Maryam Meddin, the mastermind behind Clarus, a London-based branding & corporate communications consultancy, the archetype of setting direction and goals in defining and driving success for brands, is a woman with clarity. A skilled strategist, effective communicator with an uncompromising attitude towards authenticity, Maryam Meddin, and her team have created stand-out and award-winning brand communications for national and international clients. They have built an impressive portfolio for working with corporates, non-profits, governing bodies and start-ups. Under her leadership, her client’s purpose has been brought to life with the utmost loyalty and openness.
With a law degree and a passion for human behaviour, Maryam has guided her dynamic career to empowering others to succeed. Her insatiable appetite for knowledge which led her to earn her Masters in Psychotherapy and Counselling has let her deliver powerful, meaningful and inspiring brand voice and corporate communications. As an executive with an altruistic point of view which reflects the way she does business, Maryam Meddin tirelessly and remarkably engages in philanthropic activities and tends to be more demanding in putting others and clients first.
I had the opportunity to interview the boss lady and get some insights into the art of branding:
Jupilings: Please tell us about your professional background and the areas of interest-
MM: I studied law – which I think is quite a good grounding for life generally, as it provides you with certain practical skills such as analysis, interpretation of language, etc., – but when it came down to it, the career I really wanted was as an advertising copywriter. This was, in my view, the ultimate manifestation of strategic creativity.. style with substance.. a career in which your emotional intelligence and your humour are as relevant as your commercial sense. Unfortunately, I was underqualified to walk into a job in the creative department and overqualified to get a job in the post room and work my way up. Eventually, someone told me that they knew of a branding agency that was hiring on the account management side and I thought that this would be a good way for me to at least get my foot into the right sector. As it turned out, I fell in love with branding (also all about strategic creativity) and, thankfully, it loved me back! In 2001 I started my consultancy, Clarus, and I haven’t looked back ever since.
Jupilings: What is the difference between branding, advertising & marketing-
MM: It’s quite difficult to define categorically.. there are a lot of blurred lines. If I had to divide them up, I would say that marketing comprises your company’s overall plan for selling its product/services – knowing the target audience, what you need to do to reach them and persuade them to choose you over the competition and so on. Branding is really about your firm’s identity.. not just the logo and aesthetics but also what you stand for, your voice & tone, positioning, and what your customers’ experience of you/your product will be like. Advertising is the conduit for all that – the means through which you deliver the message about you/your product to your target market.
Jupilings: What does branding mean to you-
MM: For me, branding is the heart and soul of a business – a brand should be the manifestation of some serious naval gazing! What sort of organization are we? What do we want to stand for? What is our promise to our customers? When these sorts of decisions have been made, you can start to build your identity around them, and whilst brands can evolve and move with the times, they can’t be inconsistent. Any evolution should be a wholistic process which involves the customer in the journey, not one that catches them by surprise.
Customers build loyalty based on an internal filing system – they decide where you fit into their lives and they’ll open that folder whenever they need it. If you end up being in a different folder each time, or if every time they open the same folder, they find something different inside, they can’t really count on you, and it becomes difficult to build a mutual relationship. More importantly, it becomes difficult to say that you have a brand – in that sort of situation what you have is just a logo.
To give you an example: if you see a Starbucks in Karachi, you will already have preconceptions and expectations of what your experience is going to be, because of your past experiences and because that consistency is their promise to you, wherever you are in the world. The logo is merely the official stamp that says “you can expect coffee, served in a particular way and a visually familiar setting, here.” So, if you saw the Starbucks logo but then opened the door and found a load of blue and red tables, and the coffee was served in china cups, you would say “this is not Starbucks” regardless of the logo on the door.
That’s branding..not just a logo.
Jupilings: Why should people hire a branding expert-
MM: That’s a strange question… why should they hire an architect before they build their house? Whilst it might cost them more than doing it themselves, they may find that it looks better, functions better, makes the process more efficient, is ultimately more cost-effective than having to make up for mistakes halfway through, that the architect is likely to know a lot more about building a house than they do (thereby adding value through her expertise); and ultimately because the chances are the house will end up being safe, sustainable, functional and aesthetically aligned with their preferences.
All of that applies similarly to hiring a branding expert.
Jupilings: What are the 21st-century branding objectives vs. traditional branding-
MM: I think that people are increasingly caring not just about what a company does but how it does it. Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming central to every big organization’s identity, and they want to be seen to be decent, conscientious actors in their field. For example, it’s no longer enough that your basketball boots are top quality, you’ve also got to show that you’re not exploiting the environment or children from developing countries in the manufacturing process. (It’s not just the customers who care about these things, but those providing the loans for your growth, those accepting your sponsorship of their event, the brands willing to be associated with you and so on.) So, branding in the 21st century is as much about the producers as the product. That, I think, is the most important difference.
Jupilings: What is the ROI on branding campaigns in the 21st-century-
MM: “Branding campaign” is quite a broad term that can encapsulate so many different initiatives. It can be about brand awareness or brand re-building and so on, and so much of it actually consists of PR, with specific – often measurable – objectives.
To attempt an answer, however: I’m sure that there are a lot of outcomes that factor in technological engagement and digital metrics but I think that ultimately the principles of a successful branding campaign remain unchanged. Do people like your brand? Do they trust you? Do they want to keep their relationship with you alive? What’s the objective of the campaign?
Going back to what I said at the start of this interview about marketing: a sound marketing strategy plays a crucial role in every campaign, but particularly in those where the ROI is expected to be measurable.
For example, a startup providing dog-walking and pet care services may have budgeted $100,000 for a “branding campaign” and decides to spend that entire amount on TV advertising as it has the widest reach in terms of eyeballs. They may see that for an hour following each ad spot, visits to their website go up by 5000%. Is this an acceptable ROI?
The reality is that many dog-owners look for recommendations for pet care from their neighbours and friends, preferring to entrust their pet to a tried and tested independent local operator or individual rather than to a big, shiny company whose ad they saw on TV.
So, for $100,000 the client has ended up with an excellent creative TV ad (brief met); 5000 new visitors to their website (engagement goal met); and two new clients (ROI not met).
A sound marketing strategy based on knowing what influences customer behaviour would have resulted in a much cheaper, smaller and more personal local awareness campaign with a far higher conversion rate.
Jupilings: How do experience and engagement play an essential role in new measuring metrics-
MM: It really depends very much on your product, your target market and – of course – what counts as “engagement.” If you’re a media company, you probably want your audience to be using your app, or visiting your website, multiple times a day – if only to kill time. If you’re selling expensive handcrafted jewellery for women, you may be satisfied with a customer visiting your website twice a year, provided she spend a decent amount of time browsing and – from time to time – finds what she came for.
I think where digital engagement becomes more important is in customer retention and long-term sustainability. The more you permeate different aspects of your customer’s life, (sell them a sports shoe and then measure every mile they run) the more you’re building a mutual relationship, which equals brand loyalty.
Jupilings: What type of results are realistic for branding budget and time-
MM: This is really unanswerable. It depends on the brief, the objective, the agency and a multitude of other factors.
Three rules that you always follow in brand management:
Be authentic – it avoids disappointment.
Don’t claim anything you can’t prove.
Remember that a brand is made up of every part of your business: your product, your employees’ experience, your customer service, your values and many other things.. not just your logo.