A trend in the brand area which will become important in the future is ‘artificial intelligence’. It is already possible to map data which shows how people interact with your brand. But what you really want is to understand people’s feelings and discover their psychological motivations. In the future, I think that more and more will be possible in this area and for a brand this could become essential. It’s also exciting, because do we all want this openness? I think it’s irreversible and will happen anyway.
Which tools and technologies does NS use to manage its brand?
RH: We use a brand portal which we have implemented and are currently updating with the support of VIM Group. This is also to do with the planned developments of our brand. This year, the NS brand celebrates its 50th anniversary and there are few brands which have remained the same for such a long time. Our logo is just as recognisable in the Netherlands as the Nike ‘swoosh’. Nevertheless, the NS brand is now no longer just about railways, but also the journey around it. That is why we are now investigating the possibilities to give the brand a ‘freshening up’.
We are continuously building on the tools we have in our hands (NS Extra and the NS Reisplanner app) and are experimenting with new options, such as paying with your bank card. You have to manage your brand well on digital channels, because that’s where a large part of your direct customer contacts are located.
Which brands do you admire or use for inspiration?
RH: On the one hand, the big and well-known brands such as Starbucks (how do they know how to keep a fairly simple product so lively?), but also, for example, the ‘Amsterdam’ brand. The city radiates personality, energy and a sense of freedom worldwide, all without central control from one brand manager. The brand, or actually the story, ‘Amsterdam’, you create together, it comes into being in the minds of people. I think that is a very special phenomenon.
I’m also often inspired by brands which are not so well-known, for example the Festool brand. They make electrical tools for the construction industry and have a quality stamp and position in the market which far exceeds their competition. I think this is incredibly clever. In terms of brand image, they do very well. This is of course in the quality of the product, but also in design, storytelling and the right use of ambassadors.
How has your brand department changed compared to five years ago?
RH: Our brand department used to be a design studio which focused on our appearance and corporate identity. The real ‘brand thinking’ only came into being with us later: from thinking increasingly about the customer to where we are now. Our brand strategy is now really part of the entire company. It is no longer just about colours, logos and fonts. It’s about values, the story behind the brand. You can’t centralise that; it runs through the veins of your company and the ambassadors of your brand throughout the organisation are constantly working on that.