“Growing global brands, building C-suite communities of decision-makers, unlocking high-performance cultures, and matchmaking the best clients with top talent is my passion.” This is how Andrea Sullivan, VaynerX’s Chief Marketing Officer, describes her job.

Andrea is also a professor, board member, industry speaker, and thought leader, and was kind enough to sit down with Brandingmag to talk about change for the good, brands, and their need to move at the speed of culture.

Brandingmag: What does it take to become a ‘best global brand’ now?

Andrea Sullivan: Ha! Well, you are taking me back to my Interbrand days now. If you step back from their methodology, which is an enviable combination of art and science, it’s such a powerful question as we begin to imagine a world graduating out of a global pandemic (at some point).

A ‘best global brand’ in today’s world is one that connects with culture, full stop. They hold themselves accountable for doing the right thing in the world, they are responsible for their employees and eliminating fear in an organization, and move with speed and heart as they innovate.

Bm: What is one thing you like about branding in 2021 and one thing you absolutely dislike?

AS: I love branding and marketing in 2021 because the world has finally woken up to the need for change. Yes, the circumstances were painful. But now, we understand the importance of bringing humanity into absolutely everything we do.

The goal is no longer ‘consistency in branding’ but rather how we must honor the many diverse audiences we serve. It’s no longer creating ‘one big idea’ and executing one campaign, it’s about meeting people where they are and talking with them one-on-one. It’s no longer about long leads and testing, it’s about moving at the speed of culture. We have a heartbeat again!

I dislike that our industry continues to celebrate awards as the end goal, rather than critical, business-moving metrics (like sales) and world-changing actions that will create sustainable good in the world.

Bm: What are the first three things you would focus on if you had to build a brand from scratch?

AS: Culture, culture, and culture. If you have a strong culture, you can build anything and take it to the moon.

Bm: What brands do you admire and why?

AS: I admire brands that solve a challenge or eliminate friction in my life. I also love brands that bring joy or a human personality to my everyday life.

During the pandemic, I have become addicted to ThredUP. First, it was a means to happily unload unused clothing from my closet in a way that is so easy and guilt-free. But now, ThredUP has become my secret shopper, a happy way to spruce up my wardrobe and do it in a way that is easy, sustainable, and fun. Their sense of humor, polka-dot boxes delivered to my porch, and constant gaming of different promotions make me want to be a part of their brand forever. (Okay, I did say I was addicted!)

“The goal is no longer ‘consistency in branding’ but rather how we must honor the many diverse audiences we serve.”

Bm: What are some of the questions you asked yourself or your team before launching a new product or service?

AS: It’s so important to eliminate the ‘group think’ that occurs in the launch process, inaccurately believing that the world will drop everything to embrace whatever it is that you are launching. We always ask… Will anyone really care? Are we simplifying the idea and the offer enough?

Bm: We’ve seen how, lately, sonic branding has (thankfully) become more and more on the radar of global brands. What’s your take on that?

AS: Sonic branding is even more important now, and you guys at MassiveMusic know that. The world of audio is exploding, especially after a year filled with an oversaturation of video during the pandemic. Sonic and audio are a great means of connecting with audiences emotionally, and differentiating brands in cool ways.

On social platforms, sonic is a means to help audiences clue into what they need to pay attention to, a cool way to build brand resonance and validation of quality/relevant content.

Bm: What are the biggest challenges that brands face in a world where visual recall is in decline due to technological advancements (smart speakers and voice tech)?

AS: Brands need to build direct relationships with consumers. That means developing activation strategies that embrace all distribution channels and using all our senses to build vibrant brands and easy frictionless ways to procure them.

Voice technology is obviously key in a world where we have seen accelerated adoption of shopping from all our personal devices, especially during the pandemic. There is no turning back!

Bm: How are brands tackling social issues? And when should they take a stance?

AS: They don’t have a choice. Both employees and customers are in a different place now. Consumers don’t trust governments or political leaders anymore. Brands are now judged differently.

The world will call them out if they don’t walk the talk. That causes a lot of fear and reflection inside of big companies especially. But it is causing change for the good as a result. Hopefully, one day this will mean profound, sustainable change.

Cover image source: Miriam Espacio