Branding, Like Making Brandy, Is an Art and Science
Companies can no longer force-feed consumers a plethora of products they don’t need. To succeed, companies must transform them and the world in which they live, according to Emmanuel Probst, global lead for brand thought leadership at Ipsos, an adjunct professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, and author of Brand Hacks. His latest book, Assemblage: The Art and Science of Brand Transformation, guides readers through the process of creating transformative brands by combining personal, social, and cultural components, supported by in-depth research in consumer psychology, consumer insights, interviews with top marketers, and case studies. CRM editor Leonard Klie had a chance to discuss this process further.
CRM: What exactly is assemblage, and how does it apply to marketing and branding?
Probst: Assemblage is a French word that refers to the art and science of blending different brandies before bottling cognac. Assemblage is also a metaphor for building successful brands.
Like brand managers, master blenders are responsible for the consistency of the product over time. They also oversee the vineyard, the harvest, and the brandy’s aging process. They combine rigor, precision, and intuition to create a unique product that will stand out. They are visionaries who anticipate the product’s development. They must also listen to consumers to understand how their tastes evolve and which products they are most likely to buy.
In winemaking, as in marketing, money only goes so far: The quality of the raw product is just as important as a network of trusted suppliers and the audacious vision of the master blender.
What is required today to create transformative branding, and how is this different today than just a few years ago?
In brand assemblages, elements are brought together, shaped, and ordered by actors with the authority and legitimacy to do so. Assemblages can include people, physical features, and even technologies that allow consumers to access the company and its products.
Brands are dynamic assemblages of social and cultural attributes that form clusters of association and meaning. Brand components can be added or removed. As such, assemblage assesses the fit between brand elements to ensure brand longevity, adding elements to existing frameworks with which the consumer is already familiar.
Stories that connect brands to a wider sociocultural context have become central to establishing consumer engagement. Brands have become dynamic and fluid; new components to assemblages can help stabilize or destabilize them. Understanding and balancing assemblages allows companies to balance continuity and change.
What has brought about this shift, and how can the market adapt to it today?
Today, brands no longer have a single meaning. Brand identity is defined in specific contexts, and actors (consumers, influencers, businesses) give meaning to brands in context. Consumers shape their narratives, meanings, and relationships with these brands.
Rather than controlling the brand narrative, brand managers now monitor, moderate, and channel brand contestation from consumers. Brand managers increasingly endorse the role of brand ambassadors who must listen to and represent the brand’s audience. Many marketers are loath to admit that brands are now “open-sourced” and struggle to manage the tension between giving away and retaining control.
How does psychology play into all of this, and what key psychological concepts apply to modern branding?
To succeed in the long run, companies must assemble components that support three key psychological concepts: the individual (“me”), that individual’s close group (“my world”), and the society and culture in which they live (“the world”). Assemblage shows the path to building brands that lead to positive transformation for consumers and society.
You say perception is the truth? What does that mean, and how can marketers create that sense of truth about their products?
Disney parks are designed using “forced perspective,” which enables Disney to make objects look taller than they are and manipulate the perceived distance between objects. On Main Street, guests entering the park instantly notice the Sleeping Beauty castle looming at the end of a seemingly long street. However, this same street seems shorter when guests leave the park because buildings on Main Street are designed so the side closer to the gate comes down at a wider angle than the side closer to the castle.
In marketing, how people perceive the brand is what matters, not what the brand and product really are.