Find your soul: don’t be there just for the profit. Nowadays brands have the opportunity to make a stand for good causes and should use their power to make a difference. Small businesses like Patagonia have become A-listers by embracing a cause and making it the core of their business. However, there is a catch. If you decide to do it, don’t do it as a marketing stunt, be real. Consumers are getting savvier by the day, and they know when you are faking it. This is what happened with Pepsi and their disastrous Kendall Jenner ad. They thought that they would ride the wave of public demonstrations for social justice, but they were too late and they relied on the wrong personality. The backlash was so bad that the commercial had to be pulled after only a few days from being aired.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Giulia Iannucci. Giulia is a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant with 16 years of experience gained across the UK, Australia, Asia and the EU. She is also a passionate teacher, working both at Kingston University and the British Digital Marketing Academy. It is her passion for teaching and mentoring that brought her to achieve the title of HEA (Higher Education Academy) Associate Fellow; Giulia also owns a master’s degree in International Sciences and a Diploma in Digital Strategy and Planning.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Looking back, I always had an innate passion for all branding and marketing matters, to the point that as a young child I would change TV channels looking for commercials, rather than avoiding them (yes, this was before Netflix…)!
This passion soon converted into a career; as I started working as comms coordinator for a lobbying office in Brussels first, and then as Country Marketing Manager for a national medical insurer in Sydney.
This job in particular gave me the opportunity to wear different hats and explore many aspects of marketing, from advertising to internal communications, from (the by then still only emerging) social media marketing to re-branding. It has been the work on the company’s re-branding that turned out to be pivotal for my next career move: joining Standard Chartered Bank’s brand team in Singapore. And yes, I do like to travel the world!
But once again, 3 years in and things changed. By 2014 my family had started to expand and with the arrival of the second (but not last) child I felt ready to leave the corporate world to move into the world of entrepreneurs.
Looking for a way to balance family and career I first started working as a consultant, and then fully set up my business: KnowThyBrand. I’m not kidding when I say that literally the day after I officially registered my company, I discovered I was pregnant with the third (and this time last!) child.
But the challenges were not over: towards the end of 2015, my family and I relocated to the U.K. and while this meant leaving behind the business network that I had built, the move also represented an important step in the growth of my business and my own personal development. In fact, after the initial process of having to build the company’s name in the U.K., KnowThyBrand has now seen a steady increase in revenue and in the number of clients, both in the U.K. and abroad. I am now a lecturer and mentor at Kingston University, senior tutor at the British Academy of Digital Marketing, as well as an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is not a marketing mistake per se, but it had repercussions on my approach to leadership and branding.
I was in my 20s and during the first few days in my new job in Sydney a good looking, middle aged man approached my desk and said: Hi, I’m Peter’. Having never met him before, I thought he was just a colleague sassing out the new chick in the office so I fairly rudely replied with half a ‘hi’., at which point my next desk colleague whispered ‘He is the CEO’… Ahhhh the embarrassment! It turned out that the CEO, who was based in Melbourne, would make sure to regularly visit all offices and to talk with all employees.
This made a huge impression on me, and in the years the came he would prove in many instances to be the kind of leader he was: an inspiring leader, the leader who can motivate employees to give 100% and more for the company.
He also lived the values the company stood for. Our company’s brand was what made us different and stood out from our competitors, and he would ensure that all employees knew and embraced the brand so that we could deliver the company values and commitment to our clients/members at any touch point, from marketing to underwriting, from the receptionists to the lawyers.
In my mind, this is what branding is really about.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Often, clients have very tactical requests: a new website, an SEO strategy, a logo. But KnowThyBrand is different, we never look at their demand in isolation; we always start by understanding and defining the client’s brand, and only when we are completely satisfied that we are in the position to successfully communicate what their brand stands for, we then proceed with the project.
At KnowThyBrand we know that even the best marketing strategy won’t drive sales if there isn’t a strong brand to sell, and even the strongest brand won’t be able to sell if it doesn’t communicate effectively with its target audience.
That’s why we help our clients uncover their unique story, what makes them stand out from the competition, why their ideal client should choose them over their competitors, and then we help them to effectively communicate their story to their target audience.
One of my favorite stories is the story of a tiny business but it is a story that goes to show why knowing your brand is so critical.
This is the story of a woman who was launching her new ‘healthy, locally sourced, take-away food specifically for office people’ company. She described herself as a healthier and more flavorsome version of the ‘sandwich lady’ of many offices, but she was struggling because her prices were higher than the competition. Yet her costs were higher so she couldn’t really lower them.
All she wanted was a marketing strategy to promote her business, but I knew that that wouldn’t have been enough. The first thing we needed to do was to fully uncover why her food was healthier and locally sourced. It turned out that when she moved to the UK, she felt very isolated but found relief in her new local community. Now established in her British life she wanted to give back to the people that helped her so much when she first arrived. She was committed to the right thing for her local community: buying from the local butcher, investing in sustainable packaging, creating personal relationships rather than being ‘just a brand’.
Only when you uncover this story, can you start creating a marketing strategy that can make the difference. Only then you can target the right people, those who share the same values; only then you can craft the right message for these people and share them on the platforms where they are and actively communicate; only then you can design a package that tells the story.
Not only that, but at some point she was asked to employ a friend of a friend, apparently a very good chef. The problem? This person didn’t share the same values, was very happy to buy cheap produce and was not interested in the local community. Unfortunately, that person, as much as a good chef she could have been, was not the right fit as she would have weakened what was making my client’s brand so unique. By losing her point of differentiation, my client could have been competing with the sandwich lady or even worst with McDonalds, if the battle was to become little more than a fight based on price.
The moral of the story is to dig deep to uncover your uniqueness and stick to it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
On top of what I do with my company, I’m also a mentor for the Consultancy in Practice module at Kingston University. We are just starting the preparations for next year’s intake and I can’t wait to start!
The module is about getting young university students to work on real projects with real clients. Many of these students are there simply because they failed to apply for internships, others because they can’t afford to quit their part-time job for an un-paid placement, other still actually want to start their business straight after university. Whatever their motivation, my role as a mentor is to help them deliver the expected results to the placement client. It has now been 2 years since we ran this module and my favorite part is seeing these students blossom into young, confident adults ready to take the world by storm.
I constantly strive to use my experience to inspire them to grow, learn, and challenge themselves to reach a higher degree of satisfaction with their work. It is a combination of creating higher expectations and supporting them along the way. I see myself as a mentor that, while showing the road to success, empowers them to be the author of their own achievements. I love it, and from their own feedback, they love it too!
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
I love this question because in my experience, branding weaves the key business, marketing and positioning strategies together while visual expression underpins all activity that support a company’s business goals.
Branding is about uncovering and embracing your unique story, aligning it with key consumer insights, and critically, it is about ensuring that external and internal brands are aligned.
Then, and only then, businesses are ready to invest in communicating their brand externally and connecting with their audience.
On the other hand, marketing, holds the key to delivering the brand story and moving prospects through the buyer journey.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
The way I explain it to my clients is this: investing in building your brand might seem tedious, expensive and something that slows you down in your efforts to get to your customers with targeted marketing campaigns.
However, rushing to the marketing stage is like a commuter rushing to his train on a rainy evening with their work shoes on instead of taking the time to swap on to trainers for the walk to the station.
Getting to the train is a priority, as much as being able to communicate with and engage your audience is, but the few minutes saved by not swapping shoes turn out to be less than the minutes lost due to slippery soles, (especially if the run is done in high heels!). Additionally, even if you do make it to the train in time, your nice shoes will be ruined by the rain and you will have to spend more money to fix them or to buy new ones earlier than you would have liked to. This cost is the same as the costs business face when they have to retrofit a brand to match a marketing campaign.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Know Thy Brand: Understand who you are as a company, what makes you unique, what it is that would make customers choose you over your competitors. The world is full of competitors that can be cheaper, bigger, or more experienced than you. In order to have a chance to stand out from the crowd you need to be clear about what makes you unique, and you need to be able to clearly articulate it. One of my first clients was a Singaporean Fashion label. When I first talked to them, they were looking for help with their digital marketing strategy but after the first meeting with the CEO and the head of Marketing it was apparent that the main problem was that the brand had expanded too quickly and in too many directions. I kept asking what it was that their company did and would receive several different answers: fashion label, label incubator, fashion school. None of them was wrong per se, but nobody in the company was able to articulate (and critically, sell) what was unique about the brand they worked for. As a result, profits started to contract. What we did for them was a brand architecture plan, splitting the different pillars into different sub-brands, identifying the Unique Value Proposition of each of them and then we started targeting different audiences with different, clear messages.
- Know thy market: invest in understanding the market, its opportunities, threats, and competitors. It is critical to invest time in understanding the market in which you are operating, and where your brand stands compared to your competitors. Once, I was approached by a colleague who was trying to help a client who had invested all his money (more than $10,000) in PPC and had literally only gained 4 customers. They thought that the problem was their Google Ads, but the problem was another: The ad claimed that the business was offering an innovative solution, at cheaper prices than competitors. However, the solution was not significantly more innovative than what was already on the market and the price was comparable to that of the immediate competitors. On the other hand, the competitors could leverage a history of client satisfaction, reliability and trust. By not doing the due diligence at the start, this business was not able to attract new customers because they didn’t offer anything new, only something potentially less reliable. Had they completed a market research, understood what the target audience was looking for that the competitors were not offering, had they been able to position themselves as a truly valuable alternative, they would have had a chance of success. As it was, the business closed down after the first few months of activity.
- Know thy target audience: What are their paint points? What is their main motivation to choose you? What is it that might stop them from choosing you? Think of first, secondary and negative buyer personas. Buyer personas, or ideal clients, are not a new concept. However often companies forget about the secondary personas. This is an example that I always use with my clients: imagine that you are a brand of kids’ breakfast cereal, who is your target audience? The mum who buys them. Assuming that you have done your market research and you are targeting a woman looking for a healthy choice for the children, what happens if you create plain packaging that only talks about how healthy your cereals are? Chances are that the secondary buyer persona (the kid) would throw a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket, and (out of embarrassment!) the mum might end up buying the opposite style of breakfast. So, understating your buyer personas, and their influencers is critical.
- Align the external and internal brand: Everybody within the company must understand and deliver what your brand stands for, otherwise any promise you might make to your target audience won’t be fulfilled. One of my absolutely favourite branding stories is about Harley Davidson and how in 2003 to celebrate their 100 anniversary they organised a party with a secret special guest as signer for the night. Knowing what Harley Davidson’s brand stands for, who do you think their marketing team invited? A famous rock band? A rocker? Nope, Sir Elton John. Great singer, no complaints on my side, but you can imagine the kind of welcome he received; it was not a good one.
- Find your soul: don’t be there just for the profit. Nowadays brands have the opportunity to make a stand for good causes and should use their power to make a difference. Small businesses like Patagonia have become A-listers by embracing a cause and making it the core of their business. However, there is a catch. If you decide to do it, don’t do it as a marketing stunt, be real. Consumers are getting savvier by the day, and they know when you are faking it. This is what happened with Pepsi and their disastrous Kendall Jenner ad. They thought that they would ride the wave of public demonstrations for social justice, but they were too late and they relied on the wrong personality. The backlash was so bad that the commercial had to be pulled after only a few days from being aired.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Nike. Back in my 20s I boycotted them as a reaction to the scandal about the use of child labor to make their products. Fast-forward 20 years and my students at University dress head-to-toe in Nike clothes and would love the chance to work for this company. What has changed? Nike’s attitude towards social issues and its decision to take a stand. They famous commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick created a lot of controversy, but Nike stood by their message and didn’t pull it, eventually gaining more customers than those they lost.
The key of their success in my eye has been the ability to read the shift in their customers’ values and the courage to embrace and stand by these values.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
It is different, mostly because often the results of a branding campaign are slower to become apparent.
As explained before, investing in your brand means starting from the inside out, working with your people, your customers, and even your suppliers, to help you define what makes you unique and what message will truly make the difference. Once you start building the brand externally the results do contribute directly to sales, but they also contribute indirectly. Brand perceptions are difficult to measure, but a good brand strategy should also include brand monitoring, to check the brand reputation and what impacts it has on the customers’ choices.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media offers a great opportunity to connect directly with the target audience and ‘humanise’ a brand allowing people to engage directly with it.
Social media also offers a superb opportunity to monitor your own brand and to address potential complaints that can hurt your brand reputation. Some of my clients are shy about using social media because they fear that unhappy customers will use their company’s social platforms to complain. But I always tell them: no matter if you are on social media, your unhappy customers are there and will still vent on the digital space. The difference is that if you do use social media you can be there to address their complaints publically, and by doing so you could even turn a brand detractor into a brand ambassador in front of thousands of people!
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take the time to acknowledge your successes! Often, we are so busy hustling that we forget to stop, breath, and enjoy the result of our hard work. That also gives motivation to keep pushing forward in future hard times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
This is not a new idea, but one that matters a lot to me: mums empowerment at work. As working mums we work so many hours, in the office and at home, and yet we are not considered as committed as our male counterparts. Flexi work should be normalized; a happy employee that is empowered to choose when to work and from where, as long as the job is done, is way more likely to be dedicated to the company they work for. And a mum entrepreneur can be as committed and efficient as anyone!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Semel in anno licet insanire”: literally means “Once a year you can be crazy” but less literally it means that you deserve to take breaks. In my life I found myself oftentimes working, working, working but in the end the results weren’t as good as I expected. Why? Because I didn’t give myself the time to stop, think, dream. I was in execution mode, forgetting that my clients pay me for more than that, they want my creative thinking, by strategic approach. And that only comes when you allow yourself a little craziness. Being ‘crazy’ doesn’t need to be something major, although a last-minute trip to Malta was a good one!
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.