In this exclusive interview, Christian Schroeder, the newly appointed Global President of Landor, tells WARC about understanding and measuring the value of a brand, both now and in the future.

WARC: You’ve come back to Landor after 17 years. What has changed and/or stayed the same since then?

Christian Schroeder: The core attributes of strategic thinking, brand expression and design, and how it gets into the world of corporate and consumer brands remains the same. But what has changed is understanding the link between business and brand strategy, and utilising a consultative methodology to be able to work with our clients and express the brand through various multi-sensorial experiences.

This is driven by the fact that consumer touchpoints have become less analog and a lot more virtual, verbal, sonic, etc.

What has changed in the way we build brands today?

In the past, brands could rest on their laurels but over the last few decades, there has been a huge turnover of the types of companies that are here now, compared to decades ago. Now brands have to try a lot harder. Relying solely on traditional ways of communicating is not enough anymore. As a result of that, the needs of clients have changed as well.

Some of the questions the agency is being asked comes through the lens of supply chain, procurement, finance or operational teams trying to understand the environmental impact the brand has.

How are consumers demanding more from brands?

Twenty years ago, you could have placed a BMW, Audi and Mercedes next to one another. Each car would have identical features.

If you asked the average consumer on the street which car they would prefer, they could give you an immediate answer. But if you asked them about their motivation, they wouldn’t be able to give an immediate answer. This is because there’s a whole series of both positive and negative intangible experiences that people have built up over time. If you were a German car buyer, you would not want a Mercedes because it’s associated with taxis. But if you ask a car buyer in China, they might pick a Mercedes because it's an aspirational symbol. You might also pick a Mercedes because your dad drove one or you saw it being featured in a music video of your favourite brand. Those associations can be one of a million different things.

Now that consumers have more access to technology, channels and information, they are demanding more from the brands they buy and interrogating those brand associations. For example, 20 years ago, consumers would not be asking brands about their purpose.

This is why brands need to understand their audiences more effectively as well. The danger is trying to be all things to all people and therefore, you're not ever really meeting the needs. Then when we go back, whether you are relevant or differentiated, you increasingly become sucked down into a maelstrom of all the other brands.

How are you measuring or putting a dollar value on the brand?

BAV or brand asset valuator is one of the main research tools that WPP uses to help clients understand the value of the brand. It’s based on four pillars, which are relevance, differentiation, esteem and knowledge. Relevance gives you an indication of what the value of a brand is now and the differentiation gives you an indication of the potential value of your brand in the future.

We use different models to try and predict what makes a difference to consumers regarding a brand’s ability to drive perception. We might want to look at that in terms of brand portfolio optimisation, demand supply planning or pricing. We might want to look at it in terms of where the brand wants to go.

The brand performance team models around sales uplift and optimisation, so they can actually plot out what could happen if the brand changes certain attributes or drivers, and how that could play out in terms of sales in the short term. So that, from a strategic perspective, links business to brand.

Then we can test various types of brand concepts against the brand asset score to understand which ones will have the most uplift.

What you can then also do is look at that in terms of the consumer journey and understand which are the touchpoints in which the experiences have the ability to disproportionately affect people's perception of the brand.

You’ve got the consulting aspect, which can then make the case from business to brand strategy and prove a potential uplift in business results.

You also have the ability to be able to then take the broader concept, the idea, and say which of those is going to meet the needs of that the best.

You can also layer on the various different experiences to understand which of the experiences could have an impact, which then informs your media strategy.

How does this kind of predictive data/evidence inform decision making for the agency and its clients? Or enable you to take more creative risks? What’s possible now that wasn’t before?

It mitigates risk. There are now multiple stakeholders involved in decisions being made around the brand. It’s very difficult to see how intangible value fits in on the balance sheet.

When marketing teams are looking to secure budgets internally, finance will ask what the benefit will be for the company. As a marketer, we can now provide them with a detailed analysis of what the brand is worth now and could be worth in the future if they invested in these activities. These could include predicting sales uplift or improving brand equity which creates a price premium for your products. This gives all stakeholders a degree of confidence in their decisions.

Does the agency ever get it wrong?

So far, the answer is no. Actually, what happens is that we tend to underestimate the uplift. For example, when we worked with NIB from 2020-2022, the health insurance category was facing an increasing lack of trust in providers, stemming from customers, particularly younger generations, not understanding or valuing the benefits of health insurance.

NIB needed a brand that reflected their strategic shift from being an insurance provider to becoming an active health partner. We predicted that their revenues would increase by 10% but actually, it delivered 11% uplift. It’s not wildly different but it's relatively accurate.

We also tested two brand positioning concepts where one did infinitely better than the other. The point there is that this exercise was ultimately about understanding the need in the market where there was a great degree of dissatisfaction that was probably coming off a relatively long-term decline in trust in the market.

So being able to create that differentiation and saying, actually, you know what, we're no longer going to focus on protection, we're going to focus on prevention because that changes the paradigm in terms of the conversation you're having. So, therefore, how does that impact the brand? What are we going to do? What are the actions that we take from that?

When is the right time to use BAV?

The market now is incredibly fluid. New brands are being developed all the time. In many Southeast Asian markets today, there is an explosion of local brands. If you are a CPG company trying to enter a market or if you're in a market, you want to try and understand how you create differentiation against the vast array of emerging local young brands. So this is a proactive approach rather than a reactive one in a case of understanding how controversy could impact the brand. It’s more powerful when you're trying to understand how you want to evolve or how you want to maintain market position.

We also use BAV not just for its predictive ability but to ensure that the ideas we produced are grounded on evidence and not just plucked from the sky.

We want to bring that objectivity back into the work that we do to ensure it is meaningful and relevant and therefore, ultimately differentiated for consumers but at the same time, has to be expressed through amazing creativity, which is ultimately at the heart of what we do. So I think that it's a service to lead to better creativity.

Landor is still a creative agency at heart. How do you translate the evidence from BAV into the creative process and balance “creative objectivity”, which is an oxymoron?

We have a triumvirate that works across all of our clients. What works is when they all work together from the get-go, so the creative teams are involved right from the start. There's an ongoing discussion in terms of understanding what the implications of that are.

We will test concepts through this whole process, not just which ones meet the needs of the client in terms of financial uplift but also which ones work best in terms of the insights that we've derived and the consumer needs that we're trying to fulfill.

There’s a constant level of curiosity and questioning, so it's not about strategy dictating creativity. It's not about creativity dictating strategy. It's a much more seamless way rather than an iterative handoff.

How do you put $1 value on a feeling?

I’ll go back to the Mercedes, BMW or Audi and if I asked you that question, which one would you choose?

The point is that if I can capture the why, that's the intangible value, that's the dollar value on a feeling. Do you want to stay in a Marriott or Hilton where realistically, there's very little to choose between brands – which is often the case in a lot of consumable products or service brands, where you can put $1 value on being able to unpack why people choose things. That's the intangible value of the brand.