What are the biggest brand management challenges at Deutsche Telekom?
Alexander Engelhardt: When looking at the telecommunications industry, it shows that we are primarily dealing with mature markets in which there is very little differentiation among the products and prices being offered. It is becoming more and more difficult for customers to identify the objective differences among market offerings. So how do we set ourselves apart from our competitors?
One important factor for success is obviously the customer experience. In a digital world that is becoming ever more complex, providers who can establish themselves as a trusted and supportive companion will have a crucial advantage. A customer’s enthusiasm for a telecommunications brand arises through the easy and worry-free use of complex technologies across national borders. It is a matter of giving people simple and fair access to the opportunities of digitisation.
Regardless of whether we are dealing with entertainment or the resolution of important societal issues, technology is not an end in itself. People use our products and services to stay in contact with others, share special moments or to exchange opinions and ideas. This is where the brand creates additional value: beyond technology and function, the brand enables participation and enriches people’s lives.
Is brand more important now than ever?
AE: Yes and no. Brands have always been important when leveraged to obtain the best effect. But with more and more products available out there, with no substantial differences and over 4,000 advertising messages coming at you every day, there is an increasing need for people to find an anchor for making their decisions – and for branding.
Today, more than ever before, we really understand how purchasing decisions are made and what role the brand can implicitly play when information is processed in our brains. Strong brands have an instant recognition, often without us seeing a name or a logo. They give us reliable orientation and tell us stories that generate purpose beyond mere functional benefits. Of course, we are all buying products – but brands change our perception by addressing psychological goals of customers. In the end, precisely this additional value is what usually drives purchase decisions and for which customers are willing to pay more – irrational but human. With this in mind, brands are indeed more important than ever.
What tools or technology do you use to manage your brand?
AE: At the centre of our brand management processes is the Brand & Design Platform. Here people can find guidance with regards to brand strategy and design, along with concrete guidelines and templates to create all kinds of ‘on brand’ communications.
Through our Brand Dialogue Platform, we invite people from all our teams around the globe to collaborate with us on our brand. This tool allows colleagues to get in contact with our Brand Design Support Team and to ask any questions related to branding. They can upload their latest communication layouts and get immediate feedback via live chat. The platform helps us to ensure simple processes and international coherency in managing the brand.
In addition, we recently launched our Online Brand Training. The initial idea was that there should be no employee, external agency or designer working with our brand who is not familiar with our brand strategy and design. The tool is fun to use and – at the same time – it effectively teaches brand essentials. We have already received a lot of positive feedback from users in Germany and we are in the process of rolling it out to all markets this year.
Which brands do you admire or use as inspiration?
AE: I admire brands that are successful in building a relevant and consistent brand image over the decades. To do this, the essence of the brand and its implicit goal value must be absolutely under control so that current trends can always be absorbed without changing the core. Coca-Cola, Apple and Nivea are outstanding examples of this. Furthermore, strong brands are able to react flexibly to specific contexts (medium, target groups, culture, occasion, etc.), so that – like Google – they will still be recognised unambiguously.
Which trends are likely to have the largest impact on your brand?
AE: In the age of digitisation, the audio identity of a brand is constantly growing in importance. As voice and sound interaction increases, brands must literally learn to speak. This leads to the creation of new worlds for brand communication in which sound plays a significant role.
Other trends we have seen include that of industry borders becoming increasingly blurred and partnerships gaining importance. This means that we need to handle our brand design more flexibly, while accepting the fact that we are losing exclusive ownership and influence over the final touch point. That’s why we need to find smart ways to stay visible and relevant for customers. One of our major assets to meet this challenge is our brand colour Magenta. We believe that our exclusive worldwide colour registration can be a powerful brand tool in the future. Ultimately, we want to get to the point where people only need to see the Magenta colour to know that the service comes from Deutsche Telekom. Subtle branding elements like this will become much more prevalent in the future.
Even political trends may impact brands. The rise of egoism and isolation – as seen with Brexit – are events that diametrically contradict our brand. These developments have led us to sharpen our brand positioning and affirm our purpose. We see ourselves as a “we brand” which brings people together rather than divides, a brand that overcomes walls and barriers by supporting exchange. We connect people to the opportunities of digitisation wherever they are. It’s about building smart cities, bringing broadband to schools, addressing civic issues and helping societies grow. The more people that have access, the greater the enrichment of everyone. If you like, this is our contribution to the democratisation of the digital future.
Where do you see the future of brand management in five years’ time?
AE: The relationships between people and brands will intensify. In the digital age brands are becoming our all-around daily companions, and consumers will have a stronger impact on how brands evolve. On the one hand we will lose some of the control over our brand, but on the other hand digitisation increases the tools available to manage the brand.
Brand recognition, going beyond the limits of names and logos, will again be at the centre of branding in general. In this regard, we will need more than just rigid corporate design manuals to be successful. Flexible design systems are required that can be adapted to the specific context or partnership. Obsessive consistency will not be the way forward, but rather a coherent brand presence will lead the way, in terms of form and content. By going beyond the classic touch points, brand management will have to address all aspects of the multi-sensory customer experience. This means that subtle and even subconscious communication will play an increasing role in the future.
Alexander Engelhardt is Vice President of Brand Management at Deutsche Telekom.
Read more interviews in the Future-Proof Brand Series.
In June 2017, Marc Cloosterman and Laurens Hoekstra published Future-Proof Your Brand, a book that explores brand implementation and management, and the insights gained from our 25+ years of experience.