Leaders on Brand .03

An interview series with business leaders on the value of brand strategy

There are many different ways that leaders value brand strategy. Through the work Simple Truth has done with leaders at companies of all types and sizes, across all kinds of industries, we’ve been particularly inspired by those who view brand strategy as part of their overall outlook on business. So inspired, in fact, that we decided to sit down with some of them to talk about how they see this sometimes elusive notion of brand and how, in their view, it informs their approach to business. Other conversations can be found here and here.

We continue our Leaders on Brand discussions with Peter Papakyriacou, VP of Marketing and Communications at Baird & Warner, Chicagoland’s preeminent real estate brokerage. We’ll be joining Peter at the upcoming BrandStrat conference in Chicago next week, where he will share how Baird & Warner is currently investing in advancing their brand strategy and engaging employees in new ways. Peter joined Baird & Warner in 2011 after more than 20 years of experience in brand strategy and communications. Prior to Baird & Warner, he served as senior communications manager at JPMorgan Chase, where he led the Commercial Banking division’s organizational messaging and marketing campaigns. He has also worked as the marketing development manager at HSBC Card Services, where he directed the marketing group that supported the bank’s multibillion-dollar private label and cobranded credit card business.


Q: Let’s start by having you define brand in your own terms.

A: It’s really the embodiment of all the tangible and intangible attributes of a company and its product or service.

Q: Would you say that brand thinking is more strategic or more emotional?

A: The best brands have to have an emotional connection with the user, as well as with their own employees. You have to have that. Even for B2B companies, it’s a miss if it isn’t there. The strategic aspect is the homework you have to do. The sweat equity you have to put in to reach that emotional connection. You have to actively and openly listen, and do much less talking than we as marketers have a tendency to do. Listen to what people tell you and what they don’t tell you—actively listen. Baird & Warner recently undertook a research exploration to keep our brand fresh and relevant, which led us to the idea of “easier.” We weren’t predisposed to look for something. We weren’t trying to validate anything. We were wide open. We let it come to us. That’s where “easier” came from. Active listening. It’s hard to do but critical. If you go in thinking you already have the answer you’re, at best, doing a disservice; at worst, you’re planning to fail.

Q: You mentioned employees. How do you build that emotional connection for them?

A: Well, first it’s important to realize that brand is not just a tagline. It’s what we stand for, who we’re going to hire, what we’ll provide to them, our product or service. They have to be able to connect the dots to all of that and to what they do. You’re really providing a framework that gives all those who come in contact with the brand the ability to embrace it. So those who run it believe in it, believe in what it stands for and want to build on it. That permeates to our salespeople. This is a very tough business; our agents are on 24/7/365, so it’s important they feel like they’re part of something meaningful that makes them feel positive and connected. And then that permeates to the end user. In our case, that’s homebuyers and sellers who are looking for someone truly invested in helping them through an incredibly stressful time in their lives.

“Easier” is a good example. When we discovered it, I saw it had that potential for us. The fact that all our different stakeholders, internal and external, could actually benefit from easier. It wasn’t just a marketing hook. It’s a filter that will actually shift the discussion around a new acquisition, or choosing a new phone system, or introducing a new process or tool. It will be in the language our people use. Already, in meetings, people are saying, “Is this going to make it easier than it was before?” And they aren’t saying it because we told them to. It’s coming through their pores. And that tells you it’s the real thing. It’s organic. Agents really need this kind of thing. Our business is a people business and agents need to understand how they are going to present themselves as professionals who are going to make their clients’ lives easier. That’s the continual work. And it is continual work. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Q: What about the perceived trickiness of measuring ROI on brand strategy?

A: I think there’s a need to understand and look for a different type of, a more rudimentary, ROI. And that’s adoption. Are people saying it? Does it come naturally unprompted? Is the business using it to promote the business? Is the business using it to filter decisions (acquisitions, systems, recruiting)? It may not be the same kind of return you measure with an ad placement or a social media post, but it is real. It is noticeable and can definitely have bottom-line impact.

Q: What advice would you have for a CEO or leadership team that might be considering investing in brand work, but they’re not sure of the value of it?

A: I would say there is a right time to do it. There is a right level of investment. And the right agency to do it with. For example, I talked with quite a few agencies looking for that fit—for a group that I felt understood the leap of faith we were taking and that felt like they would be there to guide us through it with our best interests in mind. I also wanted a team that I trusted would actually dig deep and hash things out with me. That’s what I knew our team needed. So it’s true you have to gauge right time, investment and partner. But investing in brand absolutely pays off.

Q: Speaking of imparting wisdom, you’re going to be at BrandStrat, a conference where senior business leaders talk about brand strategy, employee engagement and company culture. The conference runs October 11–13 (Wed.–Fri.), and you speak at 4:20 on Thursday about the recent work Baird & Warner has been doing. What do you hope people take away?

A: I hope they are inspired to open their minds and realize the upside to uncovering something new, something different. Brand is not always about reinventing. It’s not always crazy sexy. It’s about honest research, good execution and a commitment to stay the course. I want them to want to wipe the walls down, blow the box apart and think about where they can go next.


Stay tuned for more posts in this series and if you have a leader whom you think we should talk with, let us know.