As Global Brand Manager at BASF Construction Chemicals, Mike T. Freche is not only a brand expert, but also coaches both national and international companies as well as start-ups in the area of brand development and management. We talked to him about what brands and competitive sports have in common and why face masks do not suit every brand…
Mike T. Freche, thank you very much for being with us today! We’ ll start right at the beginning: during your childhood, what was your favourite brand back in the day? And what is it today?
As a child, definitely “Brown Bear” by Langnese. That was the ice cream I had when I went to the movies as a child. I associate that very strongly with the experiences of that time. At some point, it no longer existed and when they eventually sold it again, I was disappointed because it tasted different in my memory. Maybe it was the same for many people. As far as I know, it no longer exists today. If you ask me about my favourite brand today… that’s hard… I’m an Apple follower and privately I’ m completely appleised (which always leads to discussions in the family, almost all of them are on the other side). I love the focus on simplification and functionality. They still do that very well. But my favourite brands are always the brand(s) I actively support. I can only do this with passion and complete focus.
How would you convince someone of the importance of a brand with just one argument?
Brand combines all strategic and operative decisions to one point, one core value. This “holy grail” must be protected, preserved and cared for. The more consistently this is done in all areas, the more value is generated internally and in contact with the customer. Companies without brand focus do not know this unity. This is reflected in their appearance and actions.
You yourself work as a coach and consultant who supports companies in building their own brand – what are the most important basic principles for you?
- Brand is 85% strategic alignment and operational action, and 15% is communication.
- Brand is not a marketing thing but has to be lived and carried by the whole organisation, every role is important.
- Brands have to set limits and stick to them consistently: what can I do, and what do I want? but also: what can’t I do and what don’t I want?
And in your opinion, what are some of the reasons why attempts to win employees as brand ambassadors in the long term fail?
Clearly due to the internal communication channels and prioritization. It is important that everyone in the company understands what the brand values (often developed by a small focus group) mean in terms of the job at hand and the concrete actions taken at the specific internal and/or external point of contact (i.e. with the customer). Once the brand strategy, brand values and brand rules have been developed, the work only really begins. Often, just a few workshops are held and that’s it. But that does not work. In this respect, brand is like a competitive sport – it has to be trained every day. In management, in marketing, in communication, in product development and in any case in sales, it must be clear every day: “What exactly do I have to do to let the customer experience my values”? This is difficult, time-consuming and costs both time and money. You have to develop KPIs, measure changes and give feedback. And you have to be able to share your joy about successes as well as your anger about failures in the development of your own brand. Unfortunately, too little is often done in this area and the topic of brand management degenerates into a paper tiger in the marketing or communications area.
In your opinion, how do different target groups differ in terms of their brand loyalty?
This is really difficult to answer and it depends on whether we are talking about internal or external target groups. However, the mechanics of brand loyalty are the same everywhere. 1) Understanding the values 2) Translating them to my needs 3) Adapting my actions 4) Allowing change 5) Readjusting. This applies in theory to everyone, whether in sales, production, development… but also to dealers, processors or the end customer.
What was your biggest aha-experience so far on the subject of brand management?
I had the biggest aha-experience with a brand that I supervised. After years of internal wrangling, difficult persuasion work and eternal discussions, just before I was about to give up, suddenly everyone was aligning themselves behind the brand. I still get goose bumps today. Suddenly it clicked. Virtually from one day to the next (4-5 years after the start of the brand strategy implementation) they no longer said “but the customer needs ” or “but our market needs” or “but the competition does”. Suddenly it was “but we have to behave this way” or “but our value is XY and therefore we have to do it this way”. This was back then with the first strong brand and I know it happens again and again when everything is going well. And if not… then it’s just not ready yet or you have missed something on the way. I believe that brand management always involves a little self-doubt or constantly questioning oneself… otherwise you can’t do it successfully for very long.
Let’s take a look at the current situation: What significance do you think the Corona crisis has within the brand environment?
People need guidelines and orientation. Especially during a crisis. It is therefore important to be clear and to stand by your values. And that’s why it’s just not right for every brand to introduce masks and disinfectants into the market. If it doesn’t fit the brand core, the action fizzles out. Clearly differentiated actions with a distinct brand fit help people to orientate themselves.
So what advice would you give someone who is trying to establish a new brand on the market or rebrand it in 2020?
To bring the decision makers from the management on board and to take them into account at an early stage. It is of no use if they do not recognize what needs to be done, what this means for everyone and how long it will take. Make it clear within the company that this is not a marketing project, but a strategic course-setting. Many people think that they will develop a brand strategy or “polish up the brand”, but they are not prepared to follow step 1 with all the others. This makes it very difficult and almost impossible for those who are responsible for the brand. A brand is not something you do on the side. It needs focus, resources and the help of everyone during implementation. The lasting success is then always the team success.