Brain Tap Series – Interview 15: Jonathan Salem Baskin

On the Brain Tap series this week, may I introduce you to Jonathan Salem Baskin, president of Baskin Associates Inc., a consultancy that works with clients to make branding and marketing go above the remit of words and images. Jonathan’s work involves partnering with alliance companies in North America, Europe and Asia to integrate specialty skills to his projects – business intelligence, retail research, web development, design etc. He also has a joint venture with Quiet Storm in the UK. In addition, he is the author of the just-released Branding Only Works on Cattle: The New Way to Get Known (and drive your competitors crazy).  

The interview: 
1. From your experience working with brands around the world, what is the most crucial issue affecting marketing today? 
I think brand marketing is at a crossroads.  
We have forever pursued a definition of brands as a stand-alone from the other measures and statistical controls used elsewhere in the enterprise.  Branding has always been something fundamentally “different” from how, say, the supply chain was structured, or human resources functions managed.  Our fundamental conceit was that we — through our branding — could tell consumers what to think and, more importantly, attach feelings to products and services.
Now, with the invention of more targeted, real-time, and/or diffuse ways of communicating, it’s become harder to prove not just the relevance, but perhaps the very existence, of a brand marketing function separate from the rest of the activities in which a company (or its consumers) engage.  The real-time, 24/7 mediasphere in which we all live means that people no longer consume marketing, or engage with brands, as much as branding emerges from their experiences. 
So the issue is this: does brand marketing choose to redefine itself and find a new model for branding, or will we further distance ourselves from the enterprise with more extreme and rarified defenses of our beliefs?  
2. Name a case study that details a brand’s turnaround and its subsequent success with consumers. 
Well, I don’t think any brands turn around, per se: businesses do, and the brand marketing needs to follow it, not precede it.  
One notable example would be Xerox.  This company found itself effectively in a buggy-whip business (centered on device manufacturing), yet transformed its business model into information management (it’s largest revenue and profits last quarter came from consulting).
It was only after this reinvention that the company turned to a hoity-toity branding firm to refresh its branding.  In fact, it accomplished its turnaround under the umbrella of its ‘old’ brand. 
3. Name a campaign or event that you wish you’d been a part of.
The viral transmission of the QuickTime player via the trailers for the first of the second-generation “Star Wars” flicks.  This was one of the first, and most elegant, marriages of product and service, and drove trail (and subsequent adoption) via experience.  Simply brilliant.
4. Do you think that for brands to reach out to a young consumer base today, it has to have a digital component to its campaign? Why or why not?
Nope.  “Digital” is a term like “hip” or “with it,” and I think we’re going to look back at today’s utilization of the medium and laugh.  It is simply a means to an end, and I think we often forget the ultimate purpose for digital, or any other tool: sales.  I think we’d be shocked now (and, hopefully, laugh someday) if we added up two columns of marketing expenditures at a typical business that reaches out to a young consumer base today: first, one column would contain the total money spent on promoting digital “conversations” of various kinds, while the second would be money spent on more crass, direct sales efforts.  I’d make both numbers ratios by adding actual sales results under each.  OOPS, the conversation column would not yield a number, because we can’t link it to any business result, other than the self-referencing, heretofore mentioned “conversations.”
Ads, promotions, publicity, billboards, digital…nothing is a ‘have to’ without a purpose.
5. Apart from the internet and mobile phone, what has the single most important creation of the media and technology industries been in your lifetime and what impact has it had on your life so far?
Post-It Notes.  The physical stickies enabled me to literally ‘tag’ items in the real-world; they were the first artifact to enable experience of reality as hyper-media.  
6. Where do you derive inspiration for your work from?
I like to merge input from a variety of non-marketing sources, especially the sciences and arts. It’s far too easy to focus in on a subject area and lose sight of the context, not to mention the history that has lead up to it.  I’m inspired by the life of Buckminster Fuller, who showed that an individual can assume a priori to have something to offer to the world, and then spend a lifetime creating meaning and value through incessantly asking questions and being open to finding the answers…wherever and however they may arise.
7. If you could live in any part of the world, where would it be and what would you expect to achieve from the experience?
London, because the city (and country) is in a position to lead the other Western countries into a post-industrial future (and, in doing so, somewhat revive its pre-industrial past).  It would be fascinating to participate in the cultural and other experiential qualities of that transition, which is farther along there than in the U.S.
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Thanks very much, Jonathan!
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3 thoughts on “Brain Tap Series – Interview 15: Jonathan Salem Baskin”

  1. great stuff.
    best of the series so far.
    I’ve been trying to find a copy of Jonathans book but sadly it seems it’s not out in the uk til january :(
    E

  2. does the xerox example point to a ‘product equity’ future than a brand equity one? or does it mean exactly the opposite?

  3. Eaon – apparently that IS true, the book’s out in the UK only in january, so we have to wait!

    manuscrypts – it simply means that xerox is a company that is reinventing themselves. so brand equity is what i’d think.

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