[01:16] EW: And I would love to have you be the first frog that we phone if that’s alright with you.
[01:22] AM: Well, thank you. That’s an honor and a privilege. So this is being recorded?
[01:27] EW: Yes, you are on the hook for anything you say today.
[01:30] AM: Excellent. Sounds good.
[01:33] EW: Well, Andreas, first of all, I wanted to congratulate you on your new role as frog’s Global Chief Creative Officer.
[01:40] AM: Thank you very much. Yeah, it’s a really, really exciting role for me in this moment of transition for frog, entering a next era or a new chapter for frog as a business and as a brand, joining forces and joining Capgemini in Capgemini Invent. What’s interesting for me in this role, and as I think about what’s coming next, is us essentially building a new brand story for the frog brand, right? And starting to address new markets and new audiences and capabilities. So I know that one of the things that we wanted to capture and speak about today was brand, right? So I think the timing is perfect to do so.
[02:23] EW: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. What I was hoping to talk about today is the value and the power of a brand. Like, why is it so necessary for a company to build a brand? To stand behind it? To perhaps transform it and evolve it over time? What’s so valuable about brand?
[02:42] AM: Brand is a beautiful topic because it’s so simple and so complex at the same time. Brand is simple in the sense that the whole idea around shaping a brand strategy or a brand narrative really is about getting to the essence of the brand, right? Being able to explain why it exists in the world and what purpose that it fills in the world around us. And I think in that essence, getting to a crisp and clear story around a brand narrative is simple, right? We want to be able to build a story that people can understand and buy into, get engaged by, etc.
[03:25] AM: But the complexity of brand comes once you made this general agreement around the essence itself—finding different ways of expressing the brand, of making sure that you are meeting the expectations of this brand through different interactions either with employees on the inside, or with the customers on the outside of the company, and essentially living up to those expectations that are shared.
[03:52] AM: So, brand is a dear topic to me. And it’s something we are discussing heavily also within frog at the moment thinking about our next chapter. In fact, I was going to suggest to you, Elizabeth, and I don’t know how you feel about this idea, but maybe we could ping Todd Taylor [TT] as well. As one of my closest collaborators, we can really dig a little bit deeper into the topic. In particular, around brand and customer experience and marketing, which are three intersecting areas that are really defining the way that we approach brand today and maybe we can discuss that together.
[04:27] EW: I think that’s a really good idea. Let’s see if we can get Todd on the line.
[04:35] TT: Hello?
[04:36] EW: Hello, Todd. How are you?
[04:39] TT: Hey, Elizabeth. I’m great. How about you?
[04:42] EW: I’m good. You are being recorded actually at the moment.
[04:44] TT: Well, that’s scary.
[04:45] EW: Yes, I have you on the line with myself and Andreas Markdalen. Pretty sure you two know each other.
[04:54] AM: Hey, Todd.
[04:54] TT: Hey, Andreas.
[04:55] EW: But yeah, you know, we were just kicking back talking about brand as we do. And we thought it’d be a good conversation to loop you in on.
[05:02] TT: Yeah, let’s do it. Okay.
[05:03] EW: What we were talking about was brand, and maybe this evolving understanding of what brand is, what it’s trying to accomplish, and maybe the different roles within an organization that are involved with bringing a brand to life. And I think the two of you are really approaching it from different worlds: one being design and product and brand, and the other being marketing and messaging. But I don’t know, Todd, how have you seen maybe your mandate change over the last few years?
[05:33] TT: Yeah, it’s a great topic. I love talking about brand and how things are changing. For me, I guess maybe one of the changes has been coming out of this marketing perspective and then spending an increasing amount of time over the last years at frog working with designers, and asking myself the hard questions around is my own perspective relevant? Or how should I change that? And, of course, marketing came out of the space of—or a lot of people associate it with this space—of advertising and traditional advertising, which is more broadcast. Now, being in the social media era, everything is much more distributed and shared. The brand is not centrally owned in the same way that it could have been in former times. Now, it’s really something that goes out into the world and people create their own content in and around brands, and comment on brands, and share their own ideas and create their own associations. And so there’s that large paradigm shift for marketing itself.
[06:28] TT: And then I think working with designers, one thing that has been really impressed on me is like this detailed look at how people encounter brands across touchpoints and the experience that we deliver across those touchpoints. So, those can be grand. They can still be things like the advertising. They certainly are things like the product itself. But it can also go down into the fine and granular details of, I don’t know, how do your business documents look? Or how do you enter your timesheet? What is employee experience like? How do you experience the studio or the retail location or wherever it is that you’re encountering your customers in person? And how do the people that have those encounters, your employees, how are they expressing themselves? And is that reflecting a cohesive idea of the brand? And so, I like this very much broader, more comprehensive perspective. And I think that’s one place where marketing and design really meet.
[07:26] AM: Maybe if I can build on that. You know, I think that there’s an interesting—I would describe it as a kind of interesting friction right now just in mindset that we see among our clients. It’s really the Old World meeting the New World, right? I think traditionally as Todd mentioned as well, the world of brand was very much intertwined with the world of marketing, broadcasting and traditional advertising, right? The product and the experience of a product sat a little bit outside of that. So it became more about communication or speaking to a specific value proposition and to attract a new audience.
[08:08] AM: What’s interesting over the last decade or so, obviously, with the rise in new ventures and new businesses that are emerging, is that they are all about the experience, right? The product or the service is really leading the way that they think about their role in the world around them, their mission and vision as to why they exist. And, you know, what’s interesting for a consultancy and a firm like frog in this context is that we’re exposed to both worlds where we are essentially teaming up with many of the up and coming emerging ventures to think about how can they attract and speak to a bigger picture of their work? Where it’s not only the experience, or the product, or the service that counts, but actually they can speak about the bigger picture of why they exist in the world, and how they affect their contexts around them.
[09:02] TT: What’s really interesting, I think, is, you know, some of the perceptions that I’ve seen going in both directions around, you know, the world of design and the world of marketing, right? So encountering designers increasingly through my time in this industry, I often felt that their perception of marketing was different than my own. That they had formed a certain idea that marketing was really there to create hype around the good work that they were doing on the product. There was some of that going on.
[09:30] TT: And also sometimes some perception that, you know, that the value of marketing isn’t really there. That so much money is being spent on advertising—is that really, is that really a good investment? Does that really serve the end user? And, there’s a lot of validity in some of those thoughts and topics, but I also thought, you know, sometimes, hey, they’re pretty limited, right? And from the other side, I’ve seen the more business-oriented or business-connected team members sometimes look at design, the design discipline, and feel like it’s separate and apart from the sort of the hardcore realities of the competitive business frame. I’ve also thought, yeah, that seems also unfair. It’s interesting how these perspectives sort of form up. And where do they come from? And why do they persist? Because to a certain degree, you know, they still can.
[10:17] TT: I just think it’s more about getting increasing exposure and cross-pollinating the type of tools that we work with, and creating a space where that kind of diversity of perspective is really beneficial. I think that probably is one of the success factors for some of the work that we’re putting in right now: to be able to approach from different directions and find common ground in the center in and around what the brand is and how you build it up and what it stands for.
[10:44] AM: I really love that, Todd, you highlighting the sentiment that I think these different communities are having with regards to each other’s professions. Coming from the design community myself and speaking to the world of products and services, there is this kind of derogatory feeling or this negative feeling around the world of marketing and advertising. Until we are, and I say ‘we’ as a community, are exposed to something that is really impactful or really powerful. So everyone hates advertising up until the point where you come across a beautiful piece from Patagonia or something similar, right? These brands that are able to really connect to a community and to a global user base or customer base through, of course, amazing products, right? Beautiful products that are durable, sustainable and so forth. But also tie into that bigger ethos.
[11:45] TT: I really like this value perspective around marketing. So, as a marketer, I also talk to my team about, are we delivering value in this interaction with the customer? Are we giving them value in the form of, you know, things that will make them better professionals? Information value. Are we engaging them in a way that thrills them in some sort of entertainment value, or value through community and networking? Or value in the form of beauty itself and the things that they encounter with the brand, and feel inspired by for example. You could, you could take those examples further and further and further.
[12:23] TT: By working in frog, I have started to evolve this perspective of value should be delivered by marketing—that we shouldn’t simply be amplifying messages and making them as loud as possible. The messages must carry with them some sort of value, and give a logic to why our customers will invest time in the content we create, right? And why they’ll invest time in engaging with frog as a brand and giving some of their mindspace to us. And I think that’s really healthy. And I think that’s something that increasingly we’re seeing in marketing in general, is that we’re getting away from this space of just making it very loud. And, as an industry finding our way through to new ways to create value both for the customer, and then, of course, the core mission is always to create value for the firm as well.
[13:16] EW: Yeah, I think all of that is really interesting in terms of having a strong brand, delivering on the experience that you’re trying to promise your customers. That’s all really nice and maybe moral in some ways, but what does that actually look like for the customer? Why is that so important from a loyalty and engagement perspective?
[13:36] AM: I think there are a few different dimensions to that and Todd already spoke to the first one, where we have the challenges within the organization on the inside. And then also, of course, what’s happening on the outside, when we look at market competition, etc. And I think on the inside, as well on the outside, expectations on delivering upon the brand have never been higher.
[14:05] AM: Starting from the inside, you can speak and tell any story that you like. You can promote any qualities or values and you can share them with all of your team. But if you’re not able to essentially live up to that and create proof points for where you see this addressed and generate and create an environment where people feel like this is actually the truth, and they’re living it every single day, you will fail. The brand message will fall on itself. And it won’t mean anything because it sounds like a hype statement, or it might just be some cold, shallow surface without being able to really go deeper into that experience.
[14:45] AM: I think on the internal side, employees within your organization will have a very low acceptance for mediocrity really. They look for every single interaction with the company to live up to the expectations that are being shared.
[14:59] AM: And I think similarly, also looking on the outside, we are looking at a few new generations of our customers and consumers coming out. Their expectations have changed dramatically as well. Again there, the tolerance for mediocrity across different experiences, whether you speak about product or service or retail, or commerce or anything else—people are really at this point just expecting the best, right? And the perception of loyalty in that context is completely changed in the sense that, yes, I’m willing to build loyalty around the brand if it represents my values and beliefs. But I’m also willing to exchange this product or service the next day if I feel let down by the brand. So that kind of perception of loyalty is that I think, you know, people are actively looking for brands that are representative of their feelings and beliefs and their personalities. But they’re also much more willing at any moment to swap those out or trade up for a different service or product.
[16:02] AM: And then, final comment to that as well, which I think is important, is just looking at the expectations between the B2C space and how they are starting to affect the B2B space. We see the expectations on products and services, specifically as part of the digital transformation, right? People want to interact with the best applications. They want to interact with the best experiences, and they’re bringing those same expectations into their work environment. Todd spoke about it before: how I input, my timesheets, the knowledge management systems that I’m working with, or my day-to-day enterprise tooling, you know? People want high quality everywhere. And I think this new expectation sets the foundation for everything that we do really.
[16:45] TT: Well, one thing interesting I was thinking about while you were speaking there is the disposability of loyalty in a way. So you talk about loyalty, but people can you know set that aside pretty quickly. And I think from a brand perspective, maybe one of the differentiating factors is or a couple of them first is how permanent or disposable are the values that you’re representing? So, are the ideas that you’re putting forward attaching so deeply to a fundamental human condition that they’ll never really go away? That give you a solid foundation that you can build a larger idea for your brand around? That sounds really ambitious and complicated. But in truth, we’re all creating businesses to serve some fundamental need that people have, right?
[17:34] TT: And then, as we want to communicate how we’re fulfilling that need, that becomes a creative exercise to do well or to do poorly. But in the end, we’re trying to fulfill some need that exists for people or out in the market or for businesses or whatever it might be. And so, I think the job of the brand marketer is to really deeply understand what that fundamental human value or need might be and then make sure that resonates strongly, either implicitly or explicitly through how you express the brand. And then you know, if you can create that sort of, you know, attachment for people, then they’re less likely to jump quickly.
[18:09] TT: But of course, there is always the situation of circumstances changing, society changing, people’s preferences changing, people’s life stages changing. There’s a certain amount of churn going on in terms of affinity with a brand that may be unavoidable. But what we can do in some of those circumstances is look far enough down the road so that we are ready and prepared to migrate the brand to the most productive places when we do see these shifts in society—and occupying spaces that are high probability to have great importance in the future.
[18:45] TT: I see those things happening. We’ve seen that kind of thing happening for years with very progressive brands that may make decisions that in the short term, they may or may not seem profound, but over the long term, they seem extremely strategic. So it could be the way Apple is taking on the privacy topic, which provides a good example. They’ve been doing that for a long time. Now, it’s coming very much to an apex. In their latest release it was very prominently featured. It’s a differentiating factor for them and a space that they can occupy strategically and have been for quite some time. People are recognizing the value of that. So, you know, that’s a strategic decision. That isn’t random. And that strategic decision affects how they have put together product roadmaps, how they create their communications and do their launches, and the things they talk about, as well, right?
[19:36] TT: And there’s many examples of that. When companies are really willing to do that, to do things that are going to hurt a little bit in the short term, but they have a strategic horizon that is extremely valuable for them. Well, then you’re seeing strategic brand management really being applied across an entire operation. And that’s radically different from a more superficial view of what the brand is about. Some companies may think, you know, hey, we got our brand mark, our logo is locked up, and our color palette is in place, and so we’re done. I mean, that’s really the most basic part of your brand program and certainly isn’t comprehensive. So having that long view is something that is really differentiating for the brands that become more transcendent and then have some larger relevance within society and culture, and stay around for decades and become something that we feel very attached to, or at least recognize and understand what they stand for over long periods of time.
[20:35] AM: I think, you know, one of the things that I really appreciated in our collaboration, and I think one of the first principles or statements that you pinned on one of our boards earlier on in the collaboration when we were speaking about the frog brand, is this general idea of thinking in decades. That has helped me to reshape the way I think about brand, the way we approach brand in general. And I really think it’s this kind of marathon mindset, right? Where we’re trying to divide our work maybe into sprints that are aligned to specific milestones in the program, but it is that long-term goal that really makes the difference and really helps create the right perspective as well in terms of how we assess good ideas.
[21:25] AM: And, Todd, you spoke about it before: one of the typical things that we see when a new CMO comes in or a new Chief Experience Officer comes into a business might be to kind of just revisit the brand identity, right? You know, change the superficial qualities of the brand. And of course, that might have some short-term impact, but it’s never going to solve the kind of bigger community-building around the brand. So it feels absolutely on-point in the context that we’re in right now.
[21:54] EW: Okay, so if you are a company, you have a brand, and you’re really trying to launch a brand transformation, what do you do first? Where do you actually go? What’s your advice?
[22:05] AM: Yeah, so I think if you’re in that right mindset that we spoke about before, taking the long-term look at the transformation that will happen, for me the first milestone to define is starting with a story. And the way we usually approach this within frog is trying to anchor down really on what is the context? What is happening around us that is out there? What needs are we speaking to? What are the different audiences that we are addressing? And then essentially shaping a narrative that goes into the foundational questions around how and why the company is responding to these needs. And, essentially, what the ingredients are to deliver on the promises and the statements that are being made. So having that key central story and narrative becomes the starting point for essentially validating what the key ingredients are. Not only externally, of course, with clients or customers, being able to iterate them and trying things out there. But also, as we mentioned before, arguably more important in the beginning, is to get the teams on board, and start to build that culture that brings people together.
[23:17] AM: Storytelling is an extremely powerful mechanism. Being able to reduce the complexity down to a single set of talking points or a single set of slides, and essentially convey the new strategy, right? So I would really start from that point, and then build and expand from the initial narrative that is being shaped.
[23:37] TT: I like that. I would even roll it back further to say, “Go on a search for truth.” So I really like finding what’s authentic. And you have to dig for that. So you have to go through the archives and the materials and look at what is the history of the company? Speak to people who have an opinion or have been around for a long time, who know the brand and know what the brand stands for. Look at the points of evolution in the brand. When was the brand different? And why? In what ways is it the same today as it has always been?
[24:27] TT: Some things you’ll find will be valuable, super valuable. Other things not so much so. But if you find those few—just very few—essential, eternal truth around the brand, that gives you good building blocks that you can use and expand upon and test to steer your ideas so that the narrative that you come up with makes sense, right? It has logic. It has an element of being right because it validates what you understand about the brand and what you want others to understand. And that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing that you will introduce—new values or new truths, new new myths or new ideas that will help take your brand into the future. You should be doing that as well. I guess it’s the magic of finding those things and combining them all together to create this mix that feels very eternal and yet fresh as you encounter the brand over and over, over and over again.
[25:11] EW: Well, thank you both so much for joining me today and talking through your different perspectives on brand and how, you know, it really is about the storytelling and the experience coming together. I really appreciate it, Andreas and Todd. Thanks for joining us.
[25:24] TT: Thank you as well.
[25:25] AM: Thank you so much for having us.
[25:27] TT: It was fun.
[25:30] EW: That’s our show. The Design Mind frogcast was brought to you by frog, a global design and strategy consultancy that is part of Capgemini Invent. Check today’s show notes for transcripts and more from our conversation. We really want to thank frog’s Andreas Markdalen and Todd Taylor for taking our call here today. Design Mind superfans might even remember their appearance on Episode 3 of our show called ‘Behind the Design’, all about the launch of frog’s Make Your Mark brand initiative. If you haven’t heard it already, be sure to give it a listen wherever it is you’re listening now. Maybe just queue it up next and have a go.
Of course, we also want to thank you, dear listener. If you like what you heard, tell your friends. Rate and review to help others find us, and be sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Find lots more to think about from our global frog team at frog.co/designmind. Follow frog on Twitter at @frogdesign and @frog_design on Instagram. And if you have any thoughts about the show, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening. Now go make your mark.