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Marc Gobé is chairman, chief executive officer, and executive creative director of Desgrippes Gobé and Associates. One of the world’s top ten brand image creation firms, DGA specializes in identity, product, packaging, retail, and Web design and over the past 25 years has created breakthrough brand design strategies for Coca-Cola, IBM, Victoria’s Secret, Ann Taylor, Sears, Godiva, Saks, Reebok, Versace, Lancôme, Starbucks, and Gillette. Gobé served on the board of the Brand Design Association and was recently invited to join the IBM Marketing Advisory Board. His design work and writing have appeared in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Brandweek, Women’s Wear Daily, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Economist. He has won awards from I.D., Interiors, Graphis, VM+SD, the New York Art Directors Club, and Clio. He speaks regularly on marketing and design at Columbia University and at conferences worldwide.

I caught up with Marc by email which was a great way to bypass the time difference. An interesting conversation followed. Read about Marc’s visions on brands, emotions and advertising.

After publishing your book “Emotional Branding, you wrote “Citizen Brandas a follow up. Both handle the question of how to connect brands to people on a deeper, more emotional level. You wrote that the focus was not to provide any cut-and-dry solutions or draw dramatic conclusions, but to challenge the present in order to better understand the future. Citizen Brand came out in 2002, would you say you succeeded in getting a better understanding of the future (assuming the future is now, seen from a 2002 perspective)?

“Citizen Brand” was an attempt to bring a better understanding to the role brands play within society. My feeling was that people were seeing a cause to rebel against the manipulation and lack of ethics of certain brands. Brands need to be about responsibility and people are not ready to sponsor brands that are not in line with their beliefs. Brand activism could go in two directions: it could be against the concept of branding in general or, as I believe, a way for consumers to change the course of a brand’s direction by voting with their wallet for the brands they believe in. I predicted this would be the influence of a consumer democracy.

In your book “Emotional Branding” you concluded that connecting brands with people, especially on the level of their deepest desires, is very complex. Could you think of a few examples of brands that did succeed to do so?

“Emotional Branding” is about the unique engagement people have with brands. It is on the level of desire; the absolute need to own, offer or benefit from a brand offering. Apple has brought what I think to be one of the best emotional branding programs you could dream of. First, you have an entrepreneur whose surprising vision you respect, then the products that match that vision, and innovation that keeps you engaged. It does not stop there; Apple understands the need to connect with people in a sensorial and emotional way. The expression of the brand reinforces its promise through a design and brand presence approach through their stores that bridge the gap between the abstract nature of branding and it’s humanistic impact. The brand engages you throughout all your senses, through your intellect and gut feelings.

Emotional BrandingEmotions have recently caught the attention of researchers in many different fields. Brand-related emotions are researched in the marketing field, while product-related emotions are researched in the field of product design (e.g. www.designandemotion.org, www.engage-design.org). Nevertheless, it seems that researchers in these fields have never really sat down together to come up with an integrated model of what you might call “consumer emotion. Could you think of a reason why this never happened?

Emotional branding is not a technique or a one-way street to a solution. It evolves and keeps changing based on circumstances that affect people’s lives. In a time of fear, people’s emotions or relationships with brands are different than what they would be in a safer environment. Emotions are also personal and therefore more difficult to classify as such for research purposes. Still, most people look at emotional branding as a new technique or sales pitch when it’s really about a fundamental change in our society. As we move from a “modern” world to a “post-modern” society where people are the ultimate decision makers, one has to first redefine what that means. We live in a world where individuals are engaged in the discovery of self-actualization, the meaning of pleasure and the concept of “joy” in a free society, as Baruch Spinoza would argue. Looking at emotional branding from a pure scientific or clinical way does not bring forward the subconscious or the unknown desires. Emotional branding is a way to construct ideas by celebrating the creative process and people’s imaginations. The business of ideas does not need dogma or rigid formulas, it is evolving and changing based on people’s lives and aspirations.

In “Citizen Brandyou talk about the end of individualism as we have known it before and the need for people to magnify their personal experiences in the context of a group (tribalization). However, rumour has it that personalization and customization are the new buzz words. How would you say personalization and customization, which appear to be more focused on individuals, and the tribalization you mentioned, come together? Or would you say they exclude one another?

In “Citizen Brand” as in “Emotional Branding” I celebrate the individual and his/her cause. I also support the idea of new tribes in which the individual is recognized, but in the context of specific shared values. For instance, what the Kinsey research did for America was more than just giving data to people about their sex lives; it also brought a sense that on the fringe of the “perfect heterosexual society,” many people were defying the norm. Therefore, someone who felt isolated and personally at odds with the rest of society could find out that actually many others were like him or her. The web is becoming that tribe; people can meet and connect with others who have the same values without losing their own sense of identity. These fringe groups are often the most influential and the most likely to adopt a brand that will support their choices. Mass marketing is dead; understanding communities of individuals is the future of marketing.

In the article “Emotional identity(2003) you wrote that “how people emotionally connect with a brand is best defined by understanding how people experience a brand. Consumers have three approaches: head, heart or gut. Concerning the three approaches of how people experience a brand, is it really either one of these approaches? Or is it possible to assume that through an appraisal process (influenced by both rational and irrational factors), a certain (emotional) outcome is formed? Which means that an approach could be a combination of both head and heart, etc.?

The head, heart and gut approach is a way to decode people’s motivations and create an emotional brand identity. We have to assume that everyone has a rational side, a need to be involved in society and deep, gut desires that are self-revealing. We also have to accept that the scientific and psychological world has concluded that contrary to what we believe, most of our decisions if not all are emotional and driven by our guts. In our work we always try to find the percentage of “head”, “heart” and “gut” a brand needs to express. A fragrance, for instance, is mostly about “gut”, an insurance program mostly about “head”, and a baby product about “heart”. Where I have seen this process work best is in evaluating the perceptions people have for a brand around these emotional guidelines.

Branding has always suffered from the image of being manipulative. What is the difference between making people feel a certain way and connecting with people on a deeper, more emotional level?

People can manipulate brands too! There are many articles today on the diminishing role of commercials and on how people use technology to bypass TV spots. Advertisers don’t know how their broadcast money works and advertising agencies can’t connect with people in advertising free environments. Consumers are winning and the business world is very slow to catch up to this new reality. In a post-modern society, advertising needs to be on-demand and welcomed to succeed. The public is very marketing-savvy and will only be interested in the type of communication that will emotionally stimulate their lives.

The recent developments in emotion research have experienced a rise of interest from design academies and students. How important do you believe it is for design academies to take on the ideas from “Emotional Brandingand “Citizen BrandFor instance, will it change the way they approach design dramatically?

Design is the new advertising; it is the new media and the new research. Design is a business of observation, imagination and sensory experiences. It is the most powerful way to convey or express an emotion. Under leveraged and controlled by flawed consumer research, the design business has not been able to awaken people to new ideas. However, it is changing: design is picking up where advertising is leaving off, bringing not only aesthetics to differentiate products but also a way to show the true innovative spirit of a corporation. The biggest challenge for design is to move away from the dogmatic, clinical and elitist modern approach to design to a more post-modern, people-centric experience that brings joy and pleasure.
The Absolute vodka bottle design is the advertising; the Apple Nano and the Mini as well. Gillette razors are all about design as is Red Bull. Any successful business knows how to use design to shape an offering to a very discriminating public.

Do you recall a project you did in d/g* that perfectly fits the implementation of the content of your books?

Victoria’s Secret was a great way to change the public perception of a category. To see that brand break all pre-conceived ideas on how to communicate was truly motivating. Their work for causes is a part of their commitment and they always create new ideas to promote their brands. They were the first to sell beauty products in their stores with great success; the first to leverage free publicity by creating a fashion show; the first to migrate millions of people form the Super Bowl to an online fashion show; and the first (to my knowledge) to produce a fashion show on prime-time television paid for by other advertisers!

What are the brands that inspire you?

Apple, Target, Nike, Dove, Victoria’s secret, Jean- louis restaurant , Greenwich CT.

Besides practice, which books and/or designers inspire you?

The seventh turning, Moris Lapidus

What can we expect in 2006 from Marc Gobé? Are you working on any new material related to your previous books?

I am working on a new book that will celebrate design and its impact in a post-modern society. It will reveal the magic that builds great brands around the creative and intuitive process of our imaginations.

Thank you very much for your time Marc!

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