Andrea Fabbri | Creating Your Brand Scientifically
Say the word brand and most people think of iconic companies like Nike or Apple with flashy slogans or logos.
But in the B2B context, brand is very different. And, as Andrea Fabbri of Branding Business explains, creating a brand identity is not some vague, touchy-feely process.
An effective brand that can guide sales and marketing – even operations and product development – is based on cold hard data and evidence, both from the company doing the selling and the prospects in their target market.
Andrea talks about his approach to building a brand, as well as…
* Why salespeople are vital to this process
* The key differences between marketing and branding
* How to test a new brand identity almost risk-free
* One of the most underestimated – yet most important – activities when making changes in a company
Michael Webb: Some people like to focus on marketing and accessing senior level decision makers, and selling value, other people focus on data, and analyzing with statistics to find cause and effect. On this podcast, we focus on both in order to create wealth for everyone. My name is Michael Webb, this is the Sales Process Excellence podcast and I’m excited today to have a guest, Andrea Fabbri of It’s a Brand Business is your website. Is that right Andrea?
Andrea Fabbri: Branding Business.
Michael Webb: Branding Business, okay because please tell us what your company does and a little bit about how you got to where you are.
Andrea Fabbri: All right, well first of all thanks Michael. I am the manager director of Branding Business New York, Branding Business is a brand strategy consultancy dedicated exclusively to building B2B brands. We have two core principals as we build brands for our clients around the world, and those are evidence-based thinking, we’re all about facts and insights, but also about courageous ideas, great brands are never formulaic. They always contain some level of uniqueness and that always needs, to some extent, some courage, and I can expand on that.
We work with exclusively B2B brands from technology, industrial, financial, healthcare sectors to mention a few, and we cover the spectrum from startups that need to grow to companies that they are on a tipping point and have a great opportunity to be leaders in the market place, to companies that need to be repositioned because their values are being challenged, or oftentimes, and I do a lot of that work, companies that come together through mergers and acquisitions.
Michael Webb: Okay. So I have a number of questions here I want to ask, but before we get there, I mean what experience did you have that put you on the doorstep of saying, “I’m going to do this and start a successful consultancy around it?”
Andrea Fabbri: Oh well it goes back to ’97, ’98, I used to work for a company called Intelsat, it’s the world’s largest satellite communications provider. It used to be at the time an international organization, just like the UN, it was created in 1964 by JFK and other leaders from 11 nations, at the time in ’98, ’99 it was a 145 member nations and at the time the company decided that it was time to privatize, to become a private company, therefore completing changing its identity, who they were. And that was happening because they had to face some market challenges that had to be addressed, and to that being a private company was essential.
So at that time, I was senior marketing manager in the department and I started thinking about the issue, how do I transform the company reputation from a UN-like organization to a private company? How do I move the salespeople that have been so far accustomed to receiving orders from companies around the world, to actual become sales hunters? How do I transform the culture that has been always about engineering excellence to one that now is about that as well as marketing excellence as well as other things.
And suddenly the topic of branding came about, I started digging, and I presented a plan to my CEO and the plan was approved and that’s where my journey began, and in the following six years that I was there, I launched the company in 2001 as a private brand in 200 countries and 18 languages. I did IPOs, mergers, acquisitions, product launches in around the world, and then after 2007 I thought, “Well I can actually do this, leverage this experience and do this for many other companies.” And so that’s when I created my own firm, and then I got to Branding Business.
Michael Webb: Okay, boy talk about a baptism of fire.
Andrea Fabbri: Yes. You can say that.
Michael Webb: So I used to work at an engineering firm and I remember that our head of electrical engineering, really, really smart guy, they called him Barnie, and his idea of marketing was, “It’s a black hole that you throw money in.” And a lot of people, I think, from an especially technical and engineering kind of backgrounds can feel that way, because marketing is such a vague term it’s hard to know what it actually means, and if marketing is a vague term, branding is even worse.
So I’m going to challenge you right off the bat here and say, what is branding and what’s the difference between branding and marketing?
Andrea Fabbri: Yup, well starting from where you started, a product doesn’t sell itself, so it needs a set of activities and people to do so.
Michael Webb: Well now wait a minute, didn’t an iPhone sell itself?
Andrea Fabbri: Not really. So marketing and branding act like yin yang if I can use that metaphor, but marketing is the management of building a market for a product, driving demand for a product, that a specific company sells. So driving demand for a company, depending on what it is. It entails managing pricing, the design of the product, the distribution, the defining proposition, understanding the market, and managing and defining the brand. The brand is a tool, is a means to an end, because branding is essentially perceptual marketing. It allows to define what you want customers, the market, to think and feel about a company when that customer experiences the company’s value through its offerings, its people, and its communications.
So it is about figuring out the strategy that can create the feelings and thoughts based on a complete experience that a customer has with a company. So it’s not about a product, it’s not about a feature, it’s not about an app, it’s about the management of all these things that need to be all communicating certain ideas and feelings so that those ideas and feelings then achieve two goals. Because ultimately the goal is to build brand value, brand equity, I know, which merely means build meaning. So the goal of branding is to increase perceptual value, because obviously the higher it is, the stronger is the propensity for a customer to choose the company’s products or a company, and therefore the business goal of branding is to drive preference in selection. And in fact when we conduct discovery analysis for customers that experience branding issues or marketing issues, we always do and start from equality theory of assessment, that allows us to understand the gap that exists between a company’s awareness or a product’s awareness, and the willingness to buy.
The broader the gap the less a brand is effective at driving preference and therefore at supporting sales. The shorter the gap, it means that the brand has an incredible amount of power and it makes selling a lot more easy.
Michael Webb: Well so you just nailed the last question I guess, but I was going to go and ask the follow-up question about how does sales fit in? And I think your point is that it makes sales easier by essentially framing the value, framing the sale, framing the customer’s perspective.
Andrea Fabbri: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look I am the first one actually, particularly again our focus is B2B, to not only appreciate but to value enormously salespeople. The first thing we do in our firm in any projects that we work with is to interview salespeople because the salespeople are the front and center, they manage the actual human relationship between the company and the customers, they are the human interface. They are exposed to markets issues, challenges, they understand what is the reaction first hand of a company’s vis a vis product and offering.
But sales, for branding to be useful to salespeople, sales organizations need to understand brand strategy and they need to be empowered with tools and means that allows them to benefit from the value that a brand strategy provides. So that’s why in any projects that we do that focuses on branding, and I said, we work with a large, large B2B companies around the world, part of our process is a fairly extensive training of the sales organization about the brand strategy that we just developed, because if all we do is develop a strategy that ends up being seen just as tagline in a arts, salespeople continue with their strategy, and nothing really changes.
Michael Webb: Right. Boy have I seen that happen.
Andrea Fabbri: Yeah, so for a brand strategy to be absolutely successful, or impactful in a sales organization, sales organization needs to be trained and needs to understand what the brand strategies all about. And by the way, when I say “tools and means” I don’t just mean fact sheets. I mean oftentimes we need to retrain how they explain a product, how they present a company, we need to empower them with stories, with facts. The new means that allows them to truly understand not just the rational side of a strategy, but more importantly in my mind anyway, the emotional strategy. In a B2B world, that relationship is not … B2B companies don’t sell a toothpaste, they sell oftentimes very expensive solutions. So that the value of the personal relationship is essential, which is why I said at the beginning, a brand is what you want people to think and feel based on communications, products, and people. And in that equation, salespeople are essential.
Michael Webb: So obviously you have a framework that tells you what to look for, how to make a diagnosis, and then what are the components to implement successfully, but all this has to be based on evidence, which is why I’m interviewing you, those are the kind of people that I’m looking for out in the market. So how, especially in those big old complex organizations, how do you help the client determine if they have a brand problem, a marketing problem, a product problem, a sales problem, a service problem? I mean, what evidence tells you those things? If you can give us some examples.
Andrea Fabbri: Yeah that’s a great question. So as I said earlier right, so if the value that a brand has is the result of the entire holistic experience that a customer has with that company, then it goes without saying that essential to building strong brands is conducting a fairly extensive assessment of a variety of areas. When we follow our methodology, we get into many, many, many areas. We look at products development and products strategy, and we look at existing products, we looked at existing communications, we look at sales areas, we look at pricing, we look at systems and processes, we look at culture. We look at market segmentation, and out of this analysis, which is both qualitative and quantitative, we emerge with a picture of the gaps and the opportunities.
And for the opportunities, and this is where the evidence-based lies, we use a proprietary methodology that we developed called the Brand Performance Platform that allows us to map the market and understand the brand, or the new opportunity in the marketplace for the brand based on customer segments, needs and wants, and trends. So this is a dynamic market map that allows us to understand what’s the state of things today? How are they evolving? And how should the brand move accordingly to gain the greatest strength and therefore serve the best the need, the goals of the business.
This is all done through quantitative, very complicated, statistical analysis. But what that does is that when we go back and present data to executive management, it is not about my opinion or my colleague’s opinion, it’s about the data. The data removes personal biases, one of the greatest threats that any organization faces to changing and evolving because change is part of life and part of business, is to be stuck in to, “I don’t believe that,” or, “My personal view is.”
No, it’s about eliminating the personal biases and understanding what are the options based on data. And then we do that a lot and-
Michael Webb: Okay.
Andrea Fabbri: Yes, go ahead.
Michael Webb: So let me ask a couple questions around that market map and that sort of proprietary model that you built. I’m working with a client right now that is in a trading, sort of a new market for them, which is selling into the commercial building space. They have a product that goes as part of an HVAC system for like hospitals and data centers, and the company has never sold into that space before. And when I worked with them, we did a customer journey map. Turns out there’s like six different customers because it’s a very complicated, full of channels, kind of market.
You have the building owners, you have architects, you have engineering firms, you have contractors, you have independent representatives that sell to the contractors. It’s just chock full of all these different players, and the product may well, and the information certainly does, travel through all those different kinds of people and multiple different people inside those organizations.
So is that what you mean by a market map, that it identifies all those constituencies that play a role?
Andrea Fabbri: Yes, we do that, and it’s fairly complicated to explain through just a podcast because it really visually if you could see it becomes much more clear more quickly. But what we do is, we take a product or a company, and we look at all the markets the company wants to, in your case, in the market that it wants to penetrate. And then we conduct quantitative surveys that allow us to understand to answer one question, “What kind of brand does this company need to be in order to be successful in that market?”
And obviously the markets, and you were talking about, markets has different buyers. Each buyer will have certain things that are different, but they’re going to be some commonalities. And we’re looking, first and foremost, for a common shared of attributes that can inform the brand. We then use the knowledge gathered to articulate that brand in a series of custom-tailored messaging platforms that allows then salespeople to explain the brand in a way that resonates with that specific audience.
You know, GE is about imagination at work, whether you are looking at healthcare or nuclear reactors, but obviously how GE sells healthcare is, needless to say, a little different than selling a nuclear reactor.
Michael Webb: Right, right.
Andrea Fabbri: But we need to understand both so the salespeople can be empowered with the knowledge that they then know it’s connected to how the company needs to be positioned, therefore seeing, perceive an experience. The key is to make that connection. And one of the things that we always do in addition to training salespeople is to build a brand road map.
A brand when you’re entering a new market, let’s say for example, you need to develop a brand strategy, which defines how do you want to be seen and perceived and experienced in that market? But then what we do is based on all the knowledge that we gather about your organization, and the culture, the processes, the systems, and you go on, we develop a brand road map. We identify a set of internal and external core strategic activities that the company has to focus on in order for their brand promise to be a reality. So for example, we are working right now with a credit union and the credit union positioning is, without saying the name, focused on innovation.
Obviously, contingent upon that promise to be true is the credit union has to simplify its processes, has to become a lot more easy to work with. So we defined the brand that works almost like a flag, a destination, and then we develop an operational road map that allows an organization to get there. Now the beauty of this approach, there is a CMO working with a CEO and the CTO, now have a common plan that is an agreed upon plan, and they all can, as they say, sing from the same music sheet versus trying to have each department will err by having its own plan. Because one of the biggest issues that we always encounter is a fragmented, siloed world in companies.
Michael Webb: Yeah, inside the company, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andrea Fabbri: Inside the company. So the only way is, evidence makes them agree about the future. A road map, makes them agree about what to do to get to the future. And then we remain and work with them as a strategic advisor in making sure that things get done and by the way, that’s oftentimes, almost every time, we then bring in partners. We have a lot of capabilities, but we cannot be an expert in everything, nor we want to. But we do know experts in other areas, so depending on what the issues are, we bring in other partners, but they’re all working within the framework.
We look at things, how they go, we check, we measure, we change and make adjustments because that is the right thing to do.
Michael Webb: Well okay, so I mean … In the lean world, the op-ex world, goes without saying we want to do little experiments, small experiments. I remember working for a company that decided that it wanted to be the tinker toy set of factory automation. And it wasn’t that poor. So then they made some big bets on product developments and acquisitions and launched into it, and it didn’t work that well over time. And the CEO ended up losing his job, he ended up leaving, and another one came in, and there were layoffs and stuff like that.
So to avoid that you have to do low-risk experiments. I mean it sounds like what you’re talking about particularly with the brand idea, it’s a strategy that integrates a lot of the operations of the company. There could be big changes required.
Andrea Fabbri: Yes.
Michael Webb: So how do you mitigate the risk of betting the farm like that? What low-risk experiments have you seen companies do that can sort of cleverly eliminate the risks of the bigger changes?
Andrea Fabbri: Well that is a billion dollar question. Any decision, any choice, brings with it risks. I would say that to answer your question one would have to differentiate between let’s say a product versus a company. I think low-risk experiments or approaches that test different things and see what is the best option can be much more easily done, and very cost-effectively, when it’s about a specific product.
When it’s about a corporate brand, that becomes a lot much difficult. However, what we do, when we present the data and the data says that a company has to move its brand, for example, in a specific direction, we then test that idea. We develop the strategy, the thinking, the feelings, the emotions, and then we conduct testing to make sure that the idea is indeed valid. And in fact oftentimes, let’s say for example for messaging platform, we develop different messaging platform and we test it. We develop different positioning statements and we test it. And then we emerge with the one version, or one option, that is more likely to succeed in the marketplace. But we also understand why. But there lies the challenge, eventually, it is about making a decision and having the leadership necessary to commit to that decision.
The roadmap allows to manage that risk. The road map that I was mentioning earlier.
Michael Webb: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andrea Fabbri: Because as you do things it allows you to prioritize things, it allows you to prioritize and then to measure how things are being perceived. So there’re all kinds of different techniques that can be leveraged to diminish the risk, but risk is part of business.
Michael Webb: Okay so, what you’re describing there is sort of a collaborative relationship with the client to find some experiments to try to kind of test out parts of the road map or to prove the case in order to gain more cooperation from various people in the organization, it’s a relationship over time where you’re collaborating with them to find the right path, is what it sounds like?
Andrea Fabbri: That’s exactly it. As long as there is commitment about the big idea, which underlines any position, then there can be some deviations about how the company gets there. But ultimately, the destination was correct. And let me give you an example.
One of our clients is Elsevier, one of the world’s largest publisher of scientific information. It was established in 1500 and they published the Galileo’s first books, so that gives you an idea of how ancient this company is. Well, needless to say, the company had to rethink itself in the digital world. You know, how can they move and evolve and move their success in the digital world, building on the success that they achieved in the physical world, world of papers?
Well, we established a brand strategy for them and underpinning the strategy was for them to become the Google of scientific information. That was the big idea. They committed to the big idea because we had done a lot of analysis and a lot of thinking, and a lot of testing as well. Now, over the course of the time, we have been working out with them for six, seven years, there have been a lot of course corrections. We did develop a road map, they committed to the roadmap, but obviously as you implement things, you learn things. And as you learn, you might have to adjust things. As long as though they are coherent and aligned with the big idea, then things are okay.
Michael Webb: Okay. Interesting, interesting, that was a good story. All right so in your experience, this would be like a last question and then we’ll see how our listeners can get a hold of you, but I mean you’re talking about an environment where it could be generating changes of behavior of lots of people, and that’s a challenge for any organization, so in your experience how many companies really understand how to make those changes? How to create improvement?
Andrea Fabbri: Yeah, well you go to a topic really dear to my heart, and that is change management. I think one of the most underestimated, and yet important activities, for any brand strategy and any marketing, particularly when branding and marketing are requiring a shift of the company to be a different kind of company in the market place. Key to success of any transformation, of any evolution, is change management, is the ability to allow and help the company to manage change.
If a new brand requires a company culture to be innovative, that’s change management. If a new brand strategy requires the company to improve its ease of business, that means changing systems and processes, that’s change management. So at Branding Business we embed change management in our methodology, particularly for B2B companies where there are elements of rigidity that sometimes need to be accounted for.
So how many companies understand that? In my view, very few. A least in my experience, and in fact they appreciate our value because we make them realize I think the importance of change management. If you don’t embed the changes that a brand strategy requires in order for the company to be successful in the marketplace, if you don’t embed them in the company, no strategy will be successful. It’s what it is.
And that, by the way, starts from the top management. That’s why I always joke that my title should be, is, corporate therapist, because that’s really I would say 60% of my job is leading companies through change. The data helps, the great ideas when they see the creative ideas, they embrace it, but that’s just the beginning. How do I move a culture to embrace an idea? How do I move the market to only not going to embrace a new brand, a new strategy, but to get excited and therefore to choose that company. All of that is change management.
Michael Webb: Okay so and let’s just bring this down to something specific here and concrete. When you say change management … I’m equating that with creating improvement and I’m equating that with Deming’s Management Cycle, right? Plan, do, check, act. Or plan, do, study, act.
Andrea Fabbri: Yeah.
Michael Webb: Is that what you mean by change management?
Andrea Fabbri: I mean that and absolutely, and any other technique that can be leveraged to convince people and to study, to check on things, and to commit to a path of continuous improvement towards a direction that is set by the brand strategy. So I know that there is a PDCA, PDSA, the reason … It’s like the egg and the chicken. Each company, my experience they tend to do both. And sometimes I don’t even call it that way.
But it’s all about identifying things, monitoring things, diagnosing what’s happening, that’s why I love talking to salespeople. When we develop a brand strategy and we roll it to the marketplace, the first thing I do is monitoring what’s happening on social media, but also talking to sales. We personally go to trade shows, because we want to see, particularly for the big global projects, what is the reaction on the floor? How are salespeople engaging? So, we do all kinds of … Leverage all kinds of techniques to help the company change. And the degree of change that is required for the company to lead the new brand strategy then determines which technique and which approach we take.
Michael Webb: Super. Well this is really great. I really appreciate you taking some time and telling us about some of the work that you’ve done. I’m sure that there are going to be some people in the audience that would like to learn more. How can someone get a hold of you? Is there something that lets them find out more about your approaches and so forth?
Andrea Fabbri: Yeah, absolutely. First things, first. The website of my company. It’s brandingbusiness.com. So it’s pretty easy to remember. And there, we have all kinds of information to which I can be contacted directly.
Michael Webb: Super. All right. Well, this was fun. I really appreciate it. I’m pretty sure that there’s some meaty topics that are sort of sub-topics of this that might be worth talking about. I’m going to invite you back to pick up some of those and take them apart and talk about some more examples. Would that be something we could do?
Andrea Fabbri: Absolutely. Would be happy to.
Michael Webb: Great. Well, Andrea, thank you very much, and good luck and good selling.
Andrea Fabbri: Thank you. Pleasure talking to you.