Interview: Hayes Roth

VP worldwide marketing and business development, Landor Associates

VP worldwide marketing and business development, Landor Associates

Landor Associates is the strategic branding consultancy behind many of today's great brands, including FedEx, Pepsi, BP, Netscape, and Procter & Gamble.Hayes Roth, VP of worldwide marketing and business development for Landor Associates

Roth spoke to about where PR fits into branding, what criteria a company should consider when contemplating a rebranding, and how employees should factor into branding decisions.

Q: Do clients taking branding as seriously in today's marketplace as they have in the past?

A: I think they take it more seriously. It's not just about "having a brand," it's about having a superior brand. And smart marketers know branding is more than just the logo. It's about websites, experiential branding, and embedding brands into entertainment and sports.

Q: Is it hard to control your brand message in the participatory world of online media?

A: It's not just about trying to control your message points in a far better way from blogs onward, but how to engage your employees and craft PR strategy so they are truly on-message.

Q: Do any of your potential clients show a reluctance to announce a heavily promoted branding relaunch for fear of criticism from constituents and pundits?

A: When dealing with a corporate brand, the immediate reaction to it, while not insignificant, is far less important than what the long-term reaction is. A corporate brand is something you do on a rare occasion when all of the stars are aligned. I don't think any intelligent corporation undertakes it without having some very good reasons to do it. Once they do it, they should be looking at the next 20 years for [success]. I think companies are always cautious when it comes to rebranding. Not only is it expensive, it is also draining in every possible way. You have to spend some extensive time internally explaining why you're doing this. You have to make sure it's being implemented properly. It's a certainty that someone will point fingers at whatever you've done and find fault with it. That's the American way. But great brands weather that. If you've done your homework, your strategy is right, the focus is led from the CEO-down, and the rebranding is taken seriously by all involved, your odds of succeeding are pretty strong. But you have to recognize that, for a period of a couple of years, you will be going through some dramatic change.

Q: How important is the internal dialogue about branding?

A: Without it, the branding effort is likely to fail ultimately or never reach its full potential. It can't just be about a small group of marketing people who think this is a cool idea. It has to be something; it can't just about deciding to upgrade a logo. That's not news to most people. What needs to happen is a company needs to say, we've come this far based on these principles, and we're going further with this new thinking. It must explain: this is what it means for you and your customer. An important thing to consider is that no company can do this standing still. You are changing the tires on a moving vehicle.

Q: Have you noticed the in-house PR teams or their agencies at clients get more involved in the branding process?

A: We always want the clients' PR firm - as well as their ad agencies and any other consultants - at the table. You want a confined group of leadership, but all the communications arms should be represented at the table. Clients do now understand more and more how important it is to do branding from the inside-out.

Q: Do you view a well-defined brand as a finite thing? Or do even good brands need to evolve over time?

A: We have about seven principles that make a good brand - one of those is "balancing constancy and change." You look at the great brands that have withstood the test of time: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and GE. These brands today fundamentally mean the same thing today, but they have adapted to different industries, products, and capabilities.

Q: Is it ever possible to complete alter the core essence of a brand?

A: If you totally abandon a brand name, that usually means something cataclysmic happened. If that happens, you have to wonder if you're taking anything [of value] with it, like a patent or a distribution network. At that point, you've pretty much killed a brand, and it's time to start something new.

Q: Have you seen more media covering branding?

A: Yes. We're called all of the time about it. I think I was on television 20 times last year talking about branding implications for everything from Martha Stewart to the NBA. There is an increased awareness in branding. We've always been a media-intense society.

Q: How would you sum up branding?

A: Branding is the entire embodiment of what your face is as an organization. It should capture its vision and future in the most comprehensive way imaginable. And that clearly takes it beyond logos.

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