Jaci Russo is a brand strategist, public speaker, and marketing specialist with more than 20 years of experience in strategic planning, brand development, and media management. Recently, we caught up with Jaci to learn about the benefits of strong branding and what business leaders can do to build or reinforce their company’s brand.
Tell us a little about your background. Why did you decide to start your own brand management firm?
I began my career in Los Angeles, California working as a junior talent agent for Creative Artists Agency (CAA). While there, I worked with clients such as Helen Hunt, David Letterman, Blair Underwood, Bonnie Hunt, Janine Turner, Mimi Rogers, Jennifer Grey, and Gwyneth Paltrow developing projects, negotiating contracts, and creating opportunities.
From there, I took on the role of executive assistant to chairman and CEO Barry Diller, coordinating the strategic planning, mergers/acquisitions, and business development of six different Diller-owned companies: Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster, USA Network, Lycos, CitySearch, and Savoy Pictures.
After returning to my home state of Louisiana, I worked with several agencies before launching RUSSO. My reason for doing so was based on a belief that there was a better way to meet the needs of my clients.
Why is branding so much more important today than it was in years past?
The marketplace has changed dramatically in recent years and so has the consumer, regardless of category or location. They are also more in control of the information and communications they receive, making it your responsibility to find ways to change with them. If not, you will soon find you’re yelling at an audience that can no longer hear the sound of your voice, as it’s drowned out by thousands of new channels, images, products, and services all vying for their attention.
If someone were to say to you, “Branding isn’t that important; I know that my target audience is the same as that of my competitors,” how would you respond?
I would probably respond by asking if they really knew their audience, or if they were just hoping they did – and if each month they were throwing money into a media buy that has no real insight into where their audience lives, works, or plays. By gaining insight into what motivates them, you are able to better position your brand to resonate, giving your audience a clear understanding of how your product or service can benefit their lives.
What can strong branding do for a company that average branding cannot?
Branding helps build a bridge between your brand and your audience – and then makes it the preferred choice over the competition. It also helps to establish your voice. This voice speaks clearly of your promise at all times by always helping to define your one differentiating and powerfully compelling quality. When all is said and done, strong branding helps to build customer loyalty, which leads to consumer advocacy – the single most powerful form of advertising on any level in any market.
Given today’s analytics capabilities, how specific are you able to get when it comes to identifying the traits of a target audience?
We can not only tell companies about particular traits, but we can also get into why people do what they do – and even predict some behavior. At RUSSO, we utilize psychographics – the study of personalities, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles – and never just age, race, and gender. Psychographics gives companies an opportunity to understand their audience in a way that goes beyond the numbers, and to connect with them on an emotional level. We can give clients a chance to know what their audience will want in the future, not just a snapshot of today.
Can you tell us about any unconventional methods or tactics that companies can utilize to establish or reinforce their brand?
Really, it just depends on how far companies are willing to go and where their audience is. What used to be unconventional (social media campaigns, long format videos, etc) is now commonplace, and while the power of social media can never be overlooked, storytelling is timeless.
What should executives and C-suite leaders know about the importance of branding?
Your promise is your brand. It connects you and the customer, developing a relationship that can either flourish or fade. But to even get to that point, you must first find a way to get their attention and hold it. In order to do so, you must identify your value proposition – the one thing that sets your company and the product you are offering apart from the competition – and always make sure it is a difference that can be delivered.
In the end, everything begins with branding. Even the initial idea for the company is branding. It’s not an afterthought of a successful company; it’s the first thought, the look, the feel, the corporate culture – each of which plays a vital part in how you are viewed and eventually accepted.
Other than simply executing branding strategies, how can a company leader contribute to solidifying a brand?
Realize that everything can be tied into the brand. Have a plan for good and bad press that reinforces who you are as a company. Have company policies in place that attract the right employees and clients. Build an environment that not only you and your team can be proud of, but one that your audience can proudly support.
Branding is way more than a name and logo; it’s an entire culture that your company brings to life every day.