Scott Goodson, founder and CEO of StrawberryFrog, a well-known marketing agency based in Madison Avenue, New York City, has undertaken to explain in this exclusive interview the experience of branding Albania, this Balkans country of over 3 millions people which has struggled through times with its image around the world.
As a country, already a candidate member to EU, a new image is needed accordingly. So, it was exactly StrawberryFrog which won the international competition last June for the branding of Albania with its slogan “Albania, Go Your Own Way!”. “Albania is not Croatia. It is not Italy either. It is a jewel and original destination,” says Goodson in this interview. Goodson is also the author of the bestseller Uprising: How to Build a Brand and Change the World By Sparking Cultural Movements.
Rudina: As a starter, please, can you tell us a bit more about how did StrawberryFrog come into being?
Scott: Karin Drakenberg (a Swede) and I (a Canadian) started StrawberryFrog in Amsterdam in 1999. We set out from the start with the goal to challenge the huge bureaucratic network of corporate ad agencies who dominate and control the advertising industry by offering global clients a smarter, better, faster agency.
There was something special from the start - the values of the company were a mixture of values that Karin (from Sweden) and Scott (from Canada) combined into a wonderful paradox of collaboration and determination, of open mindedness and a global ambition and mindset. Limitations and borders were to be smashed through.
We offered what huge clients need and want, we just do it differently than the dinosaurs. By the way, I would love the opportunity to come to Albania and speak about this at a conference. We started with a brand idea http://scottgoodson.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/07/an-idea-company-based-on-an-idea.html
As StrawberryFrogs vs dinosaurs, we were agile, we offered disruptive strategies and brilliant creative. We had fewer people than the bigger agencies, but we were able to do better work faster than the huge shops because everyone likes each other and respects each other's work. It's like a tightly knit family of passionate professionals. This was and still is - I might add - an agency that is highly relevant for the fast changing media world.
Rudina: Why did you and Karin choose "StrawberryFrog"? What is the meaning behind it?
Scott: I came up with the name StrawberryFrog at a time when brands like Google and Yahoo, and our first client "smart car" were being born. That was the culture. We were one of the first agencies to have a concept name rather than a name of the founders or their initials like FCB or BBDO. Karin wanted our name to represent the responsive, agile, dynamic frog that leaps through the air as opposed to the huge corporate dinosaur agencies who move super slowly and act like dinosaurs. It was a name that showed the marketing industry that we go our own way and don't follow the traditional ones and don't follow what everybody else is doing. We were trailblazers and we wanted a name to represent that. It also was a name that was a real red and blue frog that lives in the amazon - it's very rare and effective, because its poisonous. It might be small, but you don't mess around with this little guy.
Rudina: Why have you beaten huge traditional corporate agencies for the world's most respected brands such as Heineken, Emirates, LG and Albania?
Scott: Most clients are beholden to the big huge corporate ad agencies out of fear that hiring a creative agency like StrawberryFrog is risky. But it's the complete opposite. Hiring a dinosaur agency is much risker because they are slow, bureaucratic, expensive, whereas we come up with ideas that punch well above their weight, ten times better and faster than our completion in three key areas that have been important since business was conducted in the Fertile Cresent 10,000 years ago.
Smarter: because our teams are made up of internationally experienced senior talent, who have probably faced the kind of challenge the brand has, we are able to find solutions faster than a huge organization that has to search for the answers.
Better: we have won all the world's most respected advertising awards for famous breakthrough creative work. When Karin and I started the company we already had a reputation for creative excellence that enabled us to woo and win our first iconic global clients such as IKEA, smart car, Asics and Credit Suisse right from the very start. And, because we can develop disruptive strategies based on first hand experience working across borders and globally, we are able to come up with smarter solutions that will work. I was born in one city, went to university in a second, started working in a third - that is standard in our agency. We understand the global market.
Faster: because we are frogs and we have a model of working that delivers better and smarter work faster, we can move in response to market changes instead of standing around waiting for 18 months to react like the big corporate agencies do.
Cheaper: if you can do smarter, better and faster then you can do it cheaper. Clients pay us on a time basis. So, the longer it takes the more it costs.
Rudina: Is any aspect at all of "Albania, Go Your Own Way" which is challenging in your eyes?
Scott: The agency that Karin and I created in 1999 is a challenger agency, looking continuously for ways to challenge convention and the status quo with fresh perspective and fragrant ideas. When the agency set about coming up with thinking for Albania, we used the same mindset. Go your own way is all about Albania and the wonderful and inspiring experiences that it offers, it's values, it's view on the world. This is something of value and great pride in a world that for the most part is starting to look and feel the same. Albania is exquisitely special. From our soul as an agency we recognize this and felt the incredible power this platform would provide for marketing that breaks through to the world and doesn't follow the boring pattern of travel advertising.
Rudina: How difficult was to brand Albania?
Scott: It's always a challenge to brand a destination. However StrawberryFrog uses a proven methodology to develop brand strategies that is called Cultural Movement, which is detailed in my best selling book "Uprising - how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements". It starts with understanding what the brand cultural is all about. Then you identify and understand what the contemporary culture cares about. When you connect that cultural insight to the brand benefit it's a powerful platform for the world where social media can spread an idea like wildfire.
Rudina: How did you get the idea of “Albania, Go Your Own Way”? Was it a process? Many minds brought together or just a spark?
Scott: My team at StrawberryFrog looked at what the brand culture is, what was a brand truth, and then connected that to consumer culture. Albania is not Croatia. It's not Italy. It's an amazing original gem. At the same time, when you speak with travelers and tourists you realize that they are bored with the traditional travel destinations. The world has changed and people are more independent, and are looking for more original experiences. They want to be in the know. They want to go their own way. This is a big idea and highly motivating.
Rudina: Nation branding asks for knowing the country first. Do you know much of Albania?
Scott: I wrote the strategy to that defined Dubai Downtown and the motto we crafted was CENTRE OF NOW. We work for Singapore. And we've created brand ideas for iconic brands such as Emirates Airline - I wrote the motto Hello Tomorrow, and for Jim Beam "Make History". In all of these you have to understand the brand, do your research. But then you need to also look what consumer culture thinks is relevant. If consumer culture today was "follow the crowd", then we may have come up with a different strategy than what we did. But contemporary consumer culture celebrates being in the know and the opposite of following the crowd. People want to live in a bigger world and they want to live new experiences on their terms. Technology today and the Internet enables people to find and customize their own trips and, as a result, they are more in control of their own decisions. It's a badge of honor to go your own way.
Rudina: What were the aspects that mostly impacted “Albania, Go Your Own Way?”
Scott: Something significant has changed in our global culture over the past couple of years. Blame it on global economic pressures, general restlessness, or the new hyper-connectivity that enables people to instantly organize around causes and hot-topics. It’s probably some combination of all of these factors, but the net result is that we, as business leaders, are now dealing with a populace that is more socially engaged, more aware of what’s going on in the world, and hungrier to get involved and be heard on various issues, and moreover to do things themselves. Simply put, no one else has understood this big change in culture. People want to go their own way. Albania is building a platform to differentiate itself by aligning with this cultural shift.
Rudina: Do you think the new branding will influence on Albania’s image change around the world? Why and in what way?
Scott: How does a smart brand respond in a time of heightened passions and greater activism and individual engagement? Rather than becoming more cautious or being like everyone else, I believe brands must act like challenger brands, they must connect with that passion and individualism somehow. If you fail to respond to this shift in the culture, you run the risk of being out of step with your customers/consumers/with people. If you try to think in traditional ways you could end up looking like a “status quo” brand in a revolutionary world. The 3rd Brands need to become thought leaders. Sure, there will be the big market leaders - the famous country brands with the biggest share, but then there is the thought leader – the brand that, while it may not be the largest, is the one that everyone is talking about, that has the highest “sensed momentum” in the consumer’s mind.
Rudina: How can the success of a nation branding project be measured?
Scott: There are many tools we use to measure success. Basically, you need to agree from the outset what KPIs you wish to measure and then set about doing your work and measuring. The most important work is done ahead of the crafting of the brand advertising or marketing communications, you really need to do your homework and understand the insights that will drive the content we need to create.
Rudina: Nation branding is a challenge. In your view, what does it take to succeed ?
- Listen to what people are crying out for. With many cultural movements, leaders don't pay attention to the restless rumblings of what people care about. So, find out what they’re passionate about, what they’re talking to each other about. If you listen closely, you may detect the rumble of an idea on the rise–and it might be one you can build a movement around.
- Invite your customers into the public square. Create platforms where people can connect and join in with your idea. Social media has made it easier to do this, but “real” gatherings are also important. Our branding is not just an advertising campaign it's a reflection of how people really feel today around the world.
- Fly your banner proudly. Once you’ve decided to get behind an idea on the rise in culture or initiative, make a bold statement. Inspire passionate individuals to take your movement to the masses.
- Don’t fake it. People can sense whether you’re sincere about an idea or issue — or if you’re just exploiting it. You can’t lead a movement if you don’t believe in it yourself.
- Aim for global. Your idea has the potential to catch a wave of human energy and explode across boundaries and borders, gaining momentum along the way. Don’t underestimate it.
Rudina: Many nation branding consultants share the opinion that when governments are urged to improve their country’s image, they usually are not really thinking about branding, but about traditional advertising, public relations and cosmetic makeup. Is it true?
Scott: What's most important is to build the brand with a idea that people really care about. What is relevant in people's lives? It's not about marketing, but what do they feel passionate about in their daily lives and in the lives of the people they care about. This is about passions. This is authentic. This is a powerful idea. It's not advertising it's about creating culture. Capture your target’s imagination. Communication ideas that reflect culture can, in fact, be the most powerful business tool brands have at their disposal– not just as part of the marketing mix, but as a high leverage asset.
Guest post by Rudina Hoxha
Rudina Hoxha is a professional journalist and freelance consultant based in Albania. With a background in journalism/public relations, Rudina has a substantial experience in marketing, communicating and writing especially in such fields as European integration, marketing, business and technology. From 2009 – 2011, she was a contributor of Southeast Europe: People and Culture. Before that, she was a journalist for Albania Daily News for many years, responsible for reporting, editing as well as staff training. Rudina holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Language from University of Tirana, Faculty of Foreign Languages, and she was a H.J. Heinz Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Tirana, Albania. From 2012 on, Rudina is covering international press trips related to interesting issues for the Albanian media. Among them, she has very successfully covered the European Inventor Award in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Speak 2 Conference on Media Freedom in Brussels, European Forum Alpbach 2013 in Tyrol, LGBT community human rights in Stockholm and many others. She is a member of SEEMO, based in Vienna. She has been selected among the best 10 winners of 2013 Journalism Prize, WritingforCEE, awarded by the Austrian Press Agency.
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