Dr Sarah Britten


1. What inputs differentiate you from other professional consultants in the branding and strategic communication field?

My academic background is somewhat unusual in this field, particularly because, while it is relevant to what I do, it’s in the humanities rather than in marketing or commerce. So I bring a fairly nuanced historical and sociological perspective to my work (I wrote my thesis on advertising’s impact on national identity in post-apartheid South Africa).

I’m also very creative – strategists are often perceived to be very analytical, so this also brings something different into the mix. I empathise with creative people, and I think my creative side helps me bridge the gap between the corporate teams who devise strategy and those creative individuals are expected to execute it in ways that a target audience can understand.

Over the years I’ve learned that often the best ideas come from the most unexpected places, and that they seldom come from brainstorming sessions in stuffy boardrooms. It’s healthy for teams to step outside of what is known, and to bring in outsiders with a different point of view.

2. What impact does social media have on the traditional corporate communication approach?

Social media has completely changed the balance of power. If I can complain about a problem with my Clicks credit card backed by FNB and the CEO himself sends me a direct message, you know that things have changed. Consumers have far more power than they did, and their expectations of companies have changed.

We expect brands to behave more like people – so if we’re in an argument with them, we expect them to say sorry if we think they’re in the wrong, and we don’t expect them to be perfect either.

Brands that are good at positioning themselves as human do far better. After my Clicks problem was sorted, I made sure I publically acknowledged FNB’s attempts to help, and I made it clear that because I felt I “knew” them through social media, I was more inclined to forgive them. Brands have to learn to be less defensive, better at solving problems quickly, and also to be honest about their shortcomings.

3. You have previously worked on the Land Rover Brand before you were approached to be ambassador of the new Evoque, how further have you cemented your original creative and strategic contributions through your new role?

It’s been fascinating to have worked on this brand both as a strategist and as someone who effectively executes strategy. My involvement is with a model that didn’t exist when I worked on the Land Rover account, so I’ve had the freedom to experiment in a new channel to see what works and what doesn’t.

Being a brand ambassador gives me certain responsibilities, but because I’m not part of Land Rover itself I have a lot of flexibility when it comes to developing content for them. I’ve learned so much about what drives conversation.

Consistency is incredibly important – I’ve been involved with the Evoque for so long that for many people who follow me on Twitter, the association is completely entrenched, and I find that whenever I talk to people offline, the first thing they ask me is about the car.

As I see it, it’s less about how I personally exemplify key brand attributes (which is what brand ambassadors in traditional media do) and more about the kind of content I’m able to develop and the conversations I’m able to drive.

4. Tell us about the city scape campaign and how it has unearthed your love for new creative expression through lipstick painting.

The cityscapes were quite literally inspired by Land Rover and the Pulse of the City campaign. I’d been painting with lipstick for years, but had stuck to “safe”, obvious subjects matter like roses and apples. After I became involved with the campaign, I painted a picture of Johannesburg as a thank you gift for Roland Reid, Land Rover’s marketing director.

That first cityscape led to others, which evolved into other styles, and the resulting work is up one exhibition at the moment. It certainly has stretched me creatively and forced me out of my comfort zone. It has also forced me to reassess my relationship with Johannesburg, so creatively the association has been very productive.

5. How do you connect your social upliftment involvement to your work as a public story teller and as facilitator of the triple bottom line in the corporate world?

As a marketer, I try to include a social responsibility angle in all the campaigns I do. So for a TLC facial wipes (and Adcock Ingram brand), I linked the campaign to water saving and they donated money to an alien vegetation clearing programme by WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa).

Social and environmental issues are so pressing that we can’t afford to ignore them, and I like the idea of integrating marketing with social upliftment – it’s a way to find additional budget for good causes. If a cause is relevant and brings the brand benefit to life, then everybody benefits.


Exhibition details:

Venue: Velo, corner Juta and Melle Streets, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

Up until July 28, 2012: Open 7am – 4pm weekdays, 9am – 3pm Saturdays