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CEO Blog: The Truth Behind Brand Building

Bernd Beetz|Chief Executive Officer, Coty Inc
Verity Jane Smith | Brand X Pictures | Getty Images

What do you stand for?

Or, rather, what does your brand stand for?

That is a question all companies and marketers must answer in order to successfully build their brands.

Of course, we all want (and need) to know what consumers think of our brands—the evolution of social media and the way it has opened up communication channels make that more important today than it has ever been. But I truly believe that letting the consumer tell you what your brand should be is an approach that may very well not be in the brand’s best interest.

As I outlined in a recent panel at DLD12, the litmus test for a brand is: Can it enrich, enlarge and impact consumers’ lives in a positive way? These are the questions you should be asking your consumers. Better yet, look for their answers in the conversations you’re already having with them. And if you’re not already having that dialogue with your consumers, you should be.

But it’s your responsibility, as the trustee of the brand, to know what the brand stands for, what it means and how it reaches and affects your customers. There are so many ways to reach consumers now, with the evolution of digital and social: Those methods have diversified and completely altered the avenues by which we bring a brand to market—and the ways available to us to engage our consumers. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that the message we send must be real and must communicate a strong sense of the brand. Consumers will appreciate that authenticity.

At Coty, our brands are our lifeblood. And with a portfolio of over 50 brands—with products ranging from fragrance and color cosmetics to skin and nail care—managing each brand’s equity, in today’s 24/7 digital world, is a challenge—an exciting one, that we are up for.

An important facet of many of our brands at Coty is celebrity. When we launched Jennifer Lopez’s first fragrance, Glow, 10 years ago, we revolutionized a category considered by many to be in decline—and established a defining characteristic of our brand. Celebrity, which we see as a reflection of the popular culture onto a person, has always been important as a medium of expressing trends or different points of view. Coty certainly didn’t create that phenomenon, but we made it an identifier for some of our innovations in the market. And if you look at our brand portfolio now, you’ll see that we have carried through on that promise to our customers.

This year, we’re introducing fragrances with two global icons: Lady Gaga and Madonna. The way we’ll launch those new products to market will be entirely different from the way we launched Glow—but what won’t have changed is that our brand message is essential, authentic and true.

Lady Gaga’s incredible popularity on Twitter and other social media outlets will play a significant role in the launch of her fragrance. Social media is influencing and shaping the way we go after consumers across the board, the way we structure the marketing mix and the way we talk to the consumer. With all the positives that have resulted from those changes, there are also—not surprisingly—some negatives. You may think the most destructive of these is when a complaint goes viral and picks up steam or when a social marketing campaign gets hijacked by critics (even the most socially adept brands sometimes run into this: witness the recent incident in which a social marketing campaign by McDonald’s went awry). And these situations can certainly cause damage—sometimes, even, a great deal of damage. But I would assert that there’s something potentially even more detrimental to your business, and that is responding to a complaint in a way that isn’t true to your brand.

Now, I am not implying that you shouldn’t respond to what your consumers are telling you, both the positive and the negative. But the crucial point here is not to let the consumer change what you believe about your brand. Learn to extract the useful information from each negative review—but don’t let the negative define you. There is a fine line between making positive change based on constructive criticism and making change for the mere sake of it based on malicious information. And the only ones who will be capable of recognizing the difference are those who have a clear conception of what their brand is and what it stands for.

In an ever-evolving marketplace, with new and changing ways to build and manage brand equity, all of us who are brand trustees must stay vigilant about the truth of our brands. Let me borrow an old saying, with a twist: To thine own brand be true.

As chief executive officer of Coty Inc. since 2001, Bernd Beetz has transformed the organization to position Coty as a leading global beauty company. In ten years, under his leadership, Mr. Beetz has amplified the organization’s presence worldwide through vast industry insight and international business practices. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and focused on creating a strong, innovative pipeline, Coty has gained an unyielding position in the fragrance, skin care and color cosmetics categories; the beauty company now also possesses an unrivaled portfolio of over 40+ notable brands, which are delivered to consumers in 135 markets worldwide.

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