Since we’re not in the same geographical location, Alfredo Buenaño and I met in one of those early versions of the metaverse. It was our first time there. We were both white drawing puppets labeled “Anonymous,” which was fitting. We talked about checking out an NFT gallery, but didn’t. I feared our surroundings would be too distracting to focus on the conversation. Once we started talking about brand strategy, the Goodyear Agency’s specialty, everything faded away. This meeting could’ve been a Zoom call. And in a way, it was.
The whole interview revolved around defining Brand Strategy. It’s up to each of you to decide if we succeeded. This relatively novel form of marketing is evolving, mutating, changing every day. It’s hard to pinpoint it, but Buenaño tries, “all the actions that you can take, all the plans that you make, so that your company can connect with its ideal audience. Or with its ideal user. Brand Strategy encompasses all the things that have to happen for that connection to be perfect.”
Know thyself, the ancient Greeks advised. A sentiment that Buenaño mirrors, “the process starts with determining what your company is and what the values are. Who the hell are you? On the other side, you have to determine who the person who shares those values with you is. Your audience is a part of your company.” And nowadays, they have all the power.
The whole field is dying and resurrecting before our very eyes. “The main change in Brand Strategy’s new era is that what sells now is the narrative and not the product. The power left the company and it’s now in the users’ hands.” This is a significant shift.“The old marketing scheme was like: I did this, let’s figure out how to sell it to these people. Nowadays, the aim is to incorporate the people’s needs directly into the product,” Buenaño explains. And that happens before the product even exists.
Remember me, and how I can solve your problems
Instinctively, our two avatars started walking. We soon realized that, basically, that whole place was an NFT gallery. We came across a building covered in Cryptopunks, and saw an Axie exchange station. It was more than that, though. Impossible structures formed before our very eyes. YouTube videos you could play covered some walls, and there are all kinds of digital art pieces flying in the air. This particular version of the metaverse is as chaotic as the 2D Internet was, back when it was cool. We went up some stairs and found a quiet roof in which we could stop, breathe, and continue our exploration.
Nowadays, brands aren’t trying to win a “broad spectrum” of the audience. On the contrary, agencies focus on “determining how to narrow market niches and find specific-needs niches.” Buenaño identifies another drastic change from traditional marketing. “Nowadays, the work is for space in your mind, nor for your money. The message is, "remember me, and how I can solve your problems." The customer is in complete control.
If a company wants to enter the market in a smooth, direct way, the Goodyear Agency’s advice is to develop a product as specific as “beer for soccer moms.” Solve that problem for them first, and from there you can grow. “There's no method to creating a purple cow (as Seth Godin would call it). Everyone would be a rockstar if there was. Your brand should be notably different, though, it should aim for “radical differentiation.” It should “find an insight into a need and build a complete product or service around it.”
As we start going down the stairs, Buenaño elegantly closes the idea. “That is what you are going to communicate: how you're different and how that is relevant to your audience, that's it. Bingo! Do not put anything else on it. That is more or less what brand strategy is.”
As long as they don’t break the contract, companies can do anything
“This feels like a real place,” Buenaño told me about the version of the metaverse we were in. Our avatars went into another building, several Galaxy Eggs NFTs covered the walls. The illustrations were out of this world. I had a vision of what all of this would look like once traditional brands discover it. Full of advertising and pop-ups, just like the current Internet. Scary thought. The idea was nauseating, so I didn’t mention it. “Let’s enjoy it while we can,” I said.
After a beat, Buenaño went right back to brand strategy. What an easy interview this was. “Before, everything was dominated by the CEO. Now it turns out that… wait for it, because it's happening slowly… CBOs are now in play. The idea is that the CEO takes care of the company from the inside, and the Chief Brand Officer takes charge of the company from the outside. The CBO handles all of the company’s communications and receives information to determine what the CEO is going to do.”
What does that mean exactly? “If the market tells me blue, those shoes have to change now. A feedback loop begins, fast, much faster than what existed before. That is why an important part of the brand strategy is to determine what are the core values, what you want to achieve, what are the objectives. To determine your “why” first, and then the how.”
This confuses me. I ask him to help me visualize it. “You may be selling an iPad, but all of a sudden the market asks for a phone. Are you a phone company now? No, man, you’re an innovation company. Your objective is to get people from point A to point B. Fast.” This is wild. I’m beginning to see it. “Right now, companies don't live by what they do, but by “why” they do it. And that is why the most innovative companies identify problems and solve them.”
A pattern is emerging. To fully understand, I ask for a real-world case study. “Nike is a kind of old-school example. They started making running shoes, and began to explore and understand the market. After a certain point, the logical growth was to make apparel for athletes. They defined themselves as a company that empowers athletes to give their best. Could you imagine that one day people would use our shoes in their everyday life? To go to classes and such? And it started happening. Nike somehow evolved into that. It was a logical transition, though”
“Whole Foods would have a hard time selling junk food, or announcing a partnership with McDonald's. You can't be that company.” The one thing any company can’t do is break the proverbial contract they have with their customers. “However, it would make total sense for Whole Food’s to buy, for example, organic farms. They could at some point stop defining themselves as a supermarket and people would accept it.”
So, that’s the way those companies are growing. They identify problems and solve them with products that are within their tone. They don’t have to be just a shoe company. “When they position themselves like that, they limit themselves and kill growth.”
Build around what makes you different
I noticed something. We’re the only ones in this virtual space. Our avatars have been walking around for a couple of hours and we’ve seen three people maximum. Maybe the future of mankind is not in the metaverse after all. I ask about medium or small companies. Can they apply these techniques or are they just for the big boys? Does brand strategy work on a medium and small scale?
“Small to medium companies can draw great benefits from strategy because they are the ones that have the biggest need to specialize and niche down in order to truly differentiate and become an obvious option in an already saturated market. Bigger brands have a harder time adapting fast or tending to emerging audiences because its not profitable enough to sell to smaller niche markets in the beginning”
“Smaller companies need to build their positioning around what makes them different, not necessarily on features that might be great but anyone can replicate or is already offering. In conversations with a brewery we’ve worked with, the conversation came up: I understand that your beer is great, but nobody really knows how you make it or that it tastes a little different from the other ones. No one knows you bought a new machine that’s incredible. What I am seeing is what you intentionally allow me to understand, besides that what you have is a commodity.”
The brewery didn’t believe in marketing at first. The Goodyear Agency had to work overtime to get the “why” out of them, but the process paid off. “There’s a feeling behind it. You want your clients to be people that you connect with. Let's try to analyze and exalt that. The main reason to exist for most companies is to make money. However, money is a consequence of the fact that you are going to spend your eight, twelve hours a day working on it.”
Partnering with a good agency actually saves time and money. “It's so difficult to be successful building your own business, that you have to love it. If you're going to get into this for years before getting results, you’d better love it. So, let's determine what you love and why you're doing it, so you don't get tired halfway through.”
Your company’s first target: the early adopters
The prehistoric metaverse is virtually deserted. Are we too early or is this a false promise? I guess it depends on us. Will we recommend the experience or keep people away from here? I’m still on the fence. Buenaño is laser-focused on the interview at hand. “Most companies want to jump straight to the widest audience possible, but the crowd is never the first to grab on to new ideas.”
“Their focus should be on trying to conquer the early adopters. They’re the ones that bring the information to the people. The guys who say, "Did you try the new donuts?... No, well, you should. They are so good!" In the not-so-distant past, marketing was about the masses. "The more people, the better… No, if you're for everybody, you're for no one. Don’t quote me saying that, because that’s super cliche in the industry. Although, customers may not know it.”
What do you need besides early adopters? The answer might surprise you. “You can’t be gray. Some people are going to hate your message, but others are going to like it and that’s the place where you want to be. Break the boundaries and take a stand. Be shameless and tell us who you are. You need some haters. If you don't have some haters, you are still undefined.”
Buenaño ends the interview with a bang, “If you are still unsure who your audience is, start looking for haters, then.”