“Meaning is the new strategy” Martina Olbertova — The Influential Series Issue #2

For the second installment of The Influential Series I am very excited to be joined by the Founder & CEO of Meaning.Global, Martina Olbertova. Martina is a global brand strategist and corporate meaning advisor, helping organizations inject new meaning to restore their sense of purpose, transform brand value and raise equity. She is a writer, speaker and guest lecturer on commercial semiotics and cultural branding. She holds a PhDr. Degree in Media Studies from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Operating out of London & Prague, her expertise includes work on Kantar, Visa, IBM, Vodafone, Heineken, Unilever, KBC and Lloyds Bank, just to name a few.

JP: What are you passionate about?

MO: Transformation and change — I want to make things better because I can see the space for progress and where the hidden potential is. The value of global brands is directly tied to their cultural imprint. Historically, the marketing industry has been going against this notion with the en-masse globalization that homogenized markets and flattened out cultural differences. This has made brands largely irrelevant and prone to sameness, and therefore meaninglessness because meaning is created out of difference. Now we need to do the opposite — find, extrapolate and enhance the differences to give brands meaning and make them shine from inside out.

Marketing is largely a discipline of preparing markets for a cultural change. This is opening up a huge opportunity to do things in a better way. I am creating a holistic approach to brand management to help global brands align meaning and sense culturally to ultimately become more relevant. I’m a builder and a creator — that’s what I’m really passionate about. I also enjoy connecting people, finding places of inefficiency and spotting new opportunities for things that are not yet there.

In a recent report 2017: End of Global Brands, Rise of Local Relevancy, Martina examines the deep crisis of global brands and their quest for relevancy by maximizing their local imprint and driving value from the cultural richness of regional markets back up to the master brand. She offers core insights and actionable ways to help global brands restore their fading relevancy.

The same thing is also happening in the luxury sector: “The luxury industry is battling a lot of pressures — both external and internal. Moreover, luxury is facing a deflation of meaning as the traditional value of luxury is quickly becoming eroded. Therefore, we need to redefine the meaning of luxury as a concept to restore its fading relevancy and discover a new place in people’s lives where luxury can play a lead role.”

Click here to read the full report.

JP: How would you like to be perceived by others?

MO: There was a book published recently called The Neo-Generalist by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin. This is how I would ultimately like to be seen as — a specialist pulling knowledge from multiple domains with a generalist hat on because generalism is precisely what interlinks all this knowledge together, juxtaposes it and creates new solutions. The industry is in a desperate need for someone with a holistic view who can zoom in and out of different specializations, take what’s relevant and apply these learnings on a broader higher level. It’s all about making sense and meaning, that’s where the value is.

JP: If a brand curates and maintains the perfect meaning-driven strategy, are they guaranteed to stay relevant? If not, what other factors should be taken into consideration?

MO: Meaning to me is the inner essence — it’s what makes brands relevant in the context of culture. That being said, you can’t just literally say brand strategy plus meaning plus localization equals success; it’s not a linear process, but a circular one. It’s about looking at brands from a whole different perspective; seeing them holistically as complex ecosystems of meaning and not through the reductive view of specialist boxes. There are also other factors that need to be taken into consideration. One of the most important factors is that the essence that makes a brand relevant should be encapsulated in the culture of an organization. Embodying this essence would likely require a change to the organizational structure.

Organizations typically create steps such as strategy, brand communication, digital, print materials, etc. which leave brands incredibly siloed. Everything needs to come together within the organisation itself and align with the meaning the organization communicates to the outside world.

It’s not an easy job, but an important one. That’s why I love what I do.

JP: In a recent presentation you mentioned brand value is symbolic and not monetary. Are people hesitant when they hear this statement and if so, how do you alleviate their hesitation?

MO: Using content as a filter, I am able to reach people who share similar views on the industry and resonate with same ideas. I tend to not explain my standpoint because, in my experience, the people who get it and are willing to buy are already on board, and those who need a lot of explaining are most likely not willing to buy anyway. Those are not my clients — I wouldn’t be able to help them, if their own views, values and needs are not already aligned with the same belief system and the same type of thinking. I don’t convince people to change their beliefs. It’s just the matter of time until people’s views shift spontaneously by crisis and urgency.

They either come to me, or I come to them. This usually encompasses two components; the first is finding organizations in dire need of change. The second is finding the right person within an organization with the ability to influence change such as the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) or CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). These organizations are usually making the mistake of compartmentalizing their focus by feeding channels first such as digital, social, print, TV, which is important of course, but completely irrelevant unless you have something meaningful to say. You need to define what you stand for, the meaning of your brand and how to connect with people out there who share the same values. This is what a brand is all about — the meaning is your message. Channels are just about how you deliver it to the people who value the same things as you do.

JP: Which brands do you love and why?

MO: First off, I don’t believe that brands can be your friends or love affairs even. That’s what people are for. Brands playing predominantly on emotions have usually (but not all the time, especially if done well) a very weak value message to convey. What I believe in is relevance — that brands can become an essential part of your life through finding a way to emulate your own core values and enhance your life to make it easier, smoother and more enjoyable. Their ultimate value is in adding value to you as a human being, and not the other way around. I like brands that are consistent and use the same codes of expression across everything they do — be it brand communication, retail spaces (e.g. via spatial semiotics), markets, cultures, regions etc.

Apple comes to mind; a MacBook to me is not a computer, it’s a creative extension of oneself. Apple is great at creating a user interface that doesn’t feel like it’s interfering in your life but enhances it to make it better. Their stores elicit the same feeling you get when you use their products. They developed their own brand ecosystem by rigorously applying their core values of simplicity, usability and great design. They’ve become the masters of absent space — selling you the premium value of things that are not there. This is genius.

JP: What is the best advice someone has ever given you?

MO: This is an interesting one. I don’t usually take advice. And the reason is simple: everyone has their own individual journey in life that is unique to them. What has worked for someone else might not ultimately work for you and vice versa. You can look to others for input to learn from their experiences but only you know what is best for you. Experience does not equal knowledge. Knowledge comes from within. Listen to yourself — you already know what’s best for you to do. Listening to other people only dilutes the strength of your inner voice and gives away your power to the other. You’re not following it out of fear. Amusingly, there’s nothing else to fear but a blind following of others. The best advice will always come from inside of you — it’s your own intuition.

This is how I got where I am today. Following my own vision. Following others and wanting to fit in will make you invisible. To stand out, you have to tune in and listen to yourself. This is the way to succeed that is not only sustainable but one that will make you happy because you’ll do something that is your purpose to do. Take a moment to block out the noise around you and listen to your intuition, you may like what you hear.

To learn more about Martina or get in touch with her, please visit her strategic consultancy website www.meaning.global. You can also find more published articles and reports at www.martinaolbertova.com.

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The Influential Series is an independent publication where I explore the minds of thought leaders in the marketing and technology space.

Other interviews in this series:

My Interview with Hilton Barbour — The Influential Series Issue #1

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on August 7, 2017.

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