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.

65. Olga Samama on Tour de France, Street Marketing vs Advertising and Risky Business Models

Brand Activation Consultant for CBAOlga Samama has 13+ years experience working with brands to organize strategic marketing and brand activation campaigns to maximize media exposure and touch as many consumers as possible.

How does your job fit into the branding process? I work with brands to do brand activation. Brand activation is a marketing program focused on engaging consumers at the time(s) during the year when they are most likely to be receptive to the brand’s communication.

Brands that have been in business for years will have a thorough brief, however markets, competitors, and consumer demands are constantly changing and in need of being updated. Therefore even when brand gives us their brief we still need to go over it with them just to make sure we clearly understand their objectives and that we have all the necessary information to meet their goals.

We begin by building a consumer program around the many different points of consumer contact – for example:

  • At the point of sale – the final 100 meters in the consumer journey just before they reach the product on the shelf and at the cash register
  • Landing pages, websites and banner advertising on other websites
  • Special events such as street marketing campaigns
  • On key websites and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram
  • Contextual marketing

Brand activation involves the promotional mechanisms of several principles such as a giveaway, a sweepstakes or a loyalty program, a special event, etc.

For example, earlier this year we were hired by McCain’s Potato Chips to organize a brand activation. So we partnered with Tour de France to reveal their brand refreshing strategy with the objective of touching as many consumers as possible. To do this we coupled a decorated 18-wheel trailer truck platform with a tractor and potatoes positioned alongside the Tour de France advertising caravan as well as point of sale activation at 200 different hyper-markets across France and gave away free samples to ensure the product made into the consumer’s homes. During the three weeks that the Tour de France was held, we had the unique opportunity of being in direct contact with clients as well as the media exposure.

Total exposure for McCain’s potato chips are still being processed, however we know that sales were up 20% during that time period.

What are some brands that you have worked with? Lipton Iced Tea, McCain’s Potato Chips, Smartbox, Signal, Tropicana

As a small startup, should I invest my limited advertising budget on an advertising campaign or on a brand activation campaign? I’d recommend you first understand your consumer market enough to identify the one or two peak seasons in the year when your consumer’s would be most susceptible to your message and likely to purchase your product/service, and then using the best means possible to interact with them during those times. During the rest of the year – your brand’s ‘down time,’ you play with the traditional advertising techniques such as banner ads.

What are a few misconceptions brands commonly have about your industry? That brand activation might not be as strong as a classic media campaign – instead of investing 500,000€ in a street marketing plan, they can make one television advertising.

In terms of awareness, engagement and quality relationship building, street marketing can be just as – if not more – powerful than an advertising on television. Before you throw all of your money into a TV ad, consider a street marketing solution.

What are some problems brand have distinguishing themselves from their competition? If a competitor is outspending you in advertising, then look to public relations rather than trying to compete in advertising space.

On a budget, don’t have an objective of ‘making buzz’ and ‘going viral.’  Don’t think “I want to distinguish myself from the thousands of other competitors, and do it on a small budget.” And for two important reasons:

  1. With so many brands competing for exposure today, ‘viral’ content without significant marketing investment has little chance of actually going viral.
  2. Consumers don’t talk about and share brands; consumers share things that interest them. Instead of thinking “how can I go viral,” a better question to ponder is ‘how can I create content that consumers want to talk about and share?”

Have you ever had a client that had an outdated business model but wanted a modern branding strategy? It does happen that agencies meet clients with certain marketing objectives, however don’t have the stock, business model, or distribution capabilities in place to handle their marketing objectives.

For example, there was a brand that prided itself with being ‘100% all natural’ and everything about their product was ‘ecologically friendly and bio-degradable.’ This is a great and noble branding strategy to have, however the problem was that 1) their brand promise and unique selling proposition obliged them to sell their product at prices nearly 400% higher than their competitors – prices that consumers just weren’t willing to pay, and 2) their packaging design wasn’t adapted to the French consumer’s expectations.

That company put all their hopes and budget in creating an advertising campaign hoping their product sales would take off. The ad didn’t perform as they had hoped, and in the end the company was left with a warehouse full of unsold and soon-to-expire products that would have to be thrown away.

So they quickly tried to adapt their branding strategy with public relations portraying them as a luxury item, however by that time it was too late. The viability of their branding strategy and business model should have been addressed long before they poured money into advertising.

I want to do your job, any advice? Start in a big agency, preferably in a foreign country just to open the door and get the feel of it and learn how the business works. Then later you can open your own company or go freelance.

Recommended reading (in French):


An interesting example of a Milka brand activation campaign: