If you ever need a reminder as to why we’re in this business of branding and planning, talk to Marc Gobé of Desgrippes Gobé. He’ll set you straight. A talk with him just before the holidays left me captivated and pondering the meaning of existentialism. I can’t pinpoint how we got on the topic, but it all made sense.
In his latest book, Brandjam, due out this month, Gobé presents an inspired view of the intersection of design, experience and brand.
I ask him how we will ever get past McKinsey-style and zip code marketing and into more emotionally driven marketing. His reply? “The more people talk about it the more people will open up,” says Gobé. “Examples are all over. There are brands realizing their point of difference and their ability to exceed or expand the emotional space. Look at Absolut, Red Bull, Victoria’s Secret. We need to promote the people who get it.”
SDNA: So here we are talking about it.
Gobé: What’s hard is how you do it and how you justify what you do. It’s not the logical process we’re taught. We need to rely more on instinct and the power of observation.
SDNA: Who’s going to allow that?
Gobé: It has to be the culture of the brand. The brand needs a leader who is informing management to move in that direction. It has to come from the top down, or nothing can happen. Target spends less money on advertising and reroutes the money into building its brands to get it buzz.
SDNA: Some would say it’s risky to not spend money on ads.
Gobé: Those spending the most money are the worst brands.
(This is where I tell him that the minute I backed out of buying a Ford vehicle this year, I got bombarded with direct mail and emails from Ford.)
sDNA: What will the ad agencies say about that?
Gobé: Design is the new advertising. The agencies should fold, they’re out of line and out of touch. The only advertising that works is about product that you’re drawn to any way.
(He laughs. I’m charmed. He reminds me about C2.)
Gobé: 60 focus groups, 60 mill in advertising, and C2 is not on the shelf anymore. Bad processes legitimized Coke as an organization but did not reflect the consumer desire. This is where the gap exists. Innovation is not rewarded. There is no incentive for risk. They stay safe.
SDNA: Why stick your neck out?
Gobé: There’s a lot of work to do…Think of Victoria’s Secret--such an imposing brand. An emotional strategy that built a business that did not exist. Frederick’s of Hollywood was all there was 20 years ago. Victoria’s Secret was about allowing women to express their own sexuality.
SDNA: How soon before we become over-designed and nothing stands out anymore?
Gobé: Designers will be the first to criticize design. There’s too much design they say. But don’t they want to work. Seriously though, design is evolutive. Good design always will be differentiated.
(He thinks 90% of the products in the supermarket and 50% of the cars can stand for a good redesign. He thinks it’s absurd that we drink year after year from the same soda can but wouldn’t accept that from design of the cars we drive. Car companies change more each year, yet the Coke can looks exactly like the competitors. They still believe that they can make your taste adapt to their production model.)
Gobé: The physical manifestion of brands is critical. Billboards, can’t we redesign them? A Chinese company has designed a phone with fragrance cavities. The fragrance only gets released when the phone battery is warmed.
SDNA: Where’s the consumer in all this?
Gobé: Consumers are already involved. Target is so successful. Consumers fight off Wal-mart, because the emotional connection is not there. Once Absolut made the hit with Vodka, everyone started to design. Innovation propelled category to engage the consumer.
Brands that Gobé currently identifies with include Apple and Target. He works on a Mac and shops at Target. Ten years ago he identified with Coke for its visibility and presence. “We evolve in our connections,” he explains. “I drank my first Coke in France when I was 10. It embodied my dream about traveling, all those places and expanding my horizons.”
Twenty years ago, it was not product brands for Gobé, brands were commodities, it was about people who had a message to convey: Louis Armstrong is a powerful brand expression of a new reality; Rimbaud, the French poet for crystallizing big ideas; Dr. Schweitzer. “America used to have that incredible energy,” says Gobé.
LIFE is his passion. ”It’s such a great gift,” he emphasizes. “Life needs to be shared, supported and valued. There is so much richness to our own reality. I think we know so little about life. Any experience can be transformable. That’s why freedom is important. It’s the ultimate context.”
Gobé recalls the work of philosopher Baruch Spinoza who was the first to connect freedom with joy, “You achieve balance when you have a feeling of comfort and self-esteem.”
Gobé says he has to remind himself everyday to stay confident about the huge task at hand. “Maybe, I should compromise,” he muses.
“Don’t even think about it!” I say.