Episode 24: Ed Farley, Global Brand Strategist – Creating a brand framework and using strategy to create a balance of art and science.
Hey everyone, this is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse. In this episode we talked about creating a brand framework with Ed Farley. He knows a bit about that since he’s lead branding for global brands like Anheuser Busch and Humana, United Way and Edelman Financial, four totally different industries. But the approach to create a strong global brand remains the same and eat, whether it’s beer or insurance or financial services. He talks about creating a brand framework and how to balance the art and science when you’re building your story. Check it out. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval.
Rudy Fernandez 0:42
Welcome to Marketing Upheaval. My guest is Ed Farley, the global brand strategist who has been head of branding for huge brands like United Way, Humana and Anheuser Busch and has managed brands that extend across the US and around the world. And we’re going to talk about that and what it takes to do that. Well, thanks for joining me, Ed, really excited to have you on the podcast.
Ed Farley 1:03
Hey, it’s great to be here. Thanks.
Rudy Fernandez 1:05
So you’ve seen marketing from a big global point of view. And obviously, you’ve seen these brands evolve over time. Often we talk about what’s changed in marketing. But there are some things that have to stay true in terms of branding. And given your your scope and your understanding of branding. What do you think some things are, some elements that ought not change in order to have a strong brand?
Ed Farley 1:33
It’s an interesting question, because for industries, as you had mentioned, I constantly needed to walk around and in re-educate folks with whom I work on what is brand strategy, right? It’s not branding, it’s a strategy but doesn’t need to change is the idea that you need a strategy to inform great work, great messaging, great consumer experience. And that’s really all about a disciplined approach to create a brand strategy. And so what I would encourage everyone to do is think about how that strategy gets created and what kind of rigor and discipline goes into that strategy.
Rudy Fernandez 2:11
When you say, you have to maintain that rigor to go into brand strategy, what are the some of the steps to make that happen?
Ed Farley 2:18
A lot of people are talking about purpose-driven brand strategy. And that’s important because reality of that is that in today’s global marketplace, we’ve shifted from business to consumer marketing to consumer to business B to C to B to C to B. And so brands are now engaged in daily conversations with consumers who demand experiences on their own terms, and influence others to buy or not to buy. It has an impact on products and services and sales channel partners. And we’ve really got to remember that it all begins with a story, a story that has meaning and it resonates with audiences with whom you want to do business. You’ve got to establish the context of your brand strategy. And that requires some evaluation. The first type of evaluation that I would suggest is to understand your own perspective. Understand your own legacy, your history, get your stakeholder and leadership input into your brand strategy, understand your unified ambition, and your mission and vision and values. Those are the very first things you should do. One of the smartest things that I ever saw was at a company I was working with, and they had a brand new CEO. The CEO walked in his first week and he organized a group of us together cross functional group from across the organization. And they said, I want to know what our values are. And let’s come up with a plan where we can ratify what our values are and they better be genuine, they better be authentic, and they better link back to the ways in which this place was launched many, many years ago. And so I never forgot that. And it should be the tip of the iceberg, right? The mission and the values.
Rudy Fernandez 4:11
How do you get to that story?
Ed Farley 4:13
You then have to understand the reverse, right? You have to understand your consumers, get your audience perspective. And that requires a deep and abiding understanding of who your audiences are, and who the brand serves, which are grounded in the marketplace where you do business. And this hasn’t changed for years. It’s really about gathering insights, gathering pain points, really understanding perceptions of the brand understanding that really generates great insights for you to be able to plan and develop the art that goes with the science of the brand strategy.
Rudy Fernandez 4:48
How do you balance that with what you said, which is consumers have a say now into what your brand is and stands for. In the past it was more passive. Now they’re more accurate. In terms of who they think a brand ought to be, because they feel they have some ownership to it, how does the process change your creating a strategy change when your customers have a bigger voice?
Ed Farley 5:11
To your point, brands are built on the backs of both the brand and consumers. What I would say is that you need to do a great job monitoring your consumers and getting into conversations with them. Obviously, social listening is a great example of doing that. Making sure that your research methodology is frequent enough and comprehensive enough where you’re bringing in the right level of insights and pain points and perceptions. Across the course of a month, six months a year, really gets centered in understanding those things that are changing or staying the same with your consumers relative to the problem that you’re helping them solve, which is really what your compelling mission should be with any brand.
Rudy Fernandez 6:03
What is a brand strategy and what isn’t a brand strategy? What do you think the confusion is these days?
Ed Farley 6:09
Well, I think in order to get to that question, I would do a couple additional things. One is, establish a category set analysis, understand the industry status quo, and then understand each of your perceived competitors. Answers to individual questions, those questions would be the why the how the what? And the Who? Right, what’s their larger mission and purpose? How are they solving? Which is their differentiation? How they solving their problems of the very consumers with whom you’re serving? What is it clear, simple expression of the value that they deliver? And then who are they targeting? Who is their core audience? You ought to be able to, in any brand, understand what’s memorable and connective or aspirational about each organization. It’s really important that in the context of your plan, to then establish what it is that a brands strategy should do and accomplish. You should know what your category set are doing and how they’re answering those core questions. A lot of people think, Well, we’ve got a target millennials or we’ve got a target and course. Yeah, great brands have a perception across all of the generations, they may be focused and they may be driving and in growing revenue from one particular generation, but the generational influences and perceptions and needs and expectations and desires of cross generational audiences are very important understanding not just their demographics, but their psychographics. Right. Why are they engaged in conversations about your brand? How are they purposeful in their own habits? How are subsets of cultures and generations? What are they seeking in your brand and what are they seeking in life and how does their lifestyle cross with the use of your product or brand? So it’s really important to understand the ways in which individual generations will and could interact with your type of product or service so that you can get a sense of, again, the downstream activation and art of activating that brand. Over time within the context of campaigns or messaging, or any of the other types of things that you want to do. The brand should be, you know, what we would call eyes out, versus eyes in. The brand must be defined by how its audiences are engaged and enriched by your offerings. And it’s there to create relationships with people that have greater meaning and urgency. And that’s really important when you’re talking about purpose driven brands. Because it’s more than just purpose. It’s almost deeper than purpose. It’s almost about what is your perspective? How do you share the perspective of your audiences? So that when you’re delivering on your brand promise, you are also encouraging them to interact with you and share the same types of values that you share, you know, across the board, so very much a perspective versus of purpose.
Rudy Fernandez 9:19
Earlier we were talking, you talked about the whole notion of measurement versus brand. How people often mistake those two or choose one over another? What did you mean by that?
Ed Farley 9:34
When you’re talking about an effective brand, it’s got a couple of different components to it. One component is it’s got to perform the way that you described it to perform, but it’s also got to be an emotional choice as well. So your brain really reacts in both ways. When it’s met with a choice. It’s met with this this emotionally meet my needs. And that does this rationally meet my needs from a performance standpoint. So for example, as you begin to think about performance, marketing and testing and learning your way to reaching consumers better or giving them the message that converts them in a better way, you are not sacrificing the emotion, right. So you have the reason a brand strategy should be the tip of the iceberg is because as you build trust and consistency with the consumer, you presumably develop the why it matters, which is the emotional, compelling reason why you have the brand available in the first place. So that when you get to the more measurement, and building better ways of telling your story or measuring and testing and learning better ways to resonate with consumers, you’ve already built from the emotion. You’ve already built from the story. You’ve already built from the mission, vision and values of the brand strategy we just discussed. Very important to have a a sense of differentiation and uniqueness and emotionally compelling narrative to be able to guide your ability to then activate test and learn your way through measurement.
Rudy Fernandez 11:19
And it may take a little bit longer for some brands. You talked about measurement just now making sure your your narrative is correct. Is there a point we turn it loose and say, okay, there’s also some art to this, or do you think it’s all about measurement to make sure your brand is correct?
Ed Farley 11:37
Well, I think you need a brand framework. And that brand framework should be both art and science. I think the science part of it, you know, it’s the rigor that informs the art. The art is the framework that helps deliver the brand story that then gets baked into the creative brief that then goes to you.
Rudy Fernandez 11:55
We’ve seemed to have tilted a good bit towards, let’s make sure we can measure everything and have, to some degree abandoned some of the art aspect of it.
Ed Farley 12:06
I would agree with that. I think that there’s a healthy balance that needs to occur as we are able to utilize more tools to evaluate how our campaigns and our creative are resonating with our audiences. That can be a good thing. The argument I would make though, is that great brands have established consistency and trust. And so when you’re working with lots of different people to build a brand and to drive results with that brand, I think what you’ve got to remember is that creativity should be built from a singular expression of your brand right what is what is the brand story so when you go framework includes based upon the value proposition of the overall brand, you’ve presumably mapped your way to a personality or roe, a lens or a filter with which you create, make decisions about the brand. That gives you guidance and helps everybody kind of stay on on the path with focus. And then the big idea, which is the emotional story that describes sort of the “why it matters”. And the manifesto that becomes, you know, comes to life as a result of the brand story. When you have that right, then you can work with great partners, great agency partners to then go and tackle that story in the context of the insights that you’ve gleaned or that you are gleaning over time when you have these conversations with your consumers and with your audiences. The only thing that’s stable is your brand story and your the stake in the ground that says this is this is what we want to be when we grow up. And this is the aspirational, compelling, emotional story that we envision ourselves to be in the context of your life audiences and you know, work with us to help us create and transform this brand together in a in a purposeful way. Having a framework is comforting. Having a framework drives you and is very comforting.
Rudy Fernandez 14:17
And that’s true from a creative point of view, you do need a framework because otherwise you do get sort of lost and going a million directions. So if you look out at the landscape, who do you think is doing a good job of telling their brand story?
Ed Farley 14:30
MasterCard. Big fan of MasterCard, it just so happens to be one of the fastest, if not the fastest growth of any global company in 2019. I think for 15 years or so the perception was that MasterCard is a credit card brand right? Makes sense, because we all pull it out of our wallet. What they’ve been trying to do, though, is successfully transition from that perception to be understood more as a technology business. They’re doing it through both product innovation and, and campaign messaging. You know, where I would probably center my sort of admiration is around “Priceless”. They’re Priceless campaign has been around for a number of years. But they’ve developed through the lens of their desire to become a technology business. Evolution of priceless it’s very human and very connected to the way in which people want to buy, purchase, connect their life to their purchases and their family. And they made a very emotional proposition out of the ease by which MasterCard can be used in the idea that it’s meant to process, priceless dreams and priceless desires, if you will, and they become an enabler to happiness. They no longer look at it as, “I’ve got to pay for the baseball game” or “I’ve got to pay for this concert” or, you know, this, you know, TV. I’m investing in my lifestyle. I’m doing it with ease.
Rudy Fernandez 16:15
Yeah, it talks about the experience rather than paying for the experience talks about it being like you said, it’s aspirational. It’s enabling, you know, I had never broken down that campaign that way. But you’re right. It is. It is very well thought out.
Ed Farley 16:30
Yeah. And what they what they’ve done so well, I mean, lately, when you if you’ve looked at it is they’ve been so consistent, and so in, they’ve invested in the brand as well, I mean, don’t forget that you can develop the best brand in the world and if you don’t invest in it, and create recognition and awareness for it, you’re going down kind of the wrong path.They’ve done so with now able to remove the name from their sacred concentric logo or their circle logo. They’ve now removed their name and it’s been a terrific way to develop that brand identity and creating awareness that heretofore they had to work and invest in, you know, new technology. And I know their Chief Marketing Officer. Smart guy, Raja Rajamannar, has introduced a Sonic ID for that brand that support sort of this broader shift toward experiential marketing and voice activated marketing and all the wonderful things that are happening as a result of, of AI and Alexa and everything else.
Rudy Fernandez 17:30
The essence of connecting with other people and creating a brand. Those elements are timeless. It’s just the more tactical ways you do that that have changed. And I wonder, sometimes people put the tactics before doing the work and doing the branding and the connecting part.
Ed Farley 17:49
I think that’s the message here. My big belief is that you you need to create that brand framework. In order to deliver on the downstream campaigns and activation that in conversations, quite frankly, with consumers that need to occur as a result of the relationship you’re creating with them for that mutual and result of, you know, revenue and driving growth and creating value, both ways, I think a brand framework that’s really my message is to say that without the vision and the promise, and your stake in the ground that you put around the role that you play in the lives of your audiences and consumers, along with brand personality filter, and a brand story, your big idea without that framework, it’s very hard to anchor what you’re doing, and measure it from the perspective that you see that you’re making progress or not making progress. You’ve got to you’ve got to have that strategy in place before the tactics fall into place. Great brands do that. And I think MasterCard has done that over time.
Rudy Fernandez 19:05
So I asked you who’s done doing it well. And here’s the tricky one. Who do you think is not doing it so well?
Ed Farley 19:12
I think that there are there’s a whole industry now that’s rapidly developing itself in challenging the norms, and I think that’s the direct to consumer area where you’ve got whether it’s Harry’s blades, or Uber or some of the other direct to consumer type brands that have evolved so quickly, have put themselves out there so fast that unlike the traditional value brands of the past, they may not have started with that higher order strategy that ultimately is evolving as we speak, right, almost building the plane as you fly it type strategy. The longer they are, the longer they’re out there kind of delivering really interesting direct to consumer value and engaging in those conversations, they probably would do themselves, well, many of them to go back and say, all right, what are we really trying to accomplish? And then don’t forget how our our new burgeoning competitors, solving what we introduced a while back as well. So there’s going to be some interesting evolution with that particular area.
Rudy Fernandez 20:33
So you have managed brands in four fascinating categories. And I, unfortunately, we can’t make this a two hour podcast or maybe we can if you have the time. And I’d love to ask you about each of them. Because you had healthcare and insurance industry, you have beer, which who doesn’t want to talk about beer? You had financial services and nonprofits and if I could randomly pick one you I’d pick healthcare it to ask you about particularly in the in the payer field because I know you worked with Humana. My question is in terms of branding. The insurance companies are always portrayed as the bad guys, you know, in movies and political discourse. They’re always the bad guys. I happen to know that they are not solely to blame for our screwed up healthcare system. Why do you think they get all the bad rap? And how can they fix it?
Ed Farley 21:31
That’s a great question. My hunch is they get a bad rap because they’re difficult to navigate. And it’s such an emotionally invested business. Your healthcare is very personal and it’s very emotional for you. When it’s difficult to navigate your options or get a response when you need it in other categories, as truth becomes frustrating. Your first point of contact is generally the insurance company.
Rudy Fernandez 22:06
And they’re not the ones healing you. They’re the ones talking money with you, usually.
Ed Farley 22:12
So the big challenge at Humana was at the time, this is just before the Affordable Care Act where I was there. And they were a brand seeing through the lens of a product called Medicare. Right, they had a built in legacy of audience 65+ over many years for various reasons. So they were at the pinnacle of delivering great Medicare products to both consumers at an individual level. And of course through employer sponsored commercial plans. What they desire to do is change their business strategy to become what’s called integrated care delivery, which is the progressive way to look at healthcare. Or you offer new capabilities and 360 degree holistic health care that incorporates outcomes that is much more progressive. That is more consistent with a healthy organization and healthy community, a healthy society. So having said that well being and wellness becomes very, very important. And it had to be monetized and it had to grow. So as business strategy changes, so must brand strategy brand strategy follows business strategy. And the challenge of Humana was how do we reintroduce ourselves to society as an integrated care deliver, versus a Medicare product? So what we’ve talked about today is the larger value proposition and how it informs a brand strategy with an emotionally compelling brand story that then needs to be activated. And so for over the years while I was there, we work with some of the best in doing that, to really create what I would call a compelling new brand strategy to reposition the business and reintroduce your organization to the American public in a new way. It’s been consistent. We’ve changed it. It’s grown. And it’s been, I think it’s been very, very successful.
Rudy Fernandez 24:16
I’m glad you said that because they were the first health care company of any kind that I saw doing the lifestyle or wellness thing bigger. We had Humana at the time, and they offered us a premium break for certain health milestones we met. And I thought, that’s brilliant. That’s what healthcare companies ought to be. I’ve always thought they’ve done a great job with them.
Ed Farley 24:41
Yeah, they, I think what you’re referring to is a pretty innovative product that they baked into their plans called Humana Vitality. It’s steeped in behavioral economics where people make both rational and irrational decisions.
Rudy Fernandez 24:56
That’s how I make my living.
Ed Farley 24:58
Exactly right. So Humana created a product that essentially looked like your airline points. So for healthy behaviors like a flu shot or a checkup, physical, those types of behaviors, you accumulated points that created a bank of points that you could then redeem for on a spectrum of small to large, anything from a pedometer if you wanted one, or at the time to a vacation, and a great hotel. People love rewards. They absolutely love to compete for them, and they love to accumulate points and it was very, very successful. A great example of how you make well being wellness fun, how you get it engaging, how you get people to be involved in it on a regular basis, and you’re rewarded for it.
Rudy Fernandez 25:47
you’ve recently gone out on your own to offer consulting services. So what led to that?
Ed Farley 25:53
I’ve always enjoyed brand strategy and I’ve always thought of myself as a transformational brand strategist through four industries. And it’s a passion to help people conceive of great strategy that informs great marketing, great activation, great execution. So I thought to myself, I should take a step out and try that. It’s been really interesting, talking with different organizations about the very thing that we’re talking about today. And that is, how to create a purposeful purpose-lead brand strategy that informs these activities that you’re engaged in every every single day. And it really is something that after a career like this is very meaningful for me.
Rudy Fernandez 26:43
So I’m going to before I get to my last question, I was going to ask, Is there anything else you’d like to bring up or talk about?
Ed Farley 26:49
Yeah, you know, I would bring up just very quickly. A lot of people talk about global branding. And while the principles are the same, the strategy of global branding is the same as you would think about for a given country or a given community. Generally, a global brand involves more than a brand, a centralized brand leader approach. It usually involves people in regions, it usually involves people in the field, right? And so as you as you think about global branding and all the principles we talked about today, you also need to understand the sharing of insights and best practices across communities and countries. You don’t want to fight that local country bias, want to have enough sharing of best practices, and enough of a streamlined planning process where that type of information can come out. And people feel involved and free to adapt best practices to the realities of their own individual market or country and then begin to execute brilliant brand building brilliant campaigns that have local relevance. When I was at Anheuser Busch. We operated out of a two prong approach. One approach was how do we spend time talking about the performance of Budweiser as an example? Right? We natural ingredients, a process brewing that is steeped in tradition over 130 years, those types of performance aspects, what the ingredients that go into the brand, and the consistency of our manufacturing of that product. And on the other side, we talked about, well, what makes this great American classic beer relevant to you? You have a vision of us you have a vision of being a member of the global community. How is our ability to tell you a story and engage with our brand, help you feel more connected to the people that you want to spend time with in your individual country. It’s tough thing to do to tell stories that are incredibly locally relevant, while at the same time selling a global brand that is sort of an American, kind of aspect to it.
Rudy Fernandez 29:03
Very few of us have ever had to manage a global brand. And you’ve worked on four big ones. So how do you get buy-in for something that big, that’s worldwide?
Ed Farley 29:12
Generally, there’s a centralized vanguard of global brand positioning. That was that was my role at the time where, you know, we worked with leadership, and AB, to be very, very clear about what that global brand positioning needed to be relative to getting all of our leadership centralized around that idea. But more importantly, you needed the buy-in and the active commitment from your leadership around the world. On the definition of what makes Budweiser unique and differentiated in the world and the global marketplace. Do you have to begin with that? And then you have to think about ways in which you’re at adding value to the work that’s being done in individual countries are setting up conclave setting up meetings, both virtually and physically, to bring people together to share things. All of this is really one of my favorite authors of your original strategy for global branding is David Aaker. Yeah. And he wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review in 99, that I still keep with me. So if you if you ever get a chance, try to look that up The Lure of Global Branding. I’ll give you an example. When we’re talking about quality and natural ingredients and what makes a quality beer. You’re talking about our research and insights in Latin America, places like the southern corner like Argentina or Brazil is very much mouthfeel. It was very much refreshment. It was very much as it go down smooth. That had a direct impact on the perception of quality, right because those are the kinds things that were important for drinkers in that part of the world. If you go over and run that type of messaging in China, you’re going to get blank stares, because what they value are the real details behind what makes natural ingredients natural. How is the water processed? What is the legacy of the brewing strategy for Budweiser? And how long ago was it was a created, I mean, literally, we would tell stories about you know, hops and barley milk versus not doing that in Latin America because it just didn’t have the same effect. So if you’re not careful, you can get too general. You’ve got to be very, very careful with your global strategy while understanding and having enough research and insight to guide you along the way and individual markets and then sometimes it’s worth sharing and adapting and adjusting and really getting the input from smart local players, smart local people that you bring into the conversation. And yeah, just consistently share those types of best practices. That’s very, very important.
Rudy Fernandez 32:11
So of all the changes in marketing, if you look across the landscape, what excites you the most? And what concerns you the most?
Ed Farley 32:19
What excites me the most is the idea that brands are adopting, and companies for that matter are adopting a more purposeful approach to their brands and their organizations. And what I mean by that is, they’re adopting a perspective that is more than selling, it’s more than revenue. It’s about creating sustainable change and value for the marketplace. How are are the brands and the products that companies are creating, engaged in making the world a better place? Yeah, I think that Is seismic change over the last, you know, four or five years even the Business Roundtable has, you know has recently been involved in creating those stakes for successful companies. And it’s been very, very important for all of us to make sure that our brands are incorporating sustainable change and understanding the value that we’re bringing to people throughout their lives not just in the transaction, but in the value that we bring as companies to people’s lives. And that I think, has been the most refreshing. And I’m a generally an optimistic person. I just makes me very optimistic about where we’re going.
Rudy Fernandez 33:43
Yeah. And a lot of that has been brought forth by consumers themselves, and and quite frankly, probably a lack of leadership from our institutions, that brands have started to lead the way in terms of how they can improve the world.
Ed Farley 33:58
I think you’re right.
Rudy Fernandez 33:59
So what concerns you the most in terms of all the changes going on?
Ed Farley 34:02
Well, I don’t want us to be confused with tactics, you know, in the better we get at testing and learning and developing ways to better connect with audiences and resonate through performance marketing. I’m just hoping that emotion and great storytelling doesn’t fall at the expense of a subject line in an email. You see what I’m saying? I mean, no, absolutely telling a story about a listener. It’s not about – it’s telling a story that’s worth sharing. It’s telling a story. That’s unforgettable. Seth Godin said this in one of his fantastic blogs, right. And this is totally Seth talking about storytelling isn’t a skill. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s more simple than you think. But it takes practice. And a great story comes from a great brand that’s rooted in the business strategy and rooted in from a value proposition with the right art in the right lens and the right promise and the right personality. So I don’t want us to get caught up in shifting the onus to performance, because I think that will encourage more transactional marketing. When you can both well, and you can balance that in most importantly, be consistent with your brand.
Rudy Fernandez 35:22
That’s a great ending. And thank you so much for joining us. This has been a great time I really enjoyed our conversation.
Ed Farley 35:30
Great to be here and thanks for inviting me.
Rudy Fernandez 35:32
Hey, thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. To talk to Ed about creating a brand strategy or framework, email him at EdwardFarley@ymail.com or go to his LinkedIn page from the link in our show notes.
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