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How Brands Are Built

Oct 28, 2019

Caren Williams and I met in 2012 at Interbrand San Francisco, where she was a Director of Strategy. Caren's since become an independent brand consultant, working with brands like Google, Sunrun, and Sandbox VR. One reason I wanted to talk to Caren is because of her diversity of experience, which includes an MBA from University of Texas, managing brands at consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms like Proctor & Gamble and Nestle, strategy and innovation consulting at a firm called Jump Associates, and, finally, brand consulting. This background gives Caren a unique perspective on brand strategy and brand experience. I asked Caren about the difference between building brands in the CPG space versus corporate and B2B brands. She says that while the fundamental approach is the same, the inputs and outputs are often slightly different. Consumer product brands can require deep consumer research and the resulting strategy can revolve around functional and emotional benefits and "reasons to believe." Corporate brands, on the other hand, may require more internal stakeholder research to get to the "spirit and ethos of the entire company," and some of the strategic positioning pillars might be "almost tagline-y." Next, we talked about brand experience. Caren and I talked through a model we both have experience with, which breaks brand experience into four dimensions:

  • People includes corporate office employees who don't interact with the brand as well as customer-facing people, like retail store employees or drivers for Uber/Lyft. The People category also includes performance reviews, job descriptions, and on-boarding processes.
  • Places (and spaces) means physical places, like stores, lobbies, and conference room names, but also digital spaces like websites, assuming they can be considered "a place you can go. ... [Visitors are] entering into your brand world."
  • Products (and services) are simply "the things that you make and sell." For Google, products include the G Suite, which houses Gmail and Google Drive. Caren says, "If you're trying to bring your brand to life, it's not just how you bring it to life across your advertising and your communications and your messaging. The things that you make and sell need to represent that brand."
  • Communications include anything written or spoken on behalf of the brand. Most marketing and advertising falls into this category, including email marketing, social posts, responses to emails/chats/phone calls, as well as keynote speeches from the CEO and blog posts.

Then Caren shares some simple, straightforward tools and exercises (or "creative brain games") you can use with clients to tease out the best ideas for building a brand experience. She recommended an "old school" book called Why We Buy, by Paco Underhill that explains purchasing behavior such as "why we reach for things on the middle shelf versus the lower shelf." (To see another book she recommends, as well as recommendations from many past interviewees, check out the Useful List: Books recommended by branding experts.) To close out, Caren shared some great advice for people just getting into brand consulting. To learn more about Caren-her approach, the services she offers, and her client experience-check out her website at