Flavia Anghel – Merging branding and strategy

Flavia Anghel is the founder of Brandium, Inc. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Brandingmag and Branding.news, a thought leader, and a brand consultant.

I love the content that Brandingmag and Branding.news creates. How did it get started? What’s the origin story?

I started with then Branding Magazine approximately 6 years ago as a contributor. It was started by a very good friend of mine (now) from Serbia. The magazine was much smaller back then, but their reputation was growing. When I came about it I was thinking: “Wow, that’s an amazing name and an amazing site!” So I started writing for them. I was in New York at the time and I quickly became Editor-in-Chief. I had access to certain things and was a writer by nature. Obviously, the English-speaking side helped a lot, as well.

Soon after that, I became a core member of the team. At one point, we decided that it was a good idea for me to take over the magazine. It became a combination of the things that I was already doing – consulting and editorial marketing merged. It kind of bridged the gap between branding and strategy by using high-quality content. We started to build content ecosystems for big and small companies, ecosystems ensuring that what you define while doing your brand strategy comes out in your communication – only quality insights. After a while, we realized that there was a lot of quality visual content, more campaign- and design-based, so to speak. So we decided to create Branding.news – a place where you can find quality visual branding from around the world – as a sister site of Brandingmag.

What is your role today?

I am the Editor-in-Chief of Brandingmag and Branding.news. I also own the bigger company that basically owns these two platforms – Brandium, Inc.

As an Editor-in-Chief, are there any reading habits of your readers that surprised you the most?

That’s an interesting question… Well, I’d say that our readers are picky. I don’t think that’s weird, though. When we launched Branding.news, Brandingmag switched to long-form content only and that was a big risk for us. There were a lot of people that were enjoying our shorter content and then a discussion was going on in the rest of the media, saying that people don’t have enough attention or that they don’t have enough time… I think that I’ve always been the kind of person that, when everyone is going to the right, I’m the one going to the left. And that’s probably why I decided to create long-form instead of short-form content, the exact opposite of what everyone was doing. Because I knew that there is a smaller group of people that I’ll be able to target. Rather than going for quantity and trying to grow as fast as we can, or write as much content as we can, we went in the opposite direction – to grow slowly and with integrity. We take our time and our readers appreciate it. When we go to events around the world, we always meet new people that read branding magazines and they are super proponents of Brandingmag. Our audience is willing to read because we obliged ourselves to deliver quality and insights that they can use.

What do a brand and branding mean to you? Do you refer to the quote made by Stephen Bayley saying that Nowadays all of life is also a question of branding”?

I agree. I think it’s very interesting to think of it the same way you think of people. It’s not a coincidence that brands are trying to be more human – or present more human qualities. The reason is that what they do and the influence that they have in society is very similar to you and I, but on a much larger scale. And that’s where the responsibility comes from – that they have the opportunity to make some changes that you and I would love to do, but we’re limited in our capacity because we’re just one person. But their responsibility is only going to be larger as we progress with the times. And the most interesting thing is that if you go to a place like Eastern Europe, where I am now, you’ll discover a huge opportunity. This is the place where the quote from Bayley comes alive. It’s possible that what politics hasn’t achieved this far in Eastern Europe can be achieved by some really great branding, to be honest.

What do you think about so-called disruptive brands? Is there still a place for new brands when global behemoths, disruptors like Apple, Uber, Airbnb that occupies almost the whole space?

I think there definitely is. And it’s not because these companies aren’t great. Any of those companies have defined some of the rules that we now use for branding; as much as you like or dislike them, they’ve done a really great job most of the time. But I think there will always be room for something smaller. Always – because even when I take us as an example, then that’s the same thing. We have very big competition in the space when it comes to media. But like I said, some people like that and some people don’t. And especially as things continue to change, and you come upon not just new technology but new ways of thinking, there will be some ideas that we’ve never anticipated and big guys might be too busy with the things they do to see them.

That’s why you see so much criticism around big companies taking smaller steps in the innovation department – it’s really difficult for them to accomplish something very huge, because you’re talking about years and thousands of people and approvals that they need to go through in order to do something like that. So many of them will stick with what the know, which is completely fine – they will succeed. But that’s exactly what leaves room for the little guys, so to speak.

Data leads the world, and I think we can say that the world of brands is no exception. Do you think that brands should focus only on data or is there still a place for emotional decision making?

I like this. I think the interesting thing is that a lot of people talk about these things as if they are mutually exclusive – if you focus on data you can’t focus on emotions and vice versa. Well, I don’t think that’s true. For example – I look at numbers, I check them (granted, not every single day). But I don’t base every decision that I make on data – if I did, then I probably would not have made many of the decisions that I’ve made. That’s one of the great things about being a woman running a company: your intuition is always there – you feel it even if when don’t want to. You could be staring at an entire data chart, while your intuition (or your gut) whispers something completely different in your head.

If you’re in a position to lead and you’re making these decisions, then I think the best thing that you can do is to really understand yourself. The reason why it’s important is that you begin to understand your business better. So when some instincts or emotions come up, you know how to properly analyze them in conjunction with what you know about your business. And then you can make the kind of decisions that combine data and emotions. Or you can make decisions that ignore one of these sides. And you feel comfortable doing so because you have a lot of trust in yourself.

To do this, you really need to take the time to understand who you are.

Flavia (on the left) at BrandingNITE 2017 event

And what do you think about AI and branding?

Well, everybody is saying that AI is going to take jobs, that it’s going to ruin everything, and we won’t be able to do anything the same anymore. I think that AI will take away all the crap that one doesn’t want to do, the kind of meticulous work that has to do with data, numbers – with all of the stuff that I don’t particularly like. And that AI can be scaled to whatever size of company I am.

So, how does that benefit me? All of a sudden I have time to be more creative, to be more strategic. To spend more time understanding my own work, to make better decisions – alongside the AI that I have, not in spite of it. AI will give us back more time because it will take away tasks that can be automated. That’s even more relevant on a company level. As a company, you’ll have more time to focus on your users, on society, on smaller groups of people that can give you insights in a unique way… 

As a brand consultant, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen doing brands in their communication or strategy all over again?

One of biggest issues that exists right now is that branding and strategy are a little bit too separated. The missing link is the content. And that’s the problem. There are a lot of companies that base all of their promotion or reputation only on what they do. Because there’s always been a great focus on production. On what you produce – what you make. Even now, you can see that entrepreneurs still have that mentality. But they’re surrounded by a society and an environment that have made it so easy to quickly copy the things that others do.

The question is: what are you going to do about that?

Branding over tea

What I’ve seen work very well, even for a huge company with over 70 offices around the world, is introducing the role of Editor-in-Chief into a brand. That way, you have somebody that looks from above at all of your marketing channels, all of your communications, and how the brand is being reflected. You have someone who sees how people speak at events, how content is being created through different channels, what the resources are, in which ways you can easily manipulate longer pieces of content to create shorter ones, etc. And how you create this ecosystem where, anytime anybody sees something you say or something that somebody that works for you says, it’s coherent. You need to consistently deliver – that’s important. You don’t have to create that much content if it’s really high quality content.

Content doesn’t just mean creating graphics for Facebook. It also means creating really great experiences for smaller groups of people – like what we did with “Branding over Tea” in London. You absorb so much more in a small space with 50 other people having a very specific, niche experience. It presents many benefits, and not only on the creative and strategic side – your leads will go up, people will be more interested in your work, you’ll have a niche audience that will literally advocate for you – always.

What are new brands impressing you right now with?

There is a brand here (in Romania) that I really like – we actually met with them just recently. They are starting to be known around the world, and are a very interesting case of how you can succeed from a smaller country like ours. It’s called Lampix and they created the technology for projecting digital surfaces on anything. So you have a really cool lamp that projects a digital screen on any flat surface. And you can interact with it. What’s interesting is that their technology can be applied in any space. Image how cool that is… Their purpose is very specific, but the audience for their technology is huge. It’s brands like these that make you sit there and go, “Wow!”

Lampix turns any surface into a smart surface.

I’ve seen that you’ve studied in New York, then in Prague for a year and now you live in London How do American and European design differ?

That’s the ultimate question of my life. I’ve been between Europe and America for my entire life. I moved from Romania when I was very young, but I always really liked it there – and I stayed in the States even though I wanted to be in Romania… It’s a very long story. Anyways, I think the way design differs is that in the States the extraordinary factor still works. The population is still affected by big words and gestures – things like that. That’s why you see trends around brands and motivational speaking coming from the West to us.

But people are people everywhere: this kind of work may last for a while, but people will still realize at some point that it wasn’t what they thought it was. This is a bit delayed in the States compared to Europe. In Europe, there is a very fine line between the extraordinary and bullshit. I’d say people here tend to see a little bit more clearly when something is not as extraordinary as it presents itself to be.

The topic of diversity is very hot” nowadays You’ve had an interview with Alyssa Altman, regarding this it as well.  Having a chance to live in different environments what do you think about it? Do you think that those attempts for integrations are really sustainable long run? Haven’t we gone a little bit too far?

I think diversity is something sustainable, but it can’t be forced. If you end up having a group of 6 people where 5 of them are men and one of them is a woman – and you end up in this situation for whatever reason (perhaps because they were simply the best fit for the job that you found at the moment) – then I don’t think anybody can sit there and point fingers at you.

This is a matter of your education from home, as well. It’s easier if you grow up with this mentality. Makes it easier to open your eyes a little bit further, and not try to do everything quickly and based only on numbers. It’s also much more personal than we see it presented in the media. In the media, it’s just diversity and business – which is true, but what about diversity within yourself?

It’s a very difficult and very complicated topic. It’s really about how you see the world and how interested you are in others.

What are the best thought leaders in our (design, branding) industry to watch?

I d watch these people: 
Tom Adams, President, Chief Strategy Officer, FutureBrand
Sophie Maxwell, Futures Director, Pearlfisher
Yael Alaton, Strategy Director, Pearlfisher
Chad Farmer, ECD & President, The Lambesis Agency 

What advice would you give to aspiring editors or brand strategists?

Influence is good, but not always necessary. It’s good to ask questions, read books, follow mentors… It’s kind of ironic because I work with thought leadership and I’m literally telling you that thought leadership is great, but sometimes you don’t need it. It’s too much of a good thing if you read or listen too much. It’s great to have that inspiration, but you need to get that rebel inside of you out as well every once in a while. It’s only in this way that you can achieve the right balance and make the right decisions.

Thank you
Where can readers find you?  
What apps are you using the most?
Feedly, Slack, Asana, Snapseed, Pocket, Spotify
What book would you recommend?
All books from Mircea Eliade are great.
Would you like to contribute? Do you know about someone who does similar things? Please let me know at hello@readpattern.com



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