From ‘Goods’ to Better Experiences: 5 Questions With Interbrand Consumer Branding MD Brian Erdman


Brian Erdman, Managing Director of Interbrand's Consumer Branding Practice

Brian Erdman is enthralled by branding. He’s spent nearly two decades in the space, and has risen among the executive leadership at Interbrand over the past ten years. His new role, as Managing Director, Consumer Branding, sees him lead Cincinnati’s established CPG practice, whose recent work includes Chandon’s holiday edition using holographic foil and Rebecca Minkoff designs.

Erdman focuses on identifying clients’ particular needs—needs that have changed over time along with the customers they serve. Hermann Beherens, Interband’s Chief Growth Officer for North America, spoke to Erdman about why all this change is so exciting, and what his plans are in his new post. Their conversation uncovers a font of knowledge and offers valuable food for thought for leaders and marketers looking to stay ahead and stand out in the consumer goods landscape.

You’ve recently become the leader of Interbrand’s Consumer Branding practice. What will be your focus right out of the gates?

We will be laser-focused on listening intently to understand the needs of our clients. And working with them to explore ways of achieving their objectives—whether through our established service offerings, or through entirely new approaches.

There is simply too much arrogance in the business world today, where the prevailing belief is that the methods that drove success yesterday are the same methods we should employ for today’s challenges. This is simply not true.

We want to be our clients’ trusted advisor, and we have many long-standing partnerships. (In fact, one client partnership has spanned 80 consecutive years!) But I know that we must earn the right every single day to continue these partnerships. In order to do that, we must be agile in addressing today’s needs, which are not the same needs we addressed for them in the past.

What are you seeing in the marketplace that excites you?

What fascinates me is the pace at which the world around us is changing, and how in turn consumers’ behaviors and expectations are changing—and the shakeout this is having on the industry.

The shakeout?

Right. Think about the big names in the CPG sector—the P&G’s, the Kimberly-Clarks, the Unilevers, the Anheuser-Buschs of the world. All of them grew up in “the Old World” and made their mark in an environment that was very, very different than the one around us today. And change is not easy.

A paraphrase of a famous Jack Welch quote sticks with me: “If the rate of change on the outside of your organization exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

This couldn’t be truer. And it’s why “Old World” companies with decades of inertia are having such a hard time changing the way they do business. And why, in some cases, they got too comfortable, didn’t innovate and saw their businesses disrupted by “New World” entrants.

Everyone’s heard about the Dollar Shave Clubs of the world. But what I’m excited about are the hundreds of startups that are just a seed round of funding away from further disrupting the CPG sector. At Interbrand, we’ve been studying the Breakthrough Brands of the world—highlighting the world-changers and future-makers that are rising just below the radar, the ones that will transform the way people live and the way leaders think about doing business. These are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.

What do you think is to come?

Let me just look into my crystal ball and tell you. (Laughing). Look, of course I can’t predict exactly what the future holds. But what I’m confident in is this: Time is currency. It always has been, it always will be. Products and services that save time will succeed. Consumers also seek ease. Products that make things easier and reduce transactional friction will succeed.

I think the real magic will happen with products and services that both save time and reduce friction. They will dominate the marketplace. And these are the conversations I’ve been very excited to engage with for some of our future-thinking clients. For instance, we recently launched our Co-Lab Accelerator, in partnership with C Space, that is focused on creating game-changing innovation fueled by deep insight, co-creation and principles of Open Innovation.

Anything else excite you?

The connected home. The Internet of Things. Virtual assistants. AR, VR, machine learning. Lions and tigers. Oh my!

It wasn’t too long ago that clients would come to our Consumer Branding group seeking a brand and/or packaging design, and the measure of success would be simply whether or not consumers chose you at shelf and if they had a good experience when they used your product. And, of course, the resulting business growth.

Today, it’s different. Tomorrow, it will be much different. Take this example: In the Old World, a soft drink brand might have come to us for packaging design. Once it landed in the consumer’s refrigerator, that was a success. Mission accomplished.

In tomorrow’s world, however, that same soft drink might sit inside a smart refrigerator that senses when it’s almost gone and will send an auto-replenish order to Amazon, which will bring a new 12-pack directly into the consumer’s home. And oh, by the way, that soft drink can be connected to your fitness tracker and measure its impact on your nutrition goals, and advise you on what to choose (or not choose) the next time you need to quench your thirst.

See? Very different. And that’s exciting to me. CPG brands need to not just survive in this new world, but rather thrive in it. And to do that, they must understand the evolving customer experience and be deliberate about curating meaningful engagement with them.

I’m really impassioned about our discussions in this space, because the CPG sector has arguably lagged behind other sectors with regard to innovation. But that’s exactly why it’s so ripe for reinvention. And what could be more exciting?

Get more insights in our Q&A series.