Spare a thought for the marketer’s daily grind

Nicolas de Santis believes he’s well qualified to dish out advice on improving a client relationship so that you can both sing from the same hymn sheet

I know what you’re thinking. Who am I and why should you read any further? What gives me the authority to even think I can advise you on running your consultancy? Simple: I have been a client. I built an international brand from scratch – commanding armies of marketers, spending millions communicating the brand, delivering real revenues profitably.

For much of my early career I worked at Landor Associates, before spending ten years with Twelve Stars.

Finally though, it wasn’t enough. I left the consultancy world believing these branding and design businesses created massive assets for their clients and then simply left them with a design manual, just when the real value creation process was about to begin.

In 2000, after co-founding and launching, I joined Opodo (owned by British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia and Iberia among others) as chief marketing officer. And, for the past six years, I went through the entire process of creating a business strategy, convincing the board of its worth, asking them to deliver me millions to spend and then attacking the market, hiring numerous creative and media agencies along the way.

Returning to consultancy, I believe branding and design groups must improve their understanding of what clients really need in order to serve them better.

Let me give you an idea of what the average daily agenda for a senior marketer is like. Start 7am: meet media conglomerate, think of TV programming ideas, potential partnerships and co-marketing, on-line marketing innovations, optimise ‘Lifetime Value of a Customer’, improve site navigation, customer relationship management and e-mail campaigns to be planned. Now add integrated creative to fit all these marketing channels and you leave the office at 1am if you are lucky – no joking.

You have to think 360 degrees; making sure the whole brand investment delivers results while creating brand value for the company. Every day the results come in, every day you analyse, improve and finesse your business until your brand delivers its potential – and then, good or bad results, you report to the board where your neck is always on the line.

Support, assistance, ideas and actions that get clients to their targets are beyond value. As a top-tier consultant, you need to have successful sector experience and understand the true tests a brand will have to go through. Show that you know brands are multi-dimensional and multi-channel. Show that you know the business will need to train call centres and how you recommend it does that. Show how to respond to customer complaints and show how to deal with sudden consumer changes that affect a brand’s ‘temperature’.

Most of all, show that you understand ‘The Way’ – ‘The Way’ that this job needs to be done. Branding today is still a very fragmented experience, with multiple vendors having multiple ways of arriving at your DNA. I have seen at least 40 ways. Which is like saying that there are 40 possible procedures to make a heart transplant. Which one is the best?

With even management consultants now selling branding strategies, the market has become extremely competitive and also very confused. A client will ask: Who is best suited to do my brand strategy? McKinsey or one of the hundreds of branding groups? Should I leave it to the ad agency to do my new name? I am paying it a retainer. Surely it can do the job, it has great creative people.

Many brand consultancies claim to provide an ‘integrated service’ or ‘one stop shop’, but none of the various groups I worked with can truly deliver it. Not on a multinational basis and certainly not in a multicultural way. Yes, some have large networks and offices everywhere, but they are just delivery vehicles for a brand concept created far away.

In the end, all the responsibility lies with the marketing guy (the client in charge of all brand and marketing suppliers) to make sure everything fits together.

So how do you avoid the graphics manual just sitting on the shelf gathering dust, while marketing directors wonder what they were really sold?

Understand that clients see the brand in 360 degrees and are up against demanding business plans. Consider the pressures that daily, and I mean daily, affect a brand and its messaging. Then you can really expect to have the ear of your client when major brands are being created.

What clients want

  • Long-term strategic (positioning) as well as immediate tactical (sales) solutions that make a brand meaningful to consumers
  • Differentiation against key competitors to become the spiritual leader of category at all costs
  • Results-driven work (‘I win, you win’ – part-paid on results)
  • Clear brand DNA that is easy to convey internally and externally and a framework to adapt it as needed
  • Speedy and efficient delivery

Nicolas de Santis is chief executive of Twelve Stars, a branding and marketing group founded by his father

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