CEO at EMEA & LatAm Interbrand, Gonzalo heads the regional corporate group, spearheading its growth agenda and supporting marketing and consulting efforts in the region. He has worked with reputable companies across all sectors: banking and financial services, telecommunications, the automotive industry, airlines, transport, fashion, luxury goods, FMCG, food & beverages and technology, among others.
Before joining Interbrand, Gonzalo was Managing Director at Futurebrand and Vice President and Managing Director at Green Team Advertising in New York.
How would you rate the level of development of branding in Spain? Do you think that the business world is sufficiently convinced of the strategic importance of brands?
For Spanish companies, brands have become a key element, in particular for projecting their image and reputation, as well as with regard to their relationship with stakeholders. It is important to recognise that, little by little, more importance is also being given to brands because of the way they are strategically defined. It can therefore be said that the level of development of branding in Spain is on the rise. Brands are no longer seen to be just a logo, but as an intangible asset that has become an element for forging links with clients. They provide a guarantee of quality for brands and products and create a link with the end consumer.
The business world is gradually getting used to the idea of the strategic role that brands play and the influence they have. The potential of brands has become tangible. However, in over half of all Spanish companies, there is only one person in charge of their corporate brands. There are no trained teams who manage them. It should also be mentioned that the steering committees of just 30% of companies attach importance to brands, when in truth, the commitment of these professionals to the brand is a factor in the success of brand strategy. This means that the path has yet to be laid. The biggest obstacle is precisely the lack of involvement by senior management when it comes to managing the brand of their company. Digitisation has changed the way consumers and the brand itself interact and so, now more than ever, it is vital for both CEOs and employees to be the best ambassadors for their brands.
If we analyse brand value rankings, including Interbrand, we can see that in recent times there are emerging brands that did not even exist a few years ago, while other brands are disappearing. This is especially true of Asian brands and those of new technologies. Do you think this trend will continue in the coming years?
As technology becomes part of every aspect of our lives, we are entering what we at Interbrand call The Age of You, the era of personalisation. Brands, as elements that link businesses with people, are becoming the nexus that leads to the creation of business and personal value. Data and technology have helped optimise our day-to-day experiences as brands such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA as we say at Interbrand) have completely changed the definition of services and their connectivity. People now have greater access to many more options and as a result we have more demanding expectations of brands. We now expect brands to move at the same pace as people’s lives. Apple, for example, which is number one in the Best Global Brands for 2015 ranking, is at the top because, among other things, it has exponentially increased its environment and its focus on customers. That said, I’d like to mention that this year, for example, one of the brands that has entered the ranking for the first time is Lenovo. It is the second Chinese brand to appear on the list after Huawei in 2014. It can be seen that there is indeed a trend in Asian brands but above all we are talking about technology brands, and those at the top of the ranking are Apple, Google, Microsoft and IBM.
Speaking of trends. What do you consider to be essential for branding in the coming years?
In The Age of You, brands must be agile in order to respond immediately to consumers. If a brand is fragmented, it can result in disaster. The clarity of the message, behaviour, principles and how to communicate the brand must be fully integrated within the organisation and communicated to the strategic partners to help disseminate it. Complex approval processes have no future in the social and dynamic world in which we live. Things happen and move at such a speed that immediate answers are required. A strong organisational structure is the key to being agile and living up to consumers’ expectations. It’s like flying a plane where there are two sets of controls; both the consumer and the brand itself direct expectations and needs.
One of the great difficulties faced by branding professionals is that sometimes it is not possible to measure the work. How do you measure the value of a brand and its evolution when it comes to measuring intangibles?
It is important to mention that value is assigned through research and analysis and is assessed using a specific methodology. At Interbrand we have our own methodology which focuses on investment and on the management that is carried on the brand on a day-to-day basis as if it were another asset of the business. Interbrand was the first company in the world whose methodology achieved ISO 10668 certification, the international brand valuation standard.
This means that our methodology takes into account all the ways in which a brand influences a company, from attracting and retaining talent to providing the client with what they expect from the brand. The final value can thus be used to guide the brand’s management so that the decisions of different businesses are taken using much more information. There are three aspects that contribute to the valuation of a brand: the financial performance of the products and services offered by the brand; the role that the brand plays in the decision-making process; and the strength of the brand.
During the economic crisis we have seen that companies that stood behind their brand and behind the idea of differentiation have best withstood the ups and downs. In your opinion, what advantages does a strong brand offer a company?
Strong brands position themselves better than others during a crisis. The ones that perform the best are those that invest during hard times as they will emerge stronger when the recession is over. In times of crisis there are five key points to keep a brand strong and these include: communicating in a consistent and confident way; exceeding expectations when dealing with problems; being transparent and totally ethical; putting aside corporate policy to focus on the consumer; and using creativity and innovation for every single touchpoint. When something is unique, different, credible, relevant and engaging, a successful brand can be achieved. It is important to mention sustainability and standing the test of time. The great advantages enjoyed by companies with strong brands are authenticity, relevance, differentiation, consistency, understanding and presence. If you do not communicate, you will not be understood; if you are not understood, you will not be remembered; if you are not remembered, no one will buy what you are offering; if no one buys, you will disappear. That is why brands are so important and why it is vital to invest in them.
Cases of companies that invested in their brand during the crisis and emerged stronger because of that are: Movistar, which increased its brand value by 5%, as shown in the recently published Best Spanish Brands for 2015 ranking; and Apple, which continues to reinvent itself and anticipate the needs of its customers, was Number 1 in the Best Global Brands for 2015 ranking.
If you look at Spain, there are very few brands that can be considered to be truly global. Why do you think that is? Which brands do you think have the most potential to internationalise?
There are many international Spanish brands, but only a handful are truly global. In Europe, our main unresolved issue is to fully internationalise so that we are known outside of Europe.
The main characteristic of Spanish brands is the passion that Spaniards have and this is imbued in everything they do and make. The sectors that are most associated with Spain are those related to leisure and lifestyle, be it the food industry, tourism or fashion. It is true that the scant presence of Spanish brands abroad is noticeable and this is linked to poor promotion of their Spanish origin. What we do need to consider, however, it is that in general terms, Spanish brands are perceived as dynamic and constantly evolving, and as good value for money. We must bear in mind that Spanish brands are gradually beginning to be known thanks to the creation and development of new icons, sponsorships and celebrity/brand ambassadors.
Top, globally-known, Spanish brands today are Telefónica, Santander, Zara, Mapfre, Carbonell, Iberdrola, Real Madrid CF, Ferrovial, NH hotels, Prosegur, BBVA, Mango, Pronovias, Cola Cao, Repsol, FC Barcelona, ACS and Freixenet. The most visible Spanish brands are those of mass consumption. Brands such as Zara (the leader abroad), Mango, Real Madrid CF and Iberia, among others. Strong Spanish brands always support the image of Spain abroad.
Some of the very interesting brands that will get people talking in the future more than they are right now are: BQ, in the technology sector; the personal brand of Kike Sarasola and his groundbreaking BMate and Room Mate projects; the toyshop Imaginarium; Natura Bissé in the cosmetics sector; and DO La Rioja and Vega Sicilia which are two of the most desirable and sought-after wines in the world.
What are the main challenges facing brands today?
Brands have to grasp the fact that today we live in a fragmented way; at Interbrand we have coined the term “micro moments”. It does not matter if a brand has a perfectly seamless ecosystem because the connection people have with the brand is created in a fragmented way. There is widespread confusion because players, products, brands and choices have multiplied, while the time available to consumers to make decisions has decreased sharply. Therefore, now more than ever, brands have to earn the right to be part of that group of brands that create experiences for each particular individual, what we call the “mecosystem” (literally, an ecosystem built around me, in other words, the individual). The goal is to be part of that “mecosystem” every minute of every day because individuals rate the brand as a whole with regard to every part of their experience (each micro moment). The most successful brands are those that are able to prioritise and build people-based experiences; they use technology to promote products and services in ways that integrate them into people’s daily lives, and listen to their needs in order to implement them. This is because today’s businesses and, as a consequence, brands, have to adapt to people’s pace of life.
The secret to success is to be consistent, to work on offering a 360º brand experience at every touchpoint as well as focusing on actions. Large companies are transforming and emerging from their comfort zones to reach out to customers in a more friendly way.