MetaDesign Zürich Strategist Alex Herrmann is no stranger to brands. His love affair with them started in Bern, Switzerland, almost 30 years ago, when growing up as a child he was given his first pair of Nike shoes while traveling in the U.S.
“Back then, America was way more advanced than Europe in advertising their products. I saw everyone wearing Nikes – in malls, they had great posters. We didn’t have Nike in Switzerland. I got so passionate for Nike – it’s still my favorite brand today.”
To Alex, brands carried magic. “My parents told me the only reason I liked Nike was because of marketing,” said Alex. “So I always thought that marketing had to do with magic. As I grew up, I slowly got introduced to the marketing world and took marketing classes on brands and strategy, which ultimately led me on the path of what I’m doing today.”
After completing his Master’s degree, Alex went to Germany and worked as a brand consultant at Publicis Sasserath and Musiol Munzinger Sasserath. He was later employed by SelectNY and Wirz/BBDO where he gained experience as a strategic planner in advertising. Throughout the years, he has worked for brands such as T-Mobile, FC St. Pauli, P&G and IKEA, advising them in strategic and executional issues of brand management and brand communication.
Today, Alex is responsible for clients like UBS, Migros and B. Braun. He guest lectures at the Design Management Institute of the University of Applied Sciences Lucerne.
During his visit to our office in San Francisco, Alex was kind enough to answer a few questions on business and branding.
What is the number one item a company with a limited budget should invest in?
The most important thing to have is one strong idea at the core of everything – that is where you should spend your money. To come up with a brand core (or brand essence) that blows you and your customers away, that gets people passionate and excited. Everything else you can copy.
How can a company be different from its competitors?
From a process point of view, it requires a few things. You have to be open-minded, and go on a journey to discover your audience needs, and deliberately find different perspectives on how to market your company, products, services, and strengths, especially. Most importantly, you have to be courageous and brave. You have to be courageous to make the right decision, even though what you might be doing is crazy. And you have to be brave because you have to stick to your decision for a certain amount of time, even risking that your revenues will go down short-term, that competitors will laugh at you. It takes time to be successful. The strongest brands are where people are highly committed to their mission for a long period of time. Strong brands are not built overnight.
What are the three biggest mistakes brands make?
#1 – Overanalyzing
I often feel companies overanalyze because they are scared. There’s a saying, ‘paralysis through analysis’. It’s where many brands struggle – overanalyzing limits possibilities and ties them down.
#2 – Not trusting instinct
Many companies don’t trust their intuition or instincts. Hard facts are important, but sometimes decision makers should step back and digest the information available to them, build their own opinion, and follow their instincts. First have a strong opinion then make decisions.
#3 – Not being passionate
It’s important to be passionate about what you are doing as well as the brand itself. For brand managers, the top motivation can’t just be the bonus at the end of the year. If you are responsible for a brand, you aren’t a manager of money or people. You are responsible for mindsets and emotions of people. As the owner of a brand you need to think the same way. Your goal should be to improve your brand in such a way everyone loves it. And once people love it, and the whole company puts energy into making it attractive, success will follow.
From your global perspective, what is the future of brand design?
That’s a difficult question. For the last 20 years, branding was primarily about making things pretty. And today, that’s still kind of relevant, but brands need to have a clear purpose, an attitude, and strong beliefs that go far beyond being functional or pretty.
When I came to MetaDesign, I was introduced to design thinking, which changed my thoughts about design. How can design really contribute to bringing brands to life? Or solve problems for brands or people? That’s my vision for the future. The whole methodology around design thinking can be applied to changing brands and opening up the minds of people working in this business. That’s what brand design should be in the future – a way of making brands better, so that they become more attractive and appealing to target audiences.
Interview by Molly Davis, Communication Strategist at MetaDesign San Francisco.