67. Damien Sterbecq on Strategic Planning & The Collision Between Uber and The Parisian Taxis

Business Director of Brand Activation and Digital for Cb’a, Damien Sterbecq has 20+ years experience helping brands succeed in product packaging, retail and digital: the three main consumer touch points.

How does your job fit into the branding process? CB’a is the brand activation and design agency specializing in the three consumer relationship touch points: product packaging, retail, and digital. As the Business Director, I am the one who guarantees the success of our agency’s work. Over the past 20+ years I’ve worked in customer experience, digital, customer relationship management, advertising, and currently brand activation and design.

How do you define brand activation? Brand activation boils down to entering the consumer’s life and creating a deeper engagement between the brand and its consumers. The end of brand activation is the beginning of the traditional marketing and advertising methods and techniques brands use.

Yes, brands can use marketing and advertising, but it’s important to recognize that consumers don’t share “advertising;” they share content that is entertaining and that has an impact on them and that they find interesting. The goal of brands today should be to increase top-of-mind by creating useful, engaging, and high-quality content that consumers want to seek out and, by extension, share.

Begin by creating a real consumer insight that leads to a unique idea that can become the foundation of a brand activation campaign.

What are some brands that you have worked with? LCL, Banque Populaire, Unilever, Pepsi-Co, Edition Francis Lefebvre, FMCG

As a small startup, should I invest my limited advertising budget on an advertising campaign or on a brand activation campaign? Strategic planning is the first and most important aspect of any campaign, brand activation or otherwise.

Advertising is reminding consumers that you are still in business; brand activation is pushing consumers to buy your product instead of your competitors at the crucial time when consumers are in the market to buy what you have to offer.

If you’ve a limited budget – and especially if nobody knows you exist, then I’d recommend investing your budget in the sales and customer service experience and bring in profit and revenue. Then you can begin focusing on advertising and brand activation.

Today, your brand’s clear, unique and decisive value proposition is what persuades consumers to purchase your product or service over your competitor’s.

What are a few misconceptions brands commonly have about your industry? That television advertising is still the most important means of staying top of mind with consumers. If your target consumers are older, then yes, television plus web is the most important. But with the younger generations, the internet is your best bet for reaching them and staying top of mind.

Further, ways of staying top of mind with your target consumers are constantly changing. This is one of the reasons why I love what I do – it is never boring!

What can you tell me about user experience design? You have customer experience, which includes each and every touch point between the customer and the brand. The brand user experience refers to the experience as it pertains to a specific digital interface – i.e. on your website. This user experience is very important because if your customers have a bad experience on your website, it’s your responsibility and your customers will hate you for it.

But if you sell a physical product then online user experience is but one part of the experience. Customers will likely have more experience with your product packaging design than your website user interface.

It can sometimes be complicated for agencies when brands have such strong convictions about who they have to be and the opportunities they have to take that they don’t take full advantage of our expertise and experience.  They meet with us and explain that:

  • “We HAVE TO be like this.”
  • “Why do you HAVE TO be like that?”

Often times brands and their agencies don’t always agree with each other and most times agencies have a difficult time explaining their ideas to their clients about why we disagree with how they “HAVE TO” be.

How long can a good branding strategy last? Bill Bernbach said that “A good branding strategy can remain untouched for decades.” Well, that statement was said in the 1950s before the internet and digital. Today’s branding strategy lifespan is less and less than it was before. You don’t want to rebrand your branding strategy every year, but I would recommend taking a serious look at your branding strategy every three years or so.

The Parisian taxi services have had the same strategy for over 20 years. Why would they change? However Uber’s business model and branding strategy has been met with an alarming success and has become a serious threat to the entire industry – revealing how antiquated and outdated their service has become.

If the Parisian Taxi Federation had been paying attention to what was going on in their industry, they would have seen Uber as a potential threat back when it was originally founded in 2009, and then an imminent threat when they launched UberX. Today the taxi federation’s success depends on how quickly and effectively they can update their branding strategy and business model to compete to this threat.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As of 19 December, 2014, UberPop will be banned in France for ‘unfair advantage.’]

This is also happening to smaller and unknown snooty bars and restaurants who depend on a steady stream of tourists who have no way of alerting other tourists to stay away from the restaurant. Sites such as Trip Advisor is making all businesses and restaurants rethink their branding strategy.

What are some problems brand have distinguishing themselves from their competition? First things first, define your brand promise and selling proposition that ONLY you can offer people.

I have a small marketing budget, any advice? If you truly believe in your brand’s success, but lack the budget to advertise it, then seriously consider bringing in investors who are willing to put the necessary money into your marketing campaigns.

I want to do your job, any advice? Build your social network. It’s easier to find employment and move up in a company when you have other people recommending you.

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