An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Honesty instead of perfection. Brands need to welcome imperfection and earn the trust of people. Nobody expects you to be perfect but they do want you to be real.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Alberto Jaen.

Alberto Jaen is a Creative Director from Madrid who has lived in the US for over 10 years and has won 20+ international advertising awards. He worked as an Executive Creative Director for Revlon, Johnson & Johnson, P&G, Pepsi, Toyota, IKEA, or Orange Telecom among others at three of the biggest advertising agencies: BBDO, Leo Burnett and JWT NY. Before building his own purpose-led company, the Creative Impact Boutique plus305, he was also a Jury Member at the New York Festival. Now, he is the CEO & Creative Director at plus305.

In the last 20 years, he has worked for big brands around the world inspiring them to tell their story in an impactful way. He holds a B.A. in Advertising & PR. He is passionate about storytelling and humanizing brands through purpose- and value-based communication and serves on the Board of Voices for Children Foundation.

He is also a Co-Founder of the Zero Waste HULA App which won the Circular Economy Challenge of the UN in New York in 2020 and has been donated to those most in need, especially during Covid.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Probably seeing my father working in advertising. Going with him to the shootings of commercials opened the doors of storytelling to me. My mom is very creative, too, she cooks and paints very well, so I guess I grew up in an environment where coming up with ideas was part of our ‘every day’.

I worked at Leo Burnett, BBDO, and JWT New York. But in 2014, I quit my job in NYC and I founded the Social Impact Boutique plus305. I wanted to step out of big ad agencies. I wanted to create another approach to communication that inspires me and makes me feel good about what I do.

And then in 2016, I met my partner in life and business, Nadja Scherrer, working on the communication of a big tech company in Silicon Valley. We both had the same interests and vision of how we wanted to help make companies more conscious and hopefully make the world a little bit better. So, she joined plus305 as a partner and we started focusing on the Social Impact and Social Responsibility field.

It has been a challenging but beautiful journey, using our resources, experience, and talents to create a different narrative for organizations and help them walk the talk. Building a brand based on values and purpose, using creativity and culture transformation as the main tools.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the first clients I worked for was a beer brand. I had no experience at all. I was a trainee. I remember that I presented what I thought was a very cool idea. When I presented it to my superiors at the time, they looked at me asking if I noticed anything strange or wrong. I looked at it, and I said “actually, I feel it’s a very powerful ad, the headline is clever, the layout, the mix of colors”. They kept asking and testing me. Finally, I realized that the green colors we used are the ones of the main competitor of our client.

Since then, every time we get a new client, I make sure we are doing like a PhD in that industry. We study, observe, and analyze the category and all the competitors’ communication. That ad was never presented to the client but taught me a big lesson.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When we started to focus on corporate social responsibility and social impact back in 2016, many people didn’t even know what we were talking about in the meetings. It definitely was not a priority for businesses. plus305 exists to elevate the purpose of brands with meaningful creativity and innovation. We develop creative solutions to business challenges, connecting them to culture, grounded in purpose. We believe in a holistic approach to sustainability that trickles down into all areas of the business and is integrated into the overall mission of the business.

We strategize, implement, and connect impact to brand purpose, value-based communication, and Employer Branding to generate real impact and ROI. We curate the culture change necessary to become a truly sustainable, equitable, and inclusive company. And finally, we will help you write your sustainability story before someone else will through a customized PR strategy and messaging curation.

We work on projects that last from 1 month to a year or more, always keeping the long-term vision in mind. We’ve been working with innovative start-ups, multibillion corporations, and Foundations. And we can say that any organization needs to connect to its audience in a real and genuine way. That is why we stand out, it’s a very different approach to marketing and business in general.

A story… well, now I remember a beautiful one. It was a big client, like a huge one. The opportunity was big at the time. We proposed to detach from everything they did before and to film a documentary. To build the brand values, focused on real people. They’ve never done that before and it was almost scary for them. We insisted, we wanted to communicate the message but also to create a real social impact. The conversations continued for a couple of months. Finally, they gave us the green light. We filmed in Florida: it was a beautiful story about a fireman, Andy, and his daughter. We worked hard for weeks. We couldn’t present in person. When they were presenting the short documentary, one of the top guys sent a text telling us that the person in charge, who had worked there for 15 years, had been in tears when he had watched it. My first reaction was “oh my God, he hated it and we screwed it up big time… after insisting so much…”. Then he sent another text, “it’s the most beautiful piece he has ever seen in his entire career here”.

Sometimes you need to take risks. That it has not been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are currently about to launch the new campaign for Miami-Dade County to prevent and protect people from the increasing heat of Miami in the summer. It’s still a secret, so I cannot show it to you…

But it will be a very powerful campaign. We’re creating several pieces; the team worked hard to come up with a very creative concept that I think will stand out and make people conscious about the issue at hand.

This campaign aims to help people in Miami, especially the more vulnerable ones, to be conscious and take measures when the sun is up and the heat increases. It was a challenge because these kinds of campaigns are usually boring and full of paternalistic content telling people what to do. In this case, we did a twist, and the result is really interesting. It has become one of the best experiences of the year so far.

To be able to send this message in an original way, make it memorable and impactful, can save lives. That’s huge. If you think about that, it’s a big opportunity and a big responsibility at the same time.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Of course, if you don’t have a good product or service, people won’t buy you twice or not even once. But we’re living in a world where you can access one million products that do the same in just one click. Why will someone interact with yours? Because of the values that represent your brand. Latest studies show that more than 80% of people will change the product if the brand is aligned with their values. Which means that there’s no loyalty anymore. Why should I interact with your brand? We need to elevate the conversation, to build on purpose- and value-led communication.

If you solve a customer’s problem with technology and tactics alone, you’ll own that solution until someone improves the technology. If you solve the problem with brand values, it is untouchable. New generations aren’t paying for products or services anymore. They are paying for trust and transparency, two things that are very hard to fake or manufacture. The temptation to base your marketing on the tired cliché of knowing your customer better than they know themselves is a dangerous game to play these days. We need to stop using demographics and use psychographics instead because it does not matter any longer where you come from, what your sex or race is… the only thing that matters is what you believe in. People love brands that love them back. It’s simple.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

The problem starts when a client says “well, we’ve always done it this way”. That sentence is dangerous. We always need to change to stay the same. Back in the days, marketing and advertising were the same. You could spend a lot of money in advertising, be everywhere, and you’ll sell accordingly. But the game has changed: now we’re exposed to between 6,000 to 10,000 ads per day. Consumers filter the messages; they have more power than ever before. So, what’s the key? Earning their attention. Don’t steal it. Empathy counts. Building relationships, not clicks. Treating the target with respect. It’s ok to market to a target but you build a relationship with a person. Your customers don’t care about your customer’s journey or your research, now we interact with consumers when, where and how they want.

We need brands that build culture, that give us a meaning and sense of belonging. People are worried about themselves; so as a brand, we cannot focus on messages that talk about ourselves all day long. People don’t buy Apple because Apple “believes people with passion can change the world”. People buy Apple because they want to see themselves as one of these people. People care about the way you make them feel. The emotional connection is with the brand, not the product. If tomorrow Apple creates a bank or a car, do you think that people would trust their new products? The answer is yes. So, while consistency is obviously one of the key elements of a brand, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to change.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

I think that doing what you say you do, is a good way to start building a brand. The problem is that nowadays this is not enough. Brands should focus on:

  • Honesty instead of perfection. Brands need to welcome imperfection and earn the trust of people. Nobody expects you to be perfect but they do want you to be real.
  • Generating a continuous communication. Inform and connect, be consistent and avoid misunderstanding. The priority should be to foster dialogue.
  • Adopting a win-win-win mentality. Cooperating with stakeholders, sharing the same needs and vision, the same values. It’s important to be flexible and to be able to learn and adapt along the way.
  • Using empathy and transparency in our decisions. Brands depend on people; you can’t make people happy all the time but you can demonstrate that you really care. Being direct in your communication, honest and authentic, genuine. It’s important to do the things right, but it’s more important and difficult to do the right thing.
  • Using AI and data optimization to personalize messages, be more precise and accurate with each target you communicate to.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

If you just allow me to mention one, I would say Patagonia. Their philosophy, honesty, and attitude are an example for so many. It’s not easy to be Patagonia. What they do and how they have been keeping it up for so long makes their brand play in another league. Many others have stepped in their footsteps, they were the pioneers. The way they see their business changes the business.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

It’s bigger than sales, it’s about the value of the company. Studies show that 80 percent of consumers want to purchase a brand that reflects their values, and points to a corporate shift of emphasis from the appreciation and value of tangible assets to intangible assets. Intangible assets can be divided into two categories: reputation, intellectual property, and goodwill. Tangible assets would be land, inventory, property, and cash. According to the July 2020 Intangible Asset Market Value Study, in 1975 only 17 percent of all assets in the S&P 500 were considered intangible. As of 2020, 90 percent of all assets within the oft-cited stock market index are intangible. In other words, relationships matter more than ever. You need to build trustworthy brands that transcend your service. Emergency wins every time in the marketing department, fear is in all briefings. But Marketing and Communication need to evolve, create a long-term vision. The purpose of a business is to find a way of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that building a business is really hard is no longer relevant. If marketing doesn’t translate that, it’s worthless.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Forty years ago, 75% of adults in a country could be reached with three 60 second TV spots. Social media changed everything. The challenge is to keep the same message and a consistent communication in all the formats. The tone of voice of brands is the silent ambassador, it defines the personality. The voice should be unique, based on values and storytelling. Brands need to tell stories worth hearing. Social media and the internet allow us to connect with all ages, backgrounds, thoughts from around the world and latest studies show that interests, values, and beliefs cross demographic lines. That’s why we need to focus on a mindset instead of targeting demographics.

Social media is important for consistent communication. Believe it or not, but it gives credibility, makes you trustworthy. If you sign up on a website or app, on many occasions, they give you the option of verifying your identity through Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. So yes, it’s a tool that we need to use well to amplify our message and make it coherent. Furthermore, social media allows us to connect with our tribes in an efficient way and it allows us something even better: it helps our tribes to connect to themselves through us.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Actually, we already created such a movement! Its name is Not Self-Made. We patented the idea in the USA for clothing and we’re about to launch a series of events, conversations, and T-shirts.

In a world where being “self-made” is synonymous with success, in a world where there are lists of “self-made” millionaires, we asked ourselves: is this really a reflection of real life? Has anybody come to this world knowing everything or getting anywhere without any help? Is that the message we want to send to new generations who maybe have no contacts or favorable situations? Being “self-made” is a myth. Nobody is self-made, and even less someone who becomes successful in whatever they do.

That’s why we created “Not Self-Made”. It’s a movement that brings a bit of humbleness and consciousness. We’ll create events to show how anyone needs someone at some point. Events where successful people will inspire us by telling their story and sharing who helped them to get to the top. Because when you share your story and thank the key people in your life, you allow other people to ask for help, but you also inspire other successful people to help.

A movement that fosters collaboration, that will talk about mentorship for young people and create more and more opportunities for everyone. We need less pressure from all these opinion leaders who promote the idea of “self-made”. And we need more people remembering who was supporting them when they were at the bottom.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s very difficult. I’m a life lessons collector ☺ I write, write, write, every time I see or hear something that is relevant or interesting. Well, that’s already one of the good lessons by the way: “If you want to remember something, write it down, don’t trust your memory!”.

But there are two others that come to my mind right now that are relevant and help me in many moments.

One is: “You’re never going to be ready”. This is a life lesson if you want to grow. You need to jump even when you don’t know how you’re going to survive. This is the way my siblings and I learned to swim. When we were 1 year old, the swimming coach threw us into the pool, and the body reacts, sends you up, you face up and stay horizontally on the surface. That is how you lose your fear of water and progress starts.

Another one is “To learn to manage frustration”. In business, this is key.

And now I remember one more that my mom always reminds us of: “take it day by day”. We tend to forget that life is a long run, and we try to rush everything. We need to enjoy the present. Sorry, I gave you four.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I love that question. It’s difficult… I would say two names, so maybe I get lucky with one of them.

Satya Nadella. What he did at Microsoft, his philosophy and culture based on values are an example for many big organizations. I love his vision, his respect for others and his business decisions so far.

And Phil Jackson. I’m an NBA fan and I have followed him since he was the Bulls’ coach. His way of approaching the game and competitiveness, his way of seeing life, and his wisdom, have had an influence on my way of leading my teams. I read his book and have watched his interviews for many years. What he has done is interesting to me as a leader.

I’ll send you a photo if one of them contacts me to have breakfast…

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Alberto Jaen Of plus305 On Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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