Gonzalo Brujó,
Global President of Interbrand Group

Interview Executive Excellence: Gonzalo Brujó, Global President of Interbrand Group

View from the inside

Two consequences of this crisis are already evident: uncertainty – organizations are unable to plan – and blind faith in technocratic approaches … and meanwhile, COVID “mocks” solutions based only on data and scientific knowledge. Without going into brand aspects, just from a business management perspective, what is this pandemic meaning for Interbrand?

During these last months we have focused on consolidating the repositioning and transformation of the business that we have been working on for a couple of years. At Interbrand we understand that branding has ceased to be a discipline exercised on a specific basis of the brand to become an activity that must be continuous and constant; This paradigm shift has implied a 180º turn in the relationship with our clients. The years 2020 and 2021 are being, in a way, our moment of truth.

First, we listened more than ever to our customers and the consumers to jointly develop a clear and in-depth analysis of the trajectory that the economy and consumer behavior were taking, with the aim of developing the most appropriate response. Likewise, with the impossibility of holding meetings or holding face-to-face events, we wanted to strengthen contact with clients and employees through constant communication and forums that, contributing ideas and building new processes, have allowed us, thanks to the team´s excellent work at Interbrand Group, protect jobs and to remain very stable financially, which was one of our key objectives, since, although we are defined as a consultancy with technological means, we are above all a company of people.

Many companies, and we have interviewed quite a few CIOs, have faced their particular “digital Rubicon” crossings. Some have even implemented actions that were planned for five years. What has crossing this digital Rubicon meant for Interbrand?

There is no doubt that digitization has come a long way in recent months, and it has done so in multiple companies and sectors. Of course, it has also happened at Interbrand. Not only because we have learned to work from home, but because the digital tools that we use every day have based the creation of an international network of collaboration between the brands of Interbrand Group (the leading customer agency C Space and the leading branding consultancy Interbrand) unique, effective and that generates extraordinary results.

We have been able to create various cross-cutting and global working groups focused on various aspects relevant to the company: its future, diversity, and inclusion. The sum of digitization and transversality has allowed us to go from being a group of 21 offices to a network with presence in more than 40 countries around the world.

Undoubtedly, this spirit of a global network materialized in teams that collaborate and co-create from different parts of the world is the key on which we want the future to be sustained.

Alain Bejjani is an example. He has been able to get the Majid Al Futtaim Group to internalize a reality: “We live in an era where ingenuity, willingness to collaborate and passion are the source of effectiveness, not obedience or conformity.” And they encourage their leaders to explain to their people that “their value lies not only in what they know and can do, but in what they can learn and how they can implement it.” How is this attitude of permanent questioning inserted in a company, where each employee is treated as a leader (at least potentially) capable of questioning himself to improve?

I am glad that you mention Alain Bejjani, since Al Futtaim is one of our historical partners, one of the first, also, that we had in the Middle East region.

Regarding your question: a few years ago, we collaboratively built the Interbrand values; In fact, it was the employees themselves who defined the behaviors that should govern our day-to-day life:

  • Lead with Love: Human leadership allows us to stand out and fit in at the same time, caring for each other.
  • Be Brave: We want to do a job that changes things. We strive harder on the quality of everything we do, because we trust what we do together as a team.
  • Make it Happen: If we ask ourselves “why not?”, We get down to work, being the first to take responsibility when there is something to fix. We try to do new things and make them come true.
  • Speak Up: Every voice at Interbrand can make a difference. The more we listen, the more we understand, and when we speak, all voices are heard. Nothing is ever left unsaid.

We have worked hard on these values, which have allowed us to deepen and create spaces for cross-cutting knowledge and collaboration. The most developed of them all is the Interbrand Academy, a learning and training platform, but also a meeting point for people, disciplines and ideas, where experts from different disciplines come, but also where teams present their projects and share their learning with the rest of the colleagues.

In addition, there are two committees of great importance to us: the Horizon Board, a team of colleagues under the age of 30 who meet to inspire and define the path through which the future of the group will unfold; and the DE&I Board, that is, the committee that watches over and works to make diversity, equality and inclusion a reality at the Group.

We have also promoted the creation of what we call Collaboration Taskforce, that is, a work team made up of colleagues from different locations who investigate, define and share the best collaborative practices, with which we can continue to weave and nurture this unique international network of strategic and creative experts.

A recent trend is the definition of the purpose of companies. The purpose comes to replace the role that the brand promise had in organizations as a filter to guide decisions in terms of product and service development, innovation, type of talent to recruit … Is this a fad or something that will be decisive in organizations?

I don’t think it’s a fad. Purpose is no longer just a concept handled in marketing departments. It has transcended and penetrated the top management. In fact, a couple of years ago, the Business Roundtable redefined the concept of purpose to extend it to the pursuit of the benefit of all the stakeholders of a company: customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. Until then, the purpose had been defined by the search for the priority benefit of the shareholders only.

We have applied this change to our own skin. From the new hires, executive leaders and Charles Trevail, we all understand purpose as that unchanging ultimate reason that justifies what we do; in our case and aimed at all our stakeholders: “Inspiring growth for all”.

However, defining a purpose is not enough, it must be enforced with more tangible elements, such as ambition (the role we want to achieve in a certain period of time, sustained on specific KPIs) and the path that traces us towards it. Exemplifying with Interbrand itself, that permanent purpose that aspires to inspire growth for all has been landed on a more measurable and concrete ambition over time: “To boldly create the next generation of icons”. That is, to promote, create and manage the next generation of iconic brands that will define the future of the economy and society.

All this paradigm shift has a clear reason: the consumer. More informed and connected than ever, who has more power over companies and has assumed precisely that role of control. A role that, in my opinion, improves companies, since it requires transparency and ethics in a world that faces, not only the pandemic, but also climate change or inequality. And brands know that they will play an active and key role in overcoming these challenges, as they demonstrated during the worst months of the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, consumers have verified the real capacity of brands to offer solutions and lead in difficult times when they have a clear ambition, which serves the communities where it operates.

In an increasingly fragmented media context, what must a brand do to succeed? How do you see the evolution of brands in the environment in which we live?

Digitization is not the only element that has accelerated in the last year; many other trends that were germinating have consolidated and advanced. And, above all of them, a common element: the speed at which changes occur. What is relevant to brands and consumers evolves rapidly and constantly, almost unpredictably.

To navigate this highly liquid and volatile scenario, at Interbrand we highlight four key factors in which the strongest brands in the world stand out and that determine the success of those that are on the way to growth:

The first of these would be empathy, that is, the ability of a brand to stay “really” close to its customers, to listen to them and to be able to anticipate, as a consequence, the evolution of their needs. The creation of communities and co-creation practices are essential, not only to adapt to changes, but even to stay ahead of them. This is why our C Space Customer Insights offer is so critical for brands.

The second key factor, and one that is necessary for the first to exist, is agility. The great axis of change that the most successful brands assume is that consumers move faster than companies. So, they move fast, “very fast,” launch new products and services with speed to the market, and pivot when necessary to address changing consumer demands.

Third, the affinity factor, since ultimately brands engage with consumers through “real” emotional connections that add value and play a significant role in people’s lives. This is a fundamental factor to build relevance in the minds of consumers, which is, ultimately, the mission of a brand in these times.

And fourthly, everything we do is from the outside-in in order to understand who customers are holistically, what motivates their choices and how our clients can best meet their changing needs. We translate customers’ lives into strategies and experiences that align business functions around customers’ needs to produce better decision-making with less risk. It´s about where to take brands next and how to get them there, and then actually getting them there. We are here to create lasting firsts and to create the next generation of icons.

Finally, I would like to highlight one of the phenomena that is generating the most growth and it has to do with the subscription model. A large number of technology-based brands have opted for this model, which has, above all, the advantage of having a certain monthly income guaranteed and of allowing better connection and building consumer loyalty, as long as it offers constant added value.

Large well-known consultancies, such as the Big Four are recruiting brand profiles to incorporate them as part of their services, as they did with the advertising functions. How do you assess the role of brand strategy consultancies such as Interbrand compared to the entry of consultancies?

It is a logical phenomenon and that not only occurs in our industry since the entry barriers of the sectors are diluted with digitization. In fact, it no longer makes sense to talk about specific industries as much as about “arenas”, broader territories that are no longer defined by the capabilities of the companies, but by the needs of the client or consumer.

In our “arena”, specifically, the increase in competitors has complicated differentiation and, consequently, both the large auditing firms and brand consultancies, such as Interbrand Group, look for spaces and formulas to provide integrated solutions to the client. The big difference is that a brand consultancy like Interbrand has almost 50 years of experience in the management of intangibles and, at a time like today, where the brand is the axis around which relevance and differentiation are built, we know its value, role and importance.

Not to mention that there are six forces that are changing the competitive environment. The first; the end of the competitive advantage. Two; Abundance of choice. Three; Speed of adoption. Four; Shorter feedback loops. Five: Inextricability of brand and business. Six; Shifting frames of reference. 

Likewise, consulting firms such as Interbrand have built a work methodology that has, above all, two advantages: a deep and unique knowledge of the consumer, which we have further strengthened by bringing in C Space´s magic, a digital customer insights agency, and, on the other hand, processes that uniquely integrate strategic (business) and creative teams. Both advantages allow us to access the real big data of people and get to materialize a real change in the value offer that is based on a long-term ambition and a trajectory that will help achieve it.

There are two aspects from which we would like to know your opinion: the role of the customer experience in today’s world and the importance of the global versus the local.

It is undeniable that the customer’s experience is responsible for building in his mind the relevance or irrelevance of a brand. Therefore, if any certainty has been consolidated in recent years, it is the importance of putting the consumer at the center of everything a company does (not just the brand). The design of a unique and value-added experience is a key part of that whole, but it cannot be developed successfully if the consumer has not been part of previous stages, related precisely to the definition and development of products and services. I like to say, colloquially, that brands are managed like airplanes: with pilot and copilot. In the case of a brand, the pilot would be the consumer and the co-pilot would be the company. Both are essential for the plane to reach its destination. In this sense, I believe that the practice of co-creation is going to be implemented more and more as the months pass, because it is going to be key to the future growth of many brands.

On the other hand, the perception of the global vs local binomial has taken an interesting turn: the pandemic has highlighted, more than ever, the importance of having local resources and industries, small businesses that have their activity in their own country. We will have to see if it is a temporary phenomenon or if it settles and marks the economic development of the next few years.

However, I believe that in the times we live in, it is necessary to escape from that global / local binomial and enter a paradigm defined by diversity, inclusion, equality, multiculturalism and the sum of different disciplines, knowledge, ages, origins… With today’s technology, I don’t think it is important where the company is based, but rather that its DNA, the ingredients that shape its brand, is the result of the people who are going to build it. In a nutshell, ethical brands that respond to their needs.

The last time we had the opportunity to interview you, in 2018, you had just assumed the position of Global Chief Growth Officer with the challenge of “connecting the world by bringing as close as possible the offices that Interbrand has spread out internationally.” Now, three years later, we chat again as the company’s Global President. What is your assessment of the closed stage and what are your objectives in the face of this new challenge?

In the last three years, I focused my efforts on moving from a regional organization to a global organization: my goal was to connect Asia Pacific with Europe, Europe with America, etc. As I have commented previously, at present, the 21 offices of the group are able to work as a single network in global programs that involve very diverse professionals.

On the other hand, due to the transformation of our business, it was a priority to strengthen the relationship with our clients, integrate digitization, find new growth paths and redefine the positioning, purpose, ambition and trajectory of Interbrand Group and its brands.

From now on, I have set three goals for myself. The first of them focuses on people, on our employees: promoting their motivation, growth, and participation in the development of the group. So, we believe in the committees I mentioned earlier: The Horizon Board, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, etc.

The second objective has to do with the quality of the work we carry out. After the change in our business and partnership with C Space, we must ensure more than ever that we maintain the level of quality that has always characterized us in all the programs we develop for our clients.

And finally, to maintain and promote the growth of Interbrand Group, either organically or by attracting new partners who wish to define their future as brands with us in order to add more value to their consumers and speed up the changes that they want to boost.