By Rafael Aparicio
In today’s world, where competition is global and products so similar, brands go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from the rest, looking for new ways to attract customers to buy something that is essentially the exact same product as their competitors. Think soap, sneakers, electronics, even advertising agencies, almost everything today, including ideas, has become commoditized and has left people relying solely on one thing to make their decisions: brand. Some go for a nicer identity, smarter packaging, better customer service, the list goes on. Companies are constantly trying to find the slightest edge that can ultimately mean their key differential and set them apart.
Now imagine your group of friends being that differential.
Let me start off first by asking you this question: are you a brand? Yes, you. Do you consider yourself a brand? We accept David Beckham and Michael Jordan as brands, but somehow we tend to think “us mortals” are not, just because we’re not recognizable enough and don’t even have our own line of underwear. Just as the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” – well, “if you walk out to the street and no one recognizes you, are you still a brand?” I have to say the answer is yes, of course you are. Regardless of the power of your brand, it will still trigger a perception to those around you, and that’s what branding is all about: perceptions. It is up to you to go ahead and take control of how people perceive you, because if you don’t take control of your own brand, others will. The way you talk, walk, behave, all adds up to that brand called you. Think of your group of friends, each has a set of traits that makes them – “them.” Are you the cool friend? The nerdy one? The jock?
Many of your friends make up for what you’re lacking. You might be shy, but thanks to that idiotic extroverted friend of yours, you now have a girlfriend. Now hold on to that thought and raise it to a professional level. We’ve all have had situations with clients or bosses where you are lacking some vital knowledge and you remind yourself of a friend that can help. So you call him up and voila! Problem solved. When they ask you how you managed to solve the problem you answer, “I just called up a friend.” Ah, the power of friendship: people sharing valuable knowledge and know-how just for the sake of friendship. That friend might just have helped you close a deal, and not only was he pleased to help you, he doesn’t expect much in return other than a beer or two – after all – ‘that’s what friends are for’.
Now imagine if instead of saying, “I called up a friend” as the reason of your solution, you tell your boss or client “I’m part of a knowledge network.” Not only that, you go ahead and put a name on that knowledge network and even slap on a logo and a slogan to it; You brand it. Suddenly the informality of “calling up a friend” transforms into this tangible, solid institution that can differentiate you. Your clients don’t only think, “this guy has a friend” but rather, “this guy has access to knowledge.” You might think your personal brand is pretty cool, but your brand as part of a group brand might be even cooler. Both personal brands and group brands can leverage from each other. A personal brand might sell well, but people often overlook the potential group branding has.
Think of Marvel’s carefully thought-out 5 year plan to make box office history. Each “personal brand” was given its own spotlight to then conclude with the climactic ‘The Avengers’ movie, which went on to be the 3rd-highest grossing film of all time. Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Ironman – all of them built as solid personal brands – had movies launched year after year, knowing that the idea of having them together in one final movie would be irresistible to fans worldwide. That’s basically why the 1992 US Olympic Basketball team, better known as “The Dream Team” packed stadiums. Michael Jordan was already amazing, but the idea of MJ alongside Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and the likes, was mind-blowing.
During my executive MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, not only did I meet some of the world’s top advertising creatives and executives, I met true friends. Later on, back home in Bogotá, Colombia, working at my recently founded advertising agency, Raf & Mike, I had three occasions where “I called up a friend” needing their help, each for a special reason. Every time I came back to the client telling them “I talked to this person from this city” they were more than impressed. I thought to myself, “what if this calling up friends thing was more than that, what if it was organized and managed? What if it was branded?” They say behind every good brand there’s a good story – we already have the story, we are just missing the brand.
My thesis went on to research, not only branding but also the creation and management of knowledge networks, the academic foundation I needed to establish this new network and have the structural groundwork for a fluid knowledge network, not just a group of friends.
So tomorrow, I can walk into client boardrooms presenting my agency as part of one of the world’s most exclusive advertising and creative Knowledge-sharing Networks, ‘The Berlin Exchange’… 20 of some of the worlds top advertising creatives and executives at their reach. They let me pick their brains and I let them pick mine. It’s one big brain-picking fest, all because we believe in each other’s talent and good faith, something only friendship can build.
So think of your friends on a professional level, what can they bring to the table that you are lacking or that can reinforce and complement your knowledge? More importantly; what can you bring to the table? How could you brand your friendship?
You never know, that brand might be the one who sets you apart.
Rafael Aparicio Gómez is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Raf & Mike, an advertising agency based in Bogotá, Colombia. Rafael is the first Colombian graduate from The Berlin School of Creative Leadership and has done award-winning work with brands like Coca-Cola, Unilever, SAB-Miller, and the Colombian Football Federation, to name a few. He is an Advertising and Marketing professional from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and has work experience as General Creative Director for a local BTL agency and as copywriter for ad agency J. Walther Thompson. Oh, and he believes in friendship as well.