Too many brands are trying to keep up with competitors and fail to differentiate.

Too many brands are getting lost in the digital clutter.

Don’t be one of the too many brands.

Martin Pazzani is a veteran of the marketing and brand building industry. His experience managing some of the world’s largest and most iconic brands has given him unmatched insight into what works… and what trends to avoid.

This conversation is a must listen for everyone looking to build their brand equity, break through to consumers, and avoid the pitfalls too many brands are falling into today.


Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.

Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is brand harmony. He to speak with me is Martin Pazzani, who is the founder of Activate Brain & Body, a think tank for brain body fitness, neurogenesis, and neuroplasticity. Martin is a global business executive and serial entrepreneur. He is the founder of an ultra-premium tequila brand, the author of Secrets of Aging Well: Get Outside, a TED speaker, and a mountaineer who has hiked and climbed 100 million uphill steps across seven continents over 50 years. Martin, welcome to the show.

Martin Pazzani: Great to be with you, Steffen.

Steffen: Well, Martin, before we discover today’s topic, let’s talk a little bit more about yourself. Tell our listeners about how you got started in your career, and how did you end up where you are currently?

Martin: When I was in college, I was pre law. And about halfway through, I was starting to get bored with the idea of being a lawyer and I read a book called From Those Wonderful People Who Brought You Pearl Harbor, by an executive named Jerry Della Femina, who’s still around. This is, we’re talking, you know, late 70s here. And it forced me to switch my studies, from pre law to marketing and psychology. And I tagged on an MBA and I got a job as a marketing analyst at a really cool company in 1979, called Heublein, which is the company that morphed into Diageo now, and it was largest spirits company. 

But back then, it was a diversified holding company for consumer brands. They own Kentucky Fried Chicken, A-1 steak sauce, Grey Poupon mustard, Smirnoff vodka, Jose Cuervo tequila, and a bunch of great brands. And it was a great place to get exposed to branding at a very early stage. And, you know, I had a great career there. I was there almost 13 years. And we really learned a lot about branding, and what mistakes not to make and what to do. And it was a it was a really great formative experience. That set me on a path pretty much consistently in marketing, but bouncing back and forth between the agency side and the client side. I was on Madison Avenue for about 10 years, at two legendary ad agencies Foote, Cone and Belding, and DDB Worldwide. 

I bounced back to the client side as the Chief Marketing Officer in the fitness business. I became the CEO of a music company that specialized in music for marketing, commercial music, and movie trailers and things like that. And about 10 years ago, I became an entrepreneur, wanting to do it myself. I’ve been involved with 12 startups, three of them quite successful. Everything else is still in process. And some of them are outright failures. But so I have a combination of really big company branding experience and marketing, and small company entrepreneurship startups. Kind of all over the place, I guess, at this point.

Steffen: Yeah, very interesting story. I mean, that sounds like, based also on the intro, you’ve you’ve seen and done a lot in, in your career so far.

Martin: I have a compulsion for exploration and new things. You mentioned my book, my book is all about my career hiking and climbing and trying to convince other people that it is the fountain of youth. And, yeah, and I also have a penchant for fine spirits. And I did create with some partners and great tequila company that thrives at the moment. And so yeah, I like to get involved in a lot of different things. And it gives me a great deal of perspective on different industries, different categories, different brands. And I think that’s an advantage to have as much perspective as possible. If you’re going to be in marketing, you have to have a really broad outcome.

Steffen: Yeah, I totally agree. I totally agree. Well, branding has many definitions and meanings, you have a long history of managing some of the world’s biggest and most iconic brands. How do you define what a brand is?

Martin: Yeah, there’s a lot of definitions, but I kind of have settled on one, which is branding is the process used by your product, service or company to make itself known to consumers. And then I tag on to that, and also to differentiate the brand from similar products and competitors. So it’s a combination of activities. Most of them create a perception in the consumer’s mind. You shape that perception and use that in a way to differentiate yourself from similar brands and to add value. Branding is about adding value. 

If you don’t do it properly, you’ve just got to a commodity. So what you layer on top of that has to be unique, that create value and competitive differentiation and meaning and emotion that has to be memorable. So there’s a lot of dimensions to branding. A lot of people, you know, only do a piece of it, but great brands are difficult to create and extremely difficult to manage, because there’s a lot of forces that want to pull it in different directions.

Steffen: Yeah, yeah, I mean, you know, when we talk about brands, Apple, obviously, always, for me comes to mind. A company that is able to sell every two, three years, new phones slightly improved to the same audience. You know, they they pay a premium for for their notebooks, etc. And a lot has to do with the brand, what people perceive this company and the products to be.

Martin: Yeah, Apple is always on everybody’s list of brands that have over time become just so valuable. And it adds so much extra to the product. Yeah, it’s a great brand.

Steffen: Yeah. So in addition to that, why is branding important?

Martin: It’s important because it separates you from your competitors. Branding is what allows you to charge premium prices. Branding is, is what allows you to stand out from in most categories, which is just an incredible amount of variety. And there’s so many competitors. So you have to really understand the competitive set and create something that stands out, stands above it. Without a good, without a solid brand, everything you do is diminished. If you create a great brand, everything you do is easier, like we just talked about Apple. Apple, almost everything they do at this point has got the luster of the brand equity attached to it. And it gives them a great head start. 

There are some brands that that obviously don’t live up to that. And everything they do has to is much harder. They have to spend more, they have to grind it out at all, because their brand isn’t unique or special. Similarity so many brands are, you know, have to say it this way, but they’re boring. And they don’t stand out. A lot of people create a brand based on bringing their strategy to life, which can be good. But if you don’t put a layer of creativity on top of that, or, or magic, actually, it’s a unique process to do it. Right. What you basically have is what I call stratecution, which is executing a strategy, which without the creativity without the magic, it is kind of boring. And I’m disappointed actually, I see a lot of that out there. 

I see a lot of really mediocre branding. And not a lot of stuff pops these days, I think the artistry of branding has been diluted because of the the world we’re working in right now is very distracted. There’s so many touch points. Digital techniques and tactics tend to undermine solid branding in many cases. And it’s a disturbing trend. And there’s ways around that. But unfortunately, a lot of people doing branding have not been doing it long enough to see see ways to overcome what’s happening because of digital marketing.

Steffen: Yeah, do you think it’s, I mean, you mentioned digital marketing. Do you think it’s just because of digital marketing? Or do you think because people just tried to cut corners, they tried to kind of get something out there as quick as possible. Test it.

Martin: Cutting corners is part of that. It’s also the speed of what happens digitally. Digital is content hungry, it demands an incredible amount of content, which there’s only so much you can create and, and create on strategy. So as a result, people create stuff just almost for the sake of the tactic of a digital tool. And that tends to really dilute what you’re doing. I mean, you can’t create continuous new content and have it be as special as content that you’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about and creating and executing at a higher level. 

When you’re pumping out content for Instagram or Facebook usually tends to be diluted. The more you do, the less interesting it is. And I think I know the solution to it. And it’s it sounds almost like a counter trend. But for me, what’s lacking in the creation of really good brands these days is the consistency element. People just try to create content in many different directions, hoping something sticks. It’s almost throwing stuff up against the wall. And they forget that being consistent and repetition is what builds the brand. 

Repetition is kind of a lost art. And I think part of that is the people who are creating content right now tend to be young, they don’t understand brands the way they will at some point, after they’ve made all the mistakes that you make. But there’s no need to have every single bit of content be a totally fresh idea. Consistency and repetition is how you build a brand. And I find not enough people have learned that lesson or have gone back to school to understand how some of those great brands were built.

Steffen: Now, a second ago, you talked about the artistry of branding. Can you can you talk a little about that? In your, from your point of view, what is the artistry of branding? What what is included in that?

Martin: Yeah, you know, I hate to say it sounds ageist or anti youth. But part of it is, it takes a while to become an artist, you have to practice a lot. And you know, the average age of creative directors at an ad agency is about 30. Now, yet 50% of the adult population is over age 50. So there’s kind of a disconnect there. And not only, I think, does the extreme youth movement in not only ad agencies, but in digital media companies. And obviously Google and Facebook, they’re extremely young workforces they’re controlling content. I don’t think they have fully learned the lessons of branding and some of the basics of creating solid brands and solid communications. 

Which again, I go back to repetition and consistency, build brands. Pumping out continuous fresh, content is difficult, but it’s got to have some guiding force, some strategy, it can’t just be all tactical, in search of cheap clicks and attention because everybody’s doing it. You know, what consumers do with all that content is at some point, you tune it out. Very little special content gets through and you just it just becomes static. You know, it’s funny, I I was first told this lesson when I was very young, by a famous guy named William Free. 

Bill Free, he used to run an agency on Madison Avenue, F. William Free Agency. And he said something kind of profound and it’s still true. He said the people who create ads and content, get bored with the ads long before consumers do. Consumers like the comfort factor of seeing an ad a few times over and over, yet right now we’re creating new content every single day. No one repeats their content on Instagram. No one repeats it on Facebook. And very few repeated on television for very long, yet that’s how you build the brand. Yeah, consistency and repetition.

Steffen: Interesting, interesting. Now, you mentioned a few mistakes people are making these days. Are there any other mistakes that you see companies do when trying to build a brand?

Martin: Yeah, you know, in some industries, there’s this term, I don’t like it, but it’s called hacking or hacks. Well, basically that means is they look at the best practices of what other people are doing, their competitors. And they do the same thing. Copying other brands practices. It’s a shortcut. It’s a hack. And what that winds up doing is creating a bunch of sameness. Competitors don’t really differentiate, they’re all doing the same tactics and strategies. It’s not original, you can’t own a hack, because someone else is doing it. And I think it comes from just rushing and wanting to take shortcuts, and maybe not truly understanding your target consumer, which is an area that I find a lot of young marketers don’t really fully understand their customer from a deep psychographic perspective. And without that, you wind up doing mediocre, everything comes out mediocrity. 

And the end product of that, you know, again, you know, talk about brand harmony, that is the ideal for me, when all the touch points are guided by a strategy. They all I mean, to use a musical term, they’re all playing the same music and singing the same song from the same, you know, the same musical composer. And the composer tends to be you know, chief marketing officer and or the CEO who understand the brand. Everybody has to follow that. All the touch points have to be consistent with that. And when that doesn’t happen, you quickly dilute the brand. It becomes less valuable, less meaningful to customers. I call it ransom note branding. And ransom note branding is the opposite of brand harmony. Think about what a ransom note looks like. It’s a letter composed of every single part of it is cut out of a different bit of content. So it looks random. 

And that’s kind of what a lot of brands are heading towards. Ransom note branding because they’re stretching the limits of the brand. They don’t have very tight guidelines for how the brand’s voice sounds, what it looks like, what it sounds like, and so you get a very scattered brand and that’s what I call a ransom note brand. Got no guidelines, no discipline, and it’s managed by a lot of different people. And whether it’s delivered or whether there’s none, people don’t understand the concept of keeping a brand harmony. We just have a lot of brands that are ransom notes.

Steffen: I totally hear what you’re saying, and when I when I look in my Instagram or Facebook feeds. And I see swimwear, you know, like, shorts companies, they all look like, you know. They’re called different names, but they all look alike. And it’s like, it’s so easy not to not to recognize the brand at all. Because the products look almost the same, the features are almost the same. I think from my perspective, a lot has to do with people want to get air quotes rich as quick as possible. They just as you said, they copy, they copy a product, or they find it in China, and they you know, to just set up a store, create a brand, you want to sell, sell the same thing that basically right on the wave of demand that is there for these kinds of products, without putting much into it. 

As you said earlier they’re trying to cut corners and get to the endpoint as quick as possible. And that might work in some instances are but for example, we work with a company at the moment that has created a product that is just so badly positioned in the market, while the product is great, but because of the positioning and the branding, it’s not selling. It’s confusing customers, and the competitors seemingly doing a much better job because their thought behind their brand is much more established. They put more effort into actually building the brand and targeting the audience that would buy the product.

Martin: I think that’s true. I think there’s, again, we talked about shortcuts. But I also think part of the issue was this emphasis on the short term, the here and now. And how you measure success, you know, especially in the digital world. When digital becomes the core of your marketing efforts, you tend to want to get more likes more exposure, more views. That’s so short term granted, those kinds of that kind of feedback and reinforcement, are practically worthless. What really counts is at the end of the day, it’s are you selling? Are you building a brand over the long term? 

It’s hard work to create a brand, it’s it’s very seductive to fall into the trap of wanting to get likes and to do tactics that drive maybe some short term sales, but at the expense of your brand. I mean, anybody can get cheap attention. That’s really easy to do. But that also is not the best way to build the brand. So yeah, I think you have to have some seasoning, and understand brand management. You know, back in the day, dating myself here back in the early 80s, Procter and Gamble, their brand management handbook, was the guideline for so many companies. My company used it because we hired a bunch of P&G guys. And those principles of how to build and manage a brand are still solid. 

You know, just like P&G still is a phenomenal company. But not too many people follow those kinds of that, that kind of discipline in building brands. They just think they either don’t care or they can out smart or they’re more technical, digital savvy. But the principles are still there, the principles have not changed, even though the tools have changed. Creating a brand is hard work. And it requires experience and a certain amount of artistry and understanding of strategy and big ideas and positioning. It’s not just about let’s get some more clicks on Instagram. And that’s that’s the lowest form of branding, frankly.

Steffen: So quick success and building a brand doesn’t go together, basically.

Martin: Very rarely. I mean, overnight success is, usually with branding, the faster it goes up the faster it goes down. I’ll give you an example. I was, I was watching, you may remember about a year ago, the hottest new thing that came around was this digital tool called Clubhouse. Do you remember Clubhouse?

Steffen: Oh, yeah. Everyone was talking about it.

Martin: It was unbelievable. I played around with it a bunch. I did a few meetings on Clubhouse and participated in a bunch. Well, as it turned out, it was kind of turned into the Tower of Babel. It was a big short term thing. It’s kind of a dud. I’m sure it’s got some value now, but it did not live up to it’s the next big thing, going to kill Facebook, going to kill Google. It’s kind of basically turned into static and I think the valuation of it has plummeted. So again, I think it was just the faster it goes up, the faster it can go down. I see that, I’ve seen that for decades. Branding requires one solid foundational step after another. 

If you try to go too fast to get ahead of it and it’s not you know your brand isn’t built have a solid foundation. And so it can come crashing down if things change or if you miss something. So yeah, I like Apple’s, Apple’s a thirty year process of creating this incredibly valuable brand. Yeah, just a different approach. Nike, same thing. Nike took a long time to build that brand. And you know, they’ve made some missteps over the last few years, but the brand is still super solid underneath, because they’ve got that foundation that they’ve built over decades. 

Steffen: Martin, but do you think that the environment back in the days when Nike was founded and the time they had to build that brand was different than these days? And the same to Apple, right? I mean, in the in the 80s, you know, there wasn’t that strong? You know, it’s happened later, that, you know, Steve Jobs and team built the brand for what it is now. Right. But but the market environment was completely different. I feel like that. Now we the access to things is much greater than it was back then. 

There’s so many more different companies in the market space that, you know, people want to play in. Does that also prevent companies to to go that route to build a solid foundation? Because you might spend a lot of money in building a brand, as you said, you need consistency, which in that regard also means there is a certain level of investment required. But what if the product itself, you know, doesn’t take off, and then you’ve basically spent a lot of money, but your return is, is not there?

Martin: These are complicated issues. Again, that’s why I think, neophytes and amateurs are probably not the best people to manage these. You have to make decisions about it, it’s, it’s complicated, it’s very difficult to also have the, you know, the branding is one thing, but the big part of the brand is whatever the product or service is, that has to be really unique. And you can paint a pretty picture on a lousy product. But at the end of the day, people are going to discover that and that’s also part of the branding equation is what are you selling? What’s your product? Is it ,does it live up to its promise? Is it unique? Is it on strategy, is it differentiated? And, you know, if you’ve got a great product, you spend less on advertising, because it sells itself in some ways. 

I mean, just think about it for the agency I worked for, Foote, Cone and Belding. Very early on, he had the account when they did some advertising. And you may have noticed that somewhere in the late 90s, Amazon decided they weren’t going to do any advertising because they had such a great thing going, they didn’t have to. And they rode that way for a long time. Amazon doesn’t do a whole lot of advertising. They do now, they’ve come back to it because they’ve changed, the company is so much bigger, so broader. But there was a 10 year period where they didn’t do much advertising, and they still grew relentlessly. The product was good service is good, it was unique, and special. 

So yeah, that factors into it too. Again, branding is complicated. And it should be done by people who are experienced and have created, learned from their own mistakes, but have created a certain amount of expertise to understand what you can and cannot do. It’s really not for everybody. I see it in so many companies in categories handing over some of the brand management responsibilities to the person who has really, basically not the right background for it. Again, you’ve got a ransom note brand. And that turns into, you know, a brand that isn’t as valuable, is harder to sell, you have to spend more money to promote it. It makes everything harder.

Steffen: Yeah. Now, earlier you mentioned, you said, obviously 50% of the population is over the age of 50. And then you mentioned that, you know, a lot of the art directors, creative directors these days, they are in their 30s. So how, you know, how can they understand what that market really needs? How does that impact brands and what are the opportunities that exist in the 50 plus market?

Martin: Yeah, I think 50 plus market is where it’s at. Yeah, there’s a disconnect right now. Just look at what you’re seeing, look at the Superbowl ads. Look at every ad, look at every social media outlet. There’s not a lot of in depth understanding of this 50 plus market and believe it or not, not only is half the adult population 50 plus, but two thirds of the money is in consumers who are over 50. Now, that’s not a niche market. Yet, many companies treat it like it’s irrelevant. And just from that perspective, I just keep shaking my head because it’s, it is a bigger, much bigger market than the youth market. 

Take an industry that I know very well because I’ve been in it for a long time, the fitness industry. Remarkably youth oriented every bit of communication, every customer experience. Every social media post it is very rare that a company understands the 50 plus consumer in the fitness business. Yet fitness has proven to be so much in demand by people above 50 now, and they’re being forced to participate in an industry that doesn’t truly understand them. And which, as a result, a lot of people are not participating, because the industry is kind of alienating them in many ways. 

So I’ve been on a kick. One of my companies and my book, and possibly some future companies are all about providing, serving the 50 plus market. And because I’m above 50, I have not only a special interest in it. But I do have an innate understanding of the boomer consumer in a way that you know, 29 year old creative director just isn’t gonna get. They, you know, they’re missing the cultural references, they just haven’t lived. And, and that’s why there’s such a disconnect in a lot of a lot of communication. It’s not targeted at where all the opportunity is. Many categories, you know, there’s this thing some economists and social scientists have created, it’s called the longevity economy. 

And right now, anything that participates in the longevity economy is probably going to experience incredible growth if it’s done, right, because that’s, again, where the money is. And that’s where a giant market is that is being underserved by most categories. So we’re gonna see a rapid evolution towards the longevity economy in many categories. It’s exciting. And that’s, that’s one of the the areas that I’m gonna participate in is creating products and services for the longevity economy.

Steffen: Interesting, interesting. Well, Martin, before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, and what are the biggest branding lessons you can leave us with? What would you say, is important? If there are companies out there that say, you know what, no, we’re in it for the long run, right? We don’t want to be that one hit wonder, quick, money is great. But you know, we need to have a stable foundation to to build a brand that lasts. What are the things that you would give them?

Martin: I have three or four thoughts on that. The first one is, it’s always strategy first, tactics second. That’s mostly reversed now. Tactics tend to come first. But you have to have a unique strategy. You have to have a big idea. And that’s, that’s where you spend most of your time coming up with that big idea and coming up with a strategy and follow that strategy. The second thing, again, be original, don’t do a bunch of brand hacks, you’ve got to find a unique point of reference for your branding. It’s got to be original, you can’t just do a version of someone else’s brand and copy what they’re doing. That is, you’re never going to win. And the third thing and I know I sound like a broken record. But consistency and repetition. That’s, that’s what builds brands, no matter what the medium, no matter how many tools there are, no matter how digital we get, that’s the only way to break through the clutter is to be consistent. 

It’s not about screaming louder, or coming up with more sensationalist ways of getting your brands to break through the clutter. It’s consistency that wins the day. And again, reminder that marketers get bored of their communications before consumers do. So. Usually, it’s the marketers who think that consumers don’t want consistency. They do. They want to, they want to be comforted by the fact that the brand is consistent. And that’s how you get to it. Repetition. So that’s, that’s some of my top line guidelines. So yeah, it’s back to basics. No matter what the tools are. Staying within the basic rules of branding are still critical. They’re not going to change. 

Steffen: Perfect. Well, Martin, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on brand harmony. Well, if people want to find out more about you, what you’re up to, and what you’re up to next, how can I find out?

Martin: Thanks, Steffen. First of all, I’d love to connect on LinkedIn. And I also have a website that is my last name dot com. Feel free to even find my contact information there. And you can send a way to connect on LinkedIn. Love to network with people, love to hear from people, love to coach and guide and advise. So happy to connect.

Steffen: Thanks, everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again. See you next time.

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