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:

60. Emmanuel Lorry on Brand Risk, Photoshop Limitations & Unscrupulous ‘Web Designers’

Creative Art Director for CB’a, Emmanuel Lorry has +6 years’ experience helping brands create advertising, product design, and brand activation campaigns.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? I’m responsible for choosing the type of art used in advertising, product packaging design and brand activation campaigns, launching a new brand, or refreshing or rebranding a tired brand image.

For example, if you’re launching a new product that wants to target a specific consumer demographic, then you need to design the package and supporting advertising for that group of consumers. My job is to give the brand different graphic options to reach and attract those target consumers.

I work primarily on static photos and visuals with in-house photographers, illustrators and graphic designers. If the client doesn’t have a budget for a photoshot, then I work with an Art Buyer who works with image banks such as Getty images, Corbis, or Shutterstock.

When pitching ideas to a brand, an agency usually presents at least three ideas. Any less and the presentation seems poor, the client feels like you didn’t put enough time and thought into their needs and that they didn’t get their money’s worth. But on the contrary if you provide too many options or ideas, it might seem like the agency isn’t confident with their designs and the direction they want to go, which is also a waste of money on the agency’s part.

What are some companies you have worked with? Kronenbourg, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle, Bongrain

What are some misconceptions clients usually have about the work you do? Clients don’t always realize that there is an entire process involve behind-the-scenes before we present our final idea(s) to them. Some clients can have a difficult time paying for brainstorming and creation time they can neither touch nor feel, but in the end once we’ve presented them with a final tangible product that is specifically catered to theirs and their target consumer’s demands, that’s when brands are ready and willing to invest their money in it.

Another misconception is thinking that a little modification to an artwork would take only a minute. The general argument is “I could have done this on PowerPoint in less than a minute.” The client doesn’t realize that sometimes changing a little thing involves changing the whole artwork.


[EDITOR’S TRANSLATION: ‘The house is super, but you must move the window just 30 centimeters to the right.’ ‘So I have to redo the entire wall.’ ‘No, keep the wall, just move the window.’ ‘I always panic for nothing.’]

Sometimes we even have requests that are impossible like “could you rotate the person’s face 30°” without realizing that they are talking about a photograph, which would mean redoing an entirely new photoshoot.

The only way brands can avoid these problems in post-production is to anticipate every possible situation and have the photographer take the additional photos just in case or more effectively, present temporary artwork to the client during pre-production and only proceed to the shooting or illustration phase once everything has been approved.

A third dilemma is that with every most of the original briefs agencies receive, brands often want an idea that is absolutely revolutionary – the next big idea that really pushes the envelope and pushes the brand to the next level!

Fair enough. But as the campaign moves through the various stages (pre-prod, prod, post-prod…), the closer and closer to a finished product we get, coupled with consumer testing, and brands start to wonder if that ‘risky’ attitude outlined in the original brief slowly dissipates as the thought of “what if this risky idea actually ruins our brand!” starts to sink in.

If our advice runs contrary to what the client wants, we obviously provide what the client asked for, but we also include an example of how we suggest they should do it, that way they can compare and have a choice. But after that it’s the client’s choice that matters and he certainly has a good reason for his or her decision.

I want to save money by taking my own photos and then hiring a graphic designer to edit them… If you aren’t an experienced photographer and have neither the necessary camera nor the know-how to take the right photos of your product from the start, then I would honestly recommend paying the person you hire to handle those decisions for you. In the long run it will save you money and your finished work will look much better.

What are some typical questions you ask clients from the outset? That depends entirely on the brand’s objective(s). Sometimes the client may have a difficult time putting into words what they really want – and then there is the matter of distinguishing what they want and what they need.

When clients don’t really know what they want, our job is to present case studies of what their competitors have been doing or what other interesting campaigns have been going on around the world to elicit ideas to help the brand express what they want. This involves a bit of strategic planning.

Where do you go for inspiration? Pinterest is my image bank for finding specific photos relative to my client’s projects. For me, Pinterest is better than a general Google photo search because Pinterest is social so the best photos tend to rise to the top.

Don’t use the actual image, of course, because that would be a violation of the owner’s copyright. But use what you find as inspiration to create your own twist.


What are a few of your favorite packaging designs?




I want to do your job, any advice? A lot of graphic designers come from art school and have the expectation that they will create masterpieces, have their pieces showcased in MOMA and other exhibits around the world. If you want to make money, you should probably go into advertising or a similar service industry. If you want to do what you like and don’t care about money, become an artist and sell your own art.

Secondly, as a graphic designer and creative art director, your artistic decisions should benefit the client, not your artistic preferences. You can add your own artistic signature in the little details, but keep in mind you’re commissioned to do this project for a client.

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? For the initial brief, don’t go too much into detail. State what your end goal is for the campaign and then leave plenty of room for creative imagination.

“I want to launch my new product.” is a good starting point for a brief that we can work with.

“I want a campaign that uses the color green.” Well, why do you want green? Because green shows nature, organic, etc? Then “I want to show how my product is natural and organic” is a better brief that we can work with because there are thousands of better ways to show natural than by simply using the color green.

That being said, a brief objective of “I want to generate buzz” is too broad of an objective.

Lastly, get out there and promote yourself! People aren’t going to magically find you and give you money and promote you for free. You have to promote yourself – hand out flyers, advertise on facebook, etc. Create a community and promote sales and giveaways. A static website is useless when nobody knows you exist.

Inform yourself and understand the business and the industry you’re competing in.

A small business I once worked with had a ‘web designer’ walk into his newly-opened store and offer to create, maintain, house, and update his store’s website for 700€/month. The small business owner actually signed the contract thinking that the web was really important to attract consumers. I was shocked when I heard this because he refused to pay for the branding and identity work I did for him. This was a bad decision on money spending; his website received fewer visitors than a regular Facebook page typically would have.