The Critical Components of Successful Brand Implementation and Why They Are so Often Overlooked

Brand implementation is a critical but often misunderstood and underestimated component of good brand management. Bob Kersten talks with Philip Guiliano of BrandActive about the significant financial payback when the bridge between marketing intent and operational reality is crossed successfully.


Episode Transcript

[This is an edited version. Listen to the full interview by clicking the player above.]

Bob: Hello and welcome to Expert Opinion. I’m Bob Kersten from BrandingBusiness, and I am thrilled to say that joining me today is Philip Guiliano. Philip is a Partner at BrandActive, leaders in brand implementation, which includes everything from financial analysis to strategy to logistics, and everything in between. Today, as you might imagine, we are on the topic of proper brand implementation. It’s such an essential component when it comes to rebranding and brand management, yet can be overlooked, underestimated, or misunderstood by organizations and leadership. Philip, it is so good to have you on the podcast today.

Philip: It’s great to be here, Bob. Thank you. Yeah, it is such an important topic that tends to get either overlooked or thought about way too late in the game, so I’m really happy to share thoughts with your audience around what we see in the market and sort of why we even exist as a company out there in this little unique niche that we serve.

Bob: Philip, can you start by sharing just a little bit about your background and your role at BrandActive?

Philip: So, my background is a bit unique. I started my career as an engineer and then got into M&A consulting for about six years, and then a little bit of time at the agency side with one of the leading branding agencies, and now 17 years here at BrandActive. My role at BrandActive has been from day one, and continues to be, growth of our business here in the US and internationally as well as defining the service offerings that we bring to the market in the implementation and brand and marketing operation spaces.

Bob: BrandActive provides a number of core services and it continues to grow. It seems like every time I speak with you, you’ve built out a new capability and you’ve really become a leader in this space. Can you give our listeners an overview of who BrandActive is and your capabilities?

Philip: It’s one of those things that when I talk to CMOs – you can bank on it, every single one of them says, “I never even knew a company like that existed out there.” We have two core offerings, the first is when there’s a merger, an acquisition, a large rebranding, identity change, brand architecture, consolidation, spinoff, those kinds of things. We’re the company that comes in and says, that’s great – we’re not going to define brand strategy or creative design or anything like that, but we are going to look at marketing materials, digital assets, signage, uniforms, products, packaging, HR, IT – you have all these things.

So, what are all those things; who owns them; what’s the cost to change all of that; what are the different cost models; how can you leverage operational cycles or existing programs internally? And how do you leverage things that are already in motion to reduce that cost of implementation?

We’re basically the bridge then between marketing intent and operational reality and we work with all of the operational teams in HR and IT and facilities, etc., to help them plan.

We put that entire plan together into an integrated model with risks and interdependencies. And then we manage that program for the client to get all of those assets converted into the market…we get very tactical on that side of the house.

We can be the ones to manage the signage companies and environmental implementation, fleet graphics, all that kind of stuff. That’s sort of core number one.

Core number two is around brand and marketing operations, which is more tactical. What do you do every day? How do you do it? Who do you do it with? What do you spend on it? And how do we make all of that stuff more standardized, documented, repeatable, cost-effective and efficient? So that’s none event-driven, there’s no major rebrand, it’s just, hey, we know we can save money. Let’s identify all those opportunities, prioritize them, map them out, build ROI models for them and start tackling them.

Bob: Got it. So, I think it’s a great point that although triggers can include M&A, spinoffs, renaming, to your point, other triggers might be just the need to optimize how a company manages its brand and markets itself.

Philip: Exactly. And a lot of companies are shifting from a decentralized model to a more centralized model, or in some situations are actually shifting from a centralized model to a more decentralized model, or they’re creating an in-house agency or things of that nature. And all that stuff just requires good operational rigor, really good process documentation, roles and responsibilities definition, sometimes technology support to support it. So yeah, really just looking at how do we operate better as an organization.

Bob: Yep. Philip, you were kind enough to break it down into the two parts. If you were to keep going with this breakdown into the elements, if you will, it’s safe to say things like financial analysis, logistics, asset conversion. What are some of the other core capabilities? Can you highlight those again?

Philip: What the market needs most from us at the beginning is really an understanding of the scope of change, what are my options for changing all of that, and what are the cost and timeline impacts of making those decisions. So. for example, we could look at – what if I did a “big bang” and I did this all in six months; what if I did this over two years, or four years? And how do I still create a big bang impact while still leveraging operational cycles over that four-year period to reduce costs? So. we can play with variables of quality and time and the level of asset application. Again, how you leverage your internal resources versus outsourcing? So, what people really need right upfront is a real good understanding around that so they can take a package to the executive team and say, “look, we’re looking to do this program and if we did it this way, it would cost this, and here would be the impact and the risks and the interdependencies and the timeline. Or, if we did it this way, here would be the cost and the risks and the interdependencies and the timeline.”

The other thing that I would say to that is – and rebranding is not one cost number because of those levers that I talked about – you can also frame for somebody that says, “look, yes, we can do this and we can do it over four years and achieve our end state, and it doesn’t have to cost $60 million, we can do that for $20 million.” The rest of it becomes really building good operational plans around just all the who, what, when, where, how of how things are going to get done, asset by asset.

Building out dashboards and reporting structures for executives, but also at a very tactical level for each of the work groups. Building out those integrated plans and then managing those work groups towards their end goal over that 18-month, 36-month, whatever it might be, to get all that stuff done. Project governance, project communications, training, education, all that kind of stuff. And really integrating with all the agencies that are involved, whether it be BrandingBusiness on the branding side, or their PR agency, or their advertising agency, or their social and digital agency, all of which have interdependencies in that whole plan.

Bob: I’m really glad you brought this up. I was going to ask you a question specifically about the misconceptions that you run into…assumptions around timing or the level of rigor that’s needed, or the resources required, and the cost and impact analysis.

Philip: The level of rigor one that you brought up is probably the biggest because there’s not another company that focuses solely on what we’ve just discussed. There are other agencies that have add-on tail stuff that is implementation-ish but really, in general, it is guidelines development, it is template development, etc. They might ask the organization what certain things might cost. We don’t do that, by the way, we have a database of everything we’ve ever implemented. We use client actuals to figure out costs. But the biggest thing that we get really is the time it takes to think about implementation and when should we be thinking about implementation.

There’s a lot of agency decks that I’ve seen that basically take a client through a journey of, well, we have to do research and then we have to do your brand development, then we have to do creative expression and exploration. Then we have to build that into guidelines, and then we have to think about employee engagement and training. And at that time, we’ll start thinking about activation. Now, at that point, you’re maybe three months from brand launch and you have no time, at that point, to actually optimize implementation.

What we always say to people is nine months before you think you’re going to launch your brand; you need to be thinking about implementation because you’re going to spend anywhere from 10 to 100 times what you spent developing the brand to implement it. And getting those budgets into the corporate budget, requires time.

Bob: Philip, every time I talk to you, there’s a new case study or example of something you all have done. Can you share a recent high-level example of a program that you all have completed?

Philip: At any given time, we’re servicing anywhere from 50 to 70 clients through their rebrand. One that we’re most proud of recently is probably Pfizer and taking them through their rebrand during the COVID epidemic to really position them significantly more as a scientific leader and not a pharmaceutical company. And obviously, I mean, we didn’t do any of that positioning work or any of that identity work – that was a program where we did basically…all of the inventory development and the scenario modeling, cost development, and getting their executive team aligned around the right approach for them, and how to prioritize that asset rollout to create the impact that they’ve been looking for.

And again, this was a situation where they absolutely wanted to create immediate impact because the climate was right, they were absolutely ahead of the game from a competitive perspective in really driving that. I mean, I think Merck kind of shifted their 3, 4, 5 years-ish earlier, but not a lot of other companies had joined that path, and then Pfizer really took it through. I would everything I’ve heard has been really wonderful, but for us, it’s a really proud case study of leading a client through every aspect.

A lot of things that we do also involve franchisee and broker-dealer agent networks and things of that nature, and that adds an entire level of complexity.

Bob: Well, Philip, really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. I’m really struck by some of the comments that you’ve made around BrandActive being able to serve as a bridge between marketing and HR and facilities and the rest of the organization…eliminating the subjectivity that exists around the topic of brand implementation, especially at the leadership level, and then really being able to model out everything from resources to timing to all the interdependencies, and being able to pull on different levers and show people what their different scenarios and options are.

Philip: And a payback model, that’s one of the things that’s often really overlooked. We’re never going to be the company that goes out there and looks at the market return that you might get from going with this brand strategy or that brand strategy, but there’s real tangible payback that can be modeled out in the what do we do today and how do we do it, versus how are we going to do all of that tomorrow, and what assets do we have under management and what are we spending on them. So, there’s a lot of situations where clients are hiring us now to help them not just build a cost model of what it’s going to take to do it, but also build the ROI model that’s real tangible operational savings.

Bob: Well, listen, I want to give you your day back and say thanks again for your time. I really always enjoy speaking with you, learning more about brand implementation. Again, that was Philip Guiliano, Partner at BrandActive. Thanks again for joining us, Philip.