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The Power of Uncomfortable Thinking

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Kathy Oneto
Vice president, brand strategy
Anthem Worldwide
San Francisco

Kathy Oneto has more than 15 years of marketing and business management experience. Working for branding and design firm Anthem Worldwide, Oneto’s client list includes Chevron, Diamond Foods, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Safeway and Seagate. Oneto also compiles “Sightings,” Anthem’s quarterly publication examining global trends in marketing, innovation, branding and design.

Prior to joining Anthem, Oneto was co-founder and vice president of marketing at natural foods company Attune Foods, where she was responsible for defining the brand strategy and business proposition. She has also worked for Clorox, Young & Rubicam and Burson-Marsteller.

Consumers are making choices based upon a shrinking household budget; what can brands do?
When consumers have less opportunity to be discretionary, [brands] must address a need they have. The power comes in solving it in a compelling way, so they pick your brand over another. Another approach that will work for some brands is to give people something to smile about, a little affordable luxury.

Anthem’s most recent trend report featured the latest thinking on cause marketing and celebrity mavens. What did you find?
Cause marketing is nothing new, but what we were seeing in the marketplace was that some companies were starting to [go beyond] associating the brand with a charity and making an offer more compelling to consumers by linking the cause promotion to a pop icon.

Celebrity mavens are those celebrities who have recognized they have a degree of influence and are sharing points of view and advice. They aren’t just experts at their core discipline, but mavens across a variety of lifestyle topics. I mean, who doesn’t want to know Heidi Klum’s secrets or what Jay-Z thinks is cool?

You also covered “Journey-telling.” What’s that?
We coined the term to describe how brands are bringing consumers into their product development journey, turning the process into a branding story in and of itself. We cited J.Crew, Anthropologie and Gap. Some created short documentaries to share the journey of their product development teams who were on a quest to create differentiated products.

Using your crystal ball: How will brand marketing change in the future?
We’re at a really exciting and, for some, perhaps alarming, time for brand marketing. If marketers don’t start to change how they build and manage their brands, some brands will … die off. Why? Because the marketplace has shifted — from the speed it demands to the increasing complexity of marketing vehicles. And consumers are more involved than ever. One might think in this day of cynicism and transparency that consumers would have disengaged, but it’s quite the opposite.

That’s why we believe in kinetic branding, which makes brands capable of perpetual forward motion and growth. It requires that brands invite consumers in, be actively managed ... In this new world, marketers will become facilitators of brands, not dictators of a brand absent of consumer involvement.

What’s on your reading list?
One is The Social Animal, by David Brooks. He compiles a tremendous amount of multi-disciplinary research to describe what it takes to be successful. Next is Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, which is about behavioral economics and decision making. And then there’s The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream, by Gary Shapiro.

What’s currently inspiring you?
I’m inspired by the idea of divergent learning and putting myself in situations that might be a bit uncomfortable. I’m becoming a believer that it’s such circumstances that stretch thinking and lead to better ideas and results.