Our Thinking

Michael Watras talks branding in Milan

October 2017

On a recent visit to Milan, Straightline’s Chairman and CEO, Michael Watras, shared his business insights with the students at Milan’s Bocconi University. With nearly three decades of international expertise in corporate identity and branding, he addressed this unique – and pivotal – time in Italy’s marketplace: the moment of transition from a heritage-driven, product-centric approach to a more holistic brand structure that can compete in an aggressive global marketplace.

In recent years, Italian companies have begun to recognize the value of corporate identity, making this an exciting time for brands to define themselves beyond their product offerings. Michael sees this moment as an opportunity for Italian brands to push past their core business and expand their appeal to more stakeholders. However, he made clear the risks of marketing individual products at the expense of developing a strong corporate brand, citing companies like Eni and Coca-Cola whose logos and identities are iconic, but haven’t always communicated either company’s wide range of products and services.

At the same time, he stressed that it’s not enough to simply craft a brand from the top down; in the digital age, customers demand more of corporations – more transparency, more responsiveness – and their input must be reflected in the narrative a brand tells. Michael championed an approach in which brands consider themselves from multiple perspectives. Offering up Max Mobile and Deutsche Telekom as examples, he explained how both companies appeared to have suffered the consequences of a corporate strategy that focused on the bottom line at the expense of incorporating customers’ desires and experiences, resulting in damaged reputations and leaving an opening for competition.

Ultimately, the challenge for any truly global brand—Italian brands included—is to clearly convey its values and story, thereby cultivating loyalty – and even love – from its customers.

An interview with Michael Watras is available, in Italian, in the Milano Finanza.

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