Marc Cloosterman is the CEO of VIM Group, a leading agency for brand transformation. For the last 13 years Marc and his team have been specializing in making brand change happen. They help entrepreneurs navigate through the journey of bringing their brands to life. VIM Group operates globally for large national and international corporations, with clients from Japan to LA and anything in-between.
Here are some highlights from our chat, you can see the full interview in the video below.
On digital transformation
The space is changing as we speak, a lot of people talk about brand transformation and digital transformation. A rebrand is a change of the appearance, or the positioning that comes in the mind of clients. Brand transformation in the digital world happens every day as an array of initiatives to become digitally fit and keep up with the times.
The semantics of the word « rebrand » is often times the first conversation Marc has with clients. Is it a small brand evolution or do they have a reason to make bigger steps? Understanding the rationale of what is the challenge a brand is trying to solve and what are the opportunities that will arise from the transformation is key.
A Rebrand, in the way Marc sees it, is a process of changing and keeping up with the times. 15 years ago a rebrand would be just changing a signage. Today there are so many touch points – everywhere you express your brand, and you have to take any change across all those channels and touch points. It seems easy but it becomes increasingly complex because you need to analyze how your customer journey and touch points are related and function together.
Challenges for brands in the digital era
With digitalization today, not all touch points with the brand and its customers are owned by the brand owners. That can be a source of a lot of discrepancies with the brand image and what it stands for. The mismatch between the long and short term benefits for the brand when it comes to how it is seen and used by its owners, and by third party developers and other players.
A new brand has a massive challenge with recognition because their awareness is too low, so brand building activities are of big importance to position themselves in the mind of customers and this is usually a long process taking a lot of time and effort.
Marc and his colleague wrote a book – Future proof your brand. The drive behind it?
Brand is the most valuable intangible asset in an organization but it is not treated like that in the organizations.
Marc Cloosterman, CEO VIM Group
With digitalization we’ve seen explosion of touch points, it has made the world of branding much more complex. Managing the brand has evolved from managing consistency in the older days, to managing coherency which requires a completely different paradigm of how you organize branding. For the person owning a brand in a larger international corporation there is a huge responsibility now to orchestrate the connection between the brand and all the stakeholders. This includes managing that brand coherency inside the organization and outside – business partners, investors, customers.
The book and a lot of VIM Group’s work is focused not on the traditional « why » – the purpose of the brand, but on how you do that, how you communicate that to the world, how that mechanism actually works.
What Marc finds most challenging in his work – most brand owners have been brought up in the world where it is all about the why and the what. In reality, the mission and purpose of a brand without the process and system of how it should be delivered to the world can not be. Brand unification and ongoing brand transformation are key parts of that process.
The biggest challenge is to advocate for brand as the most valuable intangible asset. If we we are all of us around the world to talk more about the process, it would make it easier for marketers and brand owners to operate and do what they love.
Unfortunately in Marc’s experience a lot has been done the other way around which hurts the trust between board members and the people in charge of the brand and ultimately reflects in the marketing budgets.
This is where I saw a lot of similarities to domain names as brand assets. The lack of knowledge and subsequent miscommunication internally often results in entrepreneurs hurting their brands in the long run without even realizing it.
When it comes to naming there are a lot of things to be taken in consideration – what sort of name do you want, what is technically possible, how well can you protect that name nationally and globally. It is one of the first topics discussed with new clients – what IP assets do they own for their brand, in order to plan how to best utilize them in their brand transformation.
A big shift that is affecting branding is the trend to work from home, imposed by the pandemic. Marc gave an example of a brand that was way ahead on this – In 1997 he was working with Ernst & Young on their transformation to EY. At the time there was a shortage of personnel and so that aspiration to attract talent became part of the brand’s vision – to be a company fit for the future of employees. We are now seeing more and more of this branding « inside-out » – where employees are not only one of the biggest advocates of a brand but also, reflecting what the company is doing for society.
Employees are more important than ever in bringing out the brand.
Marc Cloosterman, CEO VIM Group
When is a complete rebrand needed
Marc’s recommendation is always to not change the name unless you must. In the world we live in you can’t change your reputation by changing your name. People don’t believe it and it will most likely backfire. Unless it is a change like a conglomerate selling a division, merger, change of ownership of the company etc. in which case you have to revisit your branding, positioning and naming. You have to have a very good reason to change a name. The audience has to feel that the change makes sense and is logical, and the process usually takes years and needs to be carried out professionally.
Digitalization demands simplification
In the digital space people want to know who is behind the brand. All the digital channels have massively increased transparency. That coupled with Generation Z wanting to know everything about a brand, from its management to its footprint, makes having a transparent, simple and easy communicate brand a must. As a result many global brands are unifying – the rule, says Marc, is to try to have as few brands as possible but as many as necessary.
Challenges to sustainability
A point to be aware of as a brand – your service or product, as socially and environmentally responsible as it is, still has to be affordable. This is where bigger companies have to take the lead and think of what do they contribute to the world, and not just comply to the rules – that’s just the bare minimum. Pricing is a counter effect to the positive effect of sustainability and is in the way of a lot of these positive developments.
Who VIM Group works with
They work globally for larger national and international companies but also can accommodate funded startups. That said, Marc is always happy to talk and engage in conversations and give advice.
There is a tremendous rise in branding technology supporting VIM Group’s clients with accessing the ecosystem of tools used in the brand management process. The development of martech has brought a lot of improvement in the space and that is very exciting and giving a lot of new opportunities for brand owners to bring out their brands better, faster and more cost effectively.