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It's a Matter Of...Certainty

Managing the Art and Science of Brands with Nadim Sadek

November 23, 2021 BeautyMatter
November 23, 2021
Peter Bond via Unsplash

A brand is the culmination of your story, your product and your people. It's how your customers perceive you and why shareholders believe in you. Customers are now driving brand conversations in a continuous, always on, feedback loop. What used to be a build and enforce methodology has evolved to a constant curating, connecting, communicating, and adjusting. Companies must engage or be caught flat footed. Nadim Sadek, Founder and CEO of ProQuo AI sits down with Kelly Kovack to discuss why he got back into the business of brands.

 

[beginning of recorded audio]

Nadim Sadek [00:00:09]: Hello, I’m Nadim Sadek. I’m the Founder and CEO of ProQuo AI, and for me, it’s a matter of certainty.

Kelly Kovack [00:00:23]: Branding is the embodiment of why your company exists. I’m Kelly Kovac, founder of BeautyMatter. Digital transformation has democratized brand building, but the fundamentals remain the same: a brand is the culmination of your story, your product, and your people. It’s how your customers perceive you and why shareholders believe in you. Customers are now driving brand conversations in a continuous, always-on feedback loop. What used to be a build-and-enforce methodology has evolved to constant curating, connecting, communicating, and adjusting. Companies must engage or be caught flat-footed. It is razor-sharp intent the got Nadim Sadek, Founder and CEO of ProQuo AI off his island and shifting his focus from whiskey and music and back onto the business of brands.

So Nadim, I want to dive right into the platform you’re building with ProQuo AI, but you have such an interesting background, from what I’ve read, it could probably be a podcast in itself. But could you share a little bit about your background as a way of just setting the stage of the conversation?

Nadim Sadek [00:01:34]: Gosh, how far back do you go in history? I think I came into life blending data streams because I’m half-Irish and half-Egyptian, so it must have been something I had to do even at birth. But anyway, I became a psychologist, went into market research, started a firm which became the largest in the world of its type, and I sold that to WPP, ran a couple of their global networks, and then started my own brand on an island off the west coast of Ireland, which is where we founded another brand, which was called Inish Turk Beg, the name of the island, and we did whiskey and music. And so I’d be sitting at my desk at eleven o’clock in the morning drinking whiskey and listening to music and I’d actually be doing my job. So to be honest with you, I have no idea why I’m here.

Kelly Kovack [00:02:14]: I don’t know, that sounds not so bad.

Nadim Sadek [00:02:17]: It was a lot of fun.

Kelly Kovack [00:02:19]: And so having built and managed brands for 20+ years in the beauty industry, I have to be honest with you. I was a little skeptical when I got the calendar invite from my team to meet your team because there are so many platforms and algorithms and a lot of them come with a lot of smoke and mirrors, and then you walk through the platform and you’re like eh, right? But the moment I got the walkthrough of the platform, it was a little bit of brick to forehead. And I have to say, I am totally obsessed with what you’re building. But I would love to hear from you how you describe the platform and what the impetus was for building it. I mean, you were on an island, listening to music, drinking whiskey. So why do another start-up?

Nadim Sadek [00:03:07]: Yeah. Well, I mean, that was an incredibly generous introduction to us. Thank you, Kelly. I guess what I had been in the business of doing for a long time was producing what’s called consumer insight. And I abandoned that industry, and I have to say without any sort of obscuring of it, because I was really frustrated with the lack of innovation. Even though I was running one of the biggest networks in the world, the business models really didn’t allow for fundamental innovation. And meanwhile, you’d watch neuroscience come up with new stuff principally, things like we relate to brands, we bond with brands in a way that’s not dissimilar from a way that we bond with each other and things. And we do that at kind of a subconscious level, at the level of feelings, rather than at a rational level and consciously. Yet nearly everything that was looking at brands and trying to evaluate where they stood in the category or what they could do persisted in looking at what we knew was the wrong stuff, which was just what people said and wrote about it. So I knew that that was a big kind of break that we had to make. And then the other thing that I kind of had noticed over the years was if you take virtually all of the household brands that we know, wherever we live, they’re owned by about 2,000 corporations, yet – and this is by the 2021 U.S. Census, more than 10,000 brands are born every day in the U.S. alone. So many of those die, but some of them don’t, and they need to find their way. They’re not always the best resourced, they’re often kind of founder, CEO led, and that person concentrates on producing the product or service, securing the supply chain, getting distribution. They don’t really often have enough time, and sometimes don’t have the experience, to really pick up the finesse of marketing and the nuances of brand management. And one of the statisticians on our team – we’re about 100 people and around 40 of those are what I would call kind of computer scientists and data scientists, came to me one day and said if you combine all the choices that a brand manager needs to make in the course of the year and there are about 14 areas in which they do that, from merchandising to distribution to communication to packaging and so on, if you put all of the different culminations of those together, you get to something like two billion choices. Now, no human being can rationally evaluate the worth of all of those different combinations. And so we had a big enough problem for artificial intelligence to get its teeth into. You need really difficult things to make AI worth it.

And the other thing, perhaps even more importantly, is that we noticed that CEOs often found marketing the least accountable report. So did that work? Don’t know yet, it could have been a combination of. Should we spend that again? Maybe, but there’s nothing certain telling us that. It’s a difficult place. And so the need for certainty became really obvious and that was certainty at a CEO level, that marketing was doing the right thing, at CMO level, that the strategy that they’re setting was the right one for the optimization of that corporate asset, which is called the brand, and then just the people managing the brand day-to-day would love to know and that there’s some soft measures of certainty, like I feel confident, I think my boss believes in what I’m doing and my team sees that I’m going in the right direction, I feel good about the decisions I made about my brand today. That’s the soft part of certainty. The hard part is increasing growth rates. Greater distribution. Faster rate of sale. More volume in the category or more share of voice on media communications.

So all of these things came together. I sat there on my own and thought gosh, there’s a big old problem out there, and actually the time has come with the combination of neuroscience and data science and sociology and psychology and design to make things intuitive and not to make it difficult for people to use – stuff that’s quite difficult in the background but it can be easy in the foreground. And I thought, okay, let’s go. And really, even though this was a really long answer to your question, ProQuo took a bit longer to create, but that is the essential thinking behind it.

Kelly Kovack [00:07:19]: The thinking for me is so important because technology solutions that are built by people who have sort of a deep knowledge on what they’re trying to solve are usually much better than people who see a 360, here’s a problem, I can apply technology to it, I can sell it, and it becomes almost more transactional than real problem-solving. You know, one of the things that was so clear to me because I will admit, I lean more on the creative side of the marketing equation than the quantitative side, I have found myself in situations where I just know the decision is right but had no way of validating it, right? So you get really creative about sort of pulling in anecdotal information to build a business rationale for why something should be. And when I first met your team, I was in the process of doing consumer research that you just spoke about for a brand, and I remember thinking, my god, is this really how we’re still doing this? And then I met your team and I immediately made an introduction because I was like, wait a minute guys, there’s a better way to do this. But it was really the fascinating thing of marrying the art of building and managing brands with the science of it, which I’ve never seen before.

Nadim Sadek [00:08:47]: Yeah, that’s a really neat encapsulation of what we’ve tried to do. Your note about creativity is an interesting one. I mean, it may not mean very much but I take a lot of heart from it. One of our significant investors is Mother, which is the world’s biggest independent creative communication agency, and talking to their founder and the guy who is still kind of their chief creative force, he basically said that what he loved about ProQuo was that it liberated creativity by making it certain about what it needs to deal with. So our whole system is not an evaluative system. We’re not judicators, we don’t test. We help you to optimize: optimize your resources, focus you in the right direction, let you know what you’re doing is right for the brand and will lead to a certainty of positive outcomes for it commercially. You know, it’s not just brand equity, it’s also commercial success and performance. And so kind of the notion of human beings and machines together being better than either one apart and not stepping on each other’s toes is kind of at the heart, the DNA of the way we create relationships with people who subscribe to our services. We’re there to give them utter clarity about what needs to be done and why and how to achieve it. And then for them to be able to enjoy the creative process of executing that and solving it.

Kelly Kovack [00:10:08]: I have to say that after doing the walkthrough, I was like wow, this is so simple yet so complex, right? The ability to focus not only time but obviously money, investment, where it needs to go to solve the problem at hand with sort of almost a very holistic view of the business. And really sort of having this kind of real-time focus group at your disposal. It’s a really powerful way of I guess crowdsourcing information but that is more actionable. Because I find that people now are obsessed with data so they’re constantly scraping as much data as they can, but then they do nothing with it.

Nadim Sadek [00:10:56]: I have to say, and I hope you won’t hear it as a correction of what you’re saying, because that’s not my place, perhaps just an evolution of it. In our AI, we’ve got two really separate buckets. I mean, there’s lots of layers to all of this, but broadly speaking we’ve got analysis AI, and that tells you what’s going on in your category, what people’s needs are, how your competitors are serving those needs, and where your brand fits, so you can triangulate and find where the spaces are for you. That’s the analysis AI. I think we have a really exceptional way of doing that because we’ve understood that, as I said earlier, people bond with brands, they do it in a kind of anthropomorphic way, and we evaluate the way they’re responding at a system one, subconscious, intuitive level, and we’ve done that through some pretty difficult technology, industrializing implicit response timing technology. So, whatever. That’s pretty cool, pretty clever, probably could have made the business out of that. I don’t think that’s good enough and that isn’t enough, and that isn’t brand management, that’s just kind of analysis.

So we take the kind of fruits of that bucket and we pour them in the action AI which then looks at the 14 levers that people pull when they execute on a brand every single day. What is the marketing lifecycle for a brand manager? And all of the analysis AI feeds the action AI and it asks you: what’s your goal with your brand? What are your resources? Would you consider changing packaging or advertising or something else? So it’s a kind of real world parameter setting that says okay, we won’t just come up with some abstract bit of guidance for you that may or may not work depending on whether you’re able to do it, we take into account your situation, your resources, and then the AI goes to work on all the data and we generate our own data, we ingest lots of other data, and the culmination of those things results in usually about four pointers of guidance which are then ranked in terms of their effectiveness for improving the commercial performance of the brand, and we simply surface that for you. So the subscribers that work with us best and longest are the ones who really just go to the action AI and say, “Help me know where I should be pointing my efforts today,” and then they go and do that. As opposed to the ones that kind of want to troll around, I think through the old world of analysis, endlessly going through what people might have said or not said or thought or not thought. I’m very much more focused on brand management through action than on insight, no matter how clever we’ve made it.

Kelly Kovack [00:13:23]: You know, what are your thoughts on sort of the current state of kind of brand building and managing brands? We focus squarely on the beauty space, and you know, I sort of felt like there was – during I don’t know, maybe the past ten years when we saw the rise of these D-to-C brands that really thought there was a way to reinvent the wheel, taking out brick-and-mortar retail and sort of streamlining the brand development process to scale quickly. You know, it felt like a little bit of the art and the empathy and the connection was replaced by data. And data is really important, but I kind of feel like the pendulum is swinging the other way and where consumers are saying they want brands to be empathetic and they want brands to be human. So I do think there’s an evolution happening and I think maybe with tools like you’re building, there’s a way to merge them. But I’m curious to hear kind of your state of the branding landscape.

Nadim Sadek [00:14:25]: Yeah, it’s a great, deep-reaching question. People are probably tired of hearing about COVID-19 and all of its effects, but there is one kind of, dare I say it, evolutionary phenomenon that you can associate with COVID-19. And that is that we have tried for over a year, in most places, to live a three-dimensional life through a two-dimensional medium. You and I are doing it well, we’re relating perfectly well, we kind of feel each other’s vibes and we kind of understand where we want to go and so on. So we do it really effectively; humans are incredibly clever creatures. But it is missing a layer. It’s missing peripheral learning, it’s missing getting stuff by osmosis just by sitting next to somebody or being in the same room and feeling the excitement or knowing somebody is just having a good moment or a bad moment and then just kind of orbiting around it and learning a bit without even being present, really, in that conversation. And I think what our system does is bring a bit of that three-dimensionality back to the two-dimensional exchange that can be a D-to-C interaction. It allows the people who are selling directly to consumers to have a true understanding of what’s motivating people, how they feel about it, the impact the particular action the brand takes. And not just as a set of statistics, it’s surfaced in 16 drivers of relationships which are at the core of our whole framework, things like transparency, integrity, empathy, you know, connection. It’s also slightly more mundane stuff like consistency and value for money. So it’s the whole kind of round of the way we relate to entities in our life and brands are basically entities in our lives. So I think you’re right that the trend to D-to-C has been a depersonalizing one and one of the lovely side effects, if you can call anything a lovely side effect of COVID-19, is that we’ve all tried harder to learn, to be more empathetic through the screen and to understand the peripheral stuff, and our system just happens to be good at that. It’s based on neuroscience and psychology and sociology, so it was always well-versed to do that and it’s kind of finding its time to do so.

Kelly Kovack [00:16:45]: Thinkers. Innovators. Experts. Generating ideas for the business of beauty. BeautyMatter has built its reputation as a must-read resource for beauty industry insiders, delivering future-focused insights and actionable solutions. With the speed of innovation and increased competition in the category, access to the right analysis and intelligence is more critical than ever. Make an investment in yourself and unlock a competitive edge with a subscription to BeautyMatter. Head over to www.BeautyMatter.com to check out our contact. And as a listener to our podcast, use the code UNLOCK25 for a 25% discount.

I think, you know, with all start-ups, I think timing and lucky play a lot into the success of something. You know, I was having a conversation just recently with a generational researcher who just wrote a book on Gen Z, and we were talking about some of the unique attributes of the generation, even though generations are not monoliths. But you know, it’s really the first digitally-native generation, but yet they crave human connection, which I find such an interesting kind of push-pull because I think very often we have these conversations that are focused on online penetration, and in the beauty industry, it’s like, people aren’t going to go into stores anymore, and I always feel like yeah, old lady in the room, yeah, no, people are going to shop. It’s that physical connection with people that you can’t get online. So I find it interesting on how this generation may drive us more to this real intersection of technology and being human in a way that is more integrative than technology being layered on top of something as a solution, if that makes sense.

Nadim Sadek [00:18:45]: It does, completely. It’s probably the wrong terminology, but in a sense we’re both talking about an augmented reality, where you don’t just look at stuff but you actually can perceive and empathize and relate, I guess, you know, connect at a human level beyond what the technology on the surface looks like. That is where we are with this generation and it’s only going to become more pervasive. And as I said, I think our system helps that to happen. You can feel really connected to your people through the ProQuo platform.

Kelly Kovack [00:19:17]: You know, we’ve mentioned COVID and I agree, I think we all have COVID fatigue on many fronts, but it was the fuel for an amazing adoption of technology and innovation. I honestly think it sort of cleared the cobwebs away and really gave people – I mean, I’ve never witnessed anything like it, pretty much anything was game. You could have – it was clean sheet thinking if you had the appetite to rethink your organization, which is incredibly liberating. I think it made people think about technology differently, you know because I think especially in beauty, a lot of the early beauty tech, it felt a little gimmicky, it felt like it was trying to kind of replace functions, and now coming out the other side, the most interesting thing for me was that technology was really the conduit of connecting sort of the beauty advisors, so the humanness of a retail environment, with the online, which was very sort of cold and two-dimensional. And now, all of the sudden, the technology is about empowering people to do their jobs better rather than replacing them or being more efficient, necessarily.

Nadim Sadek [00:20:37]: You know, I was asked the other day if there was a kind of metaphor for what we do, and I combine artificial intelligence in brand management to artificial illumination in – let’s call it voyaging in locomotion. So if you imagine, you know, we used to make our way kind of okay with a lantern, and you knew that the place was four miles away and you kind of had to go in this direction and turn when you got to that river or whatever, or crossed a bridge. But you were always slightly anxious about what was lurking in the shadows and you didn’t perhaps make the most efficient journey to where you were going, your destination. And then you get artificial illumination. And what that does is free you of anxiety. It removes the uncertainty from your journey. And it allows greater space in your mind. We’ve all only got limited resources in our heads to start doing the things that it does best, start imaging what you might do when you get there, or think about the brilliant things that you can see along the way, or how that makes you cross-fertilize to another idea. And I think artificial intelligence as illumination in marketing is very much the same. We’re kind of like Waze, reduces a bit, but you kind of say I’m here, I want my brand to be there, what’s the most efficient place? What’s the most efficient route to get there? And by the way, alert me to faults and dangers along the way. And that’s kind of what we do. It’s almost as simple as artificial illumination combined with Waze.

Kelly Kovack [00:22:05]: I think that’s such a brilliant description because you know, I think AI seems – it’s scary, right, sometimes when you think of putting kind of this technology that is a bit of a mystery to some people and putting it in the middle of a process that has evolved over decades and decades. I read a blog post that you wrote about how your platform and the technology allows people – let me back up a little bit. So brand managers, sort of the good ones get there through decades of doing what they do, right? And this, it does, in some ways, provide kind of the challenger brands a way to be – actually have more fuel to challenge incumbents, right, because they can leverage these learnings that take decades to sort of get under your belt, so to speak. I hope you understand what I’m saying, it wasn’t the most eloquent explanation.

Nadim Sadek [00:23:04]: I really do – no, I really do. Well, I do use a slightly different version of it, but I do understand what you’re saying. I describe it as an Iron Man’s suit for wherever you are.

Kelly Kovack [00:23:12]: That’s a much better description than what I just rambled about.

Nadim Sadek [00:23:16]: Well, I needed you to build it.

Kelly Kovack [00:23:21]: But what do you think – there has always been, I guess since the beginning of time, the idea of incumbents and challenger brands. I think challenger brands, with the onset of social media and technology, can punch way above their weight class than they ever were able to before. But for incumbent brands, what do they need to be thinking about in terms of brand management to stay competitive?

Nadim Sadek [00:23:47]: Well, I think it’s interesting. I can’t remember which military corporation it is, it’s an American one that has the skunk works and it’s an official thing. I think it’s really interesting that almost always big corporations eventually appoint a group of people internally as the skunk works and they kind of look at them as the delinquents, but at least they’re in a padded room and can’t do too much damage.

Kelly Kovack [00:24:10]: It’s their delinquents.

Nadim Sadek [00:24:12]: Yeah, exactly. And so they kind of send them off hoping really to be the radical uprising that they see coming through the long grass where the challenge is. So I think it’s healthy to not be in a state of constant revolution, but to be kind of managing the super tanker, the slow moving, hard-to-turn, massively full of momentum brand that you have. And gosh, that takes a lot of effort to get to too, so let’s not diminish the efforts that that takes to achieve. At the same time, it’s saying maybe since the last time we passed this part of the world in our super tanker, things have changed. I mean, the rocks wouldn’t have moved, but maybe there’s new boats in the way or maybe there’s an opportunity to see something different along the way. And so I think, in general, big brands, established brands, brands with long histories, do need their own skunk works to stay healthy. But how they do that varies. I mean, some of them just buy the newest brand that’s cool and then they kind of merge the DNA and they kind of co-brand for a while and then it goes into the mothership once more and the other one is kind of killed off. Others embrace it more fully and migrate to what the newer brand, the more vigorous brand, has innovated with. But in any case, I think innovation, which is sometimes at a product level, sometimes at a communication level, sometimes at an insight level. You know, there are so many ways to innovate. Whatever innovation you manage to achieve, you need to be hungry for it, or else the world will pass you by.

Kelly Kovack [00:25:41]: You know, I think one of the interesting things that I think has happened I guess in the past two years is there was – in the beauty industry, we didn’t have unicorns, but we kind of adopted this unicorn valuation arms race in the beauty industry and it sort of dismissed heritage brands and there were all these conversations about heritage brands were out of step. If you had a heritage brand, it was like having an albatross around your neck. I personally love heritage brands because I guess having done this long enough, I understand what it took them to get to that status of heritage brands. Managing them, you know, takes a really certain kind of person. But we’ve sort of seen a flip to that where we’re now seeing brands that are 20, 25 years becoming sort of the hottest targets from a M&A perspective. Paula’s Choice, 25 years old, Unilever acquired it for north of $2 billion. Not the sexiest brand, but when you dig behind the hood, wow, a smart group of people, the original D-to-C brand. So I find it kind of fascinating. Have you seen – because you’ve been building this platform for about seven years. Have you seen any trends or evolutions that are significant happening in terms of the kind of brands that are getting traction or that are being successful? And does it have to be with sort of how they’re thinking about running their brands?

Nadim Sadek [00:27:16]: I think there is a movement. I’m not sure it’s exclusive to beauty brands, I think it’s a more general one, and I’ll describe the sorts of things that I think are happening there. We have a particular field of vision, if you’d like, within our own platform. We have brands from all sorts of categories, hundreds and hundreds of brands. I think in beauty, if I kind of interpret that slightly loosely, we include Harry’s, Rock Face, A.G. Hair, Theragon, if that counts.

Kelly Kovack [00:27:45]: No, totally, wellness and beauty have merged.

Nadim Sadek [00:27:47]: Yeah, yeah. Seventh Heaven and Quip, which is a kind of innovative toothbrush as well. We’re seeing some of the world through their eyes, I guess, just to be transparent about it. But I think the brands that are succeeding pretty much always now are those that really focus on empathy, and that is a true understanding of what people need. And then the thing that’s kind of newer, and it’s weird that it’s new, is relatability, it’s connection. So you conduct yourself in a way that I can relate to and attach myself to and advocate for. I mean, there are 16 drivers that we analyze, but I think it’s interesting that empathy and connection are two of the most important ones now. And I think around beauty, where you’ve got also clean beauty and other trends which emerge, there needs to be a deep degree of trust that this is not just more packaging and more representation of the same old stuff. And it’s a difficult thing for the beauty industry really, because you need to promote efficacy as well as kind of non-torture of the world as people view it, it’s a difficult place to be. But those two things I think are really important.

Kelly Kovack [00:28:59]: You know what I find so interesting about that are they’re the two things that you actually can’t go out and buy, right? So people have been talking about community and it’s one of those boxes you have to check off in your branding statement, in your investor deck. You can buy the appearances of a community. I think one of the things that COVID definitely did was kind of reinforce the power of community because the brands that had the empathy and had the connection, it’s their community that helped them through the past year because they were loyal and engaged. I find it interesting that those – because I feel the same way, I think those are the things that can’t be manufactured and that’s kind of the art of the brand building and management.

Nadim Sadek [00:29:48]: Yeah. We have a game that we play, it might have happened with you when my team met yours, I don’t know, but we call it the Uber game. Did you play it?

Kelly Kovack [00:29:56]: We didn’t.

Nadim Sadek [00:29:57]: Okay. So there’s 16 drivers, I’m not going to pretend to do it with you now, it’s quite visual so it wouldn’t work anyway. But what we do, because of the way we kind of understand the way people relate to brands, being a system one, implicit one, subconscious one, we have to ask really simple questions that people say yes or no to. We actually time them: how quickly did they say yes? How quickly did they say no? And hesitation and urgency both mean different things in both directions. So it’s a really cool way of getting things. When we do it with Uber, anywhere in the world, we get the same profile. So our 16 drivers fall into two main sets: one is called seduction and the other is called persuasion. Seduction is what draws you to a brand and persuasion is what keeps you with a brand. And then within both seduction and persuasion, there are rational elements and emotional elements. So if you take people through the Uber game and you ask them things like: is it intuitive? Does it understand your needs? Is it consistent? Is it easy to use? And all this stuff, it’s like green lights the whole way through. And then you come to the questions which are: does it behave with integrity? It’s always a no. Does it deal with you with transparency? It’s always a no. Do you relate to the way in which it conducts itself? No, I don’t. So there’s always three red lights on Uber, and sorry to kind of out Uber here, but it’s such an example we use and we use in the public domain all the time, and I know that they’re working on it and they’re aware of all of these things and all corporations have got critical things in their brands they need to attend to. The beautiful thing is that you see really quickly that the “problem” that Uber needs to deal with is that people don’t like the way it conducts itself, and that’s at an emotional level, not a rational one. So on nearly all rational components, Uber kills it. In terms of the seduction to the brand, what it offers you, Uber kills it; there are no faults. It’s purely once you get to know the company, you start hearing things – and this is now getting a bit historical, but all that gray stuff, about it didn’t show you when people were outside buildings because it didn’t want you to know they were there, and the kind of fighting with the taxi unions and the sexual harassment at work and all this stuff Uber was really hit with for a while has persisted and has tarnished its brand. But the system shows that up immediately and if you’re the brand manager looking at ProQuo for Uber, you see precisely where you need to go and attend to things. And it’s really interesting, I feel, that it’s very often in the persuasion, the long-term relationship with the brand, and in the emotional aspects of that, not necessarily the rational ones. That’s where brands have the greatest heat on them nowadays.

Kelly Kovack [00:32:31]: You know, I’m curious when brands sort of onboard the platform, I have to imagine brands, like people, have an image of who they are and what people think of them. Do most brands kind of go through this process of wow, we’re not what we think we are and we’re focusing on all the wrong things?

Nadim Sadek [00:32:52]: Absolutely, yeah. There’s a brand in the U.K. which again we use publically which is why I can reference it, which is called Fever Tree which is kind of a new alternative to Schweppes’s and other kinds of tonics you might use in your gin. And they, for the last few years, have sponsored the tournament that happens just before Wimbledon. And if you look at it crudely, it looks like it’s great. The brand rises on lots of scores and so it’s pretty cool. If you then disaggregate that population a little bit and look at the younger people – and that’s where Fever Tree really needs to succeed to be a brand with a durable future, you see that they hate it. They hate the screen club sponsorship. Why? Because it associates Fever Tree with the very thing that they’re choosing Fever Tree not to be, which is kind of the old world of Schweppe’s, sitting there in your whites chatting away in a rather high society fashion over your gin and tonic about the tennis game going on. It’s precisely what people don’t want from their new wave tonic for their gins. So you sometimes when you show this to the brand managers, they go, oh my god, we’ve been spending so much on this for the last three or four years and it’s been driving us precisely in the wrong direction. That happens consistently. The epiphany is sometimes painful and sometimes fun.

Kelly Kovack [00:34:06]: Yeah, no, I can imagine. I think that we’re entering such an interesting time. I think the past, you know, 18 months have made, I think, businesses and people reevaluate what they do and why they do it. And I think for most brands, or the ones that kind of got in the weeds to get through sort of this confluence of crises that we were all dealing with, you know, kind of came out the other side almost renewed and kind of thinking about innovation in a different way. And I think that the technology that we’re seeing, kind of like what you’re building, is happening in the backend of brands. It’s happening in supply chain. It’s happening in how products are produced. And yes, it’s happening sort of in the e-com world as well, but I sort of feel like this technology is so much more profound from sort of a business fundamentals standpoint. I’m sort of curious – and this is a total softball question, so I’m going to apologize in advance for it. I guess what do you see for the future of brands? Or maybe I’ll reframe that, sort of what excites you? Because just from the conversation we’ve had, clearly you love brands, you love sort of the psychology and the making them tick. So I’m sure you have a view of what’s to come and I’m curious what it is.

Nadim Sadek [00:35:36]: I’m kind of going to go with what comes through to my mind pretty quickly, and it’s sort of a hippy-esque thing. It comes from – the reason we’re called ProQuo, by the way, is because of the phrase “quid pro quo.” Sometimes, particularly in the States, that has taken on a slightly tarnished thing, particularly over the last few years. But the idea is we stay in relationships so long as what we get out of them is equal to or greater than what we put into them. It was actually propended by a Californian sociologist in the ‘50s and ‘60s who was trying to explain marriage and divorce. If you feel like you’re getting more out of the relationship than you’re putting in, you’re happy, and if consistently, over time, you feel like you’re getting short-changed in your deal, in your relationship, you tend to leave it. So that theory of social exchange is part of our DNA and that’s the way we see brands working. So it’s the positive exchange that you have with brands as a person that keeps them powerful. So fundamental to the whole ProQuo thesis, if you like, and the way that we operate is that we believe that at a time of competitive convergence in the world, where in virtually every category – I came to New York the other day from the UK and I could have come on British Airways, American Airlines, or Virgin. Now, I pause slightly there because you will have no doubt picked, in your mind, which one you would have taken. We can’t help ourselves. So a brand, they all come on triple sevens; they all take seven hours and forty-five minutes; they all give you the same lousy food for the same price; and we all end up in the same bits of tarmac. So why is it that you’ve got a really strong opinion about which of those brands you would have flown with? And it’s to do with relationships. It’s to do with what they create over and above their functional delivery to you. So, to come back to your question, I guess the thing – and that’s why I call it a bit hippy-esque, I just like to make all these relationships better. There are plenty of brands for plenty of people. The one that wants to fly American Airlines hates Virgin; the one that flies Virgin doesn’t want stuffy, old British airlines, and so it goes on. There’s plenty of room for us all to line up with our partners in life. And I think letting brands be themselves and letting consumers have better choices with healthier relationships that have truly positive exchanges backwards and forwards is where I’d like to get things. I’d like to help all the brands that we work with succeed and I don’t think that we’re some sort of secret weapon for the minority in the category. Each brand has its own configuration, it has its own resources, its own goals, and ultimately, its own consumers who will have an affectionate, loyal relationship with it if they’re lucky, and we are there to kind of broker those relationships.

Kelly Kovack [00:38:13]: Yeah, you know, I have to say also, you know, I was really excited, we kind of threw this together on the fly. We’ve had a couple conversations with your team, and every conversation becomes this sort of brainstorming conversation. You have the most creative team that really thinks on their feet. We’re going to land the plane and actually do something together. I think we all love the conversations and now I totally see sort of how your team functions the way it does because it clearly comes from sort of the tone you set. 

Nadim Sadek [00:38:47]: Well, that’s really kind of you, and I think undeserved. I couldn’t be more thrilled that you have loved the team because I think that’s what it’s all about. And we as a business, we’re about 100 people as I think I said earlier, have decided to be a business that owns the company together. So everybody in the business is invested in it and is a shareholder in it and long may that last as we expand. But I think it does give a real sense of belief in what we do.

Kelly Kovack [00:39:16]: Your team most certainly believes in what you’re doing, I will attest to that. And I’m so happy to sort of have discovered what you’re doing and met your team and I’m really grateful for the time you spent sort of chatting and look forward to sort of digging in deeper actually, because I think what you’re doing is really fascinating.

Nadim Sadek [00:39:36]: Well, thank you, and in the spirit of quid pro quo, I’m really grateful for you taking this interest. BeautyMatter has a great platform of its own and it’s a serious publication and a serious channel. I’ve read quite lovely stuff and you’ve shown it in the interview today. I get shown a lot of stuff and a lot of what you’ve asked has not been asked before, so it’s been thoughtful and fun, thank you.

Kelly Kovack [00:40:00]: Thank you. You know, it was also – it was kind of surprising to me because I very often, when we have conversations with these big kind of technology ideas, the founders are much younger. It’s very nice to kind of have a conversation with someone about technology that has sort of the same context, if you will, because I think it adds a different dimension.

Nadim Sadek [00:40:22]: Well, thanks for telling everybody that I’m ancient.

Kelly Kovack [00:40:26]: Well no, we’re ancient together I guess, Nadim, because we’re roughly the same age. But do you know what I mean? I think there is – if we’re being honest, ageism does exist, and I think there’s this idea, the idea of move fast and break things is this young technology way of approaching solutions, where I think it’s like yeah, don’t move so much so fast. You don’t have to beak everything. And you know, really looking at technology as more of a tool rather than a solution to go faster, I think is sort of what I’ve enjoyed so much about our conversation. So, sorry for – people can’t see us, but I guess I outed both of us.

Nadim Sadek [00:41:09]: It’s fine, it’s fine.

Kelly Kovack [00:41:12]: I guess all they have to do is Google and do the math to figure it out for themselves.

Nadim Sadek [00:41:17]: And then ignore our pictures as well.

Kelly Kovack [00:41:21]: Exactly, exactly. Anyway, Nadim, thank you so much. Hopefully this is just the first of many conversations.

Nadim Sadek [00:41:28]: I hope so. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you, and thank you for having me along.

Kelly Kovack [00:41:37]: For Nadim, it’s a matter of certainty. After building a brand comes managing a brand. Companies and brands of different sizes grapple with different issues, but challenger brands are getting bigger, faster. We’ve entered a new era of brand management where the art of brand management is being transformed into a science. Nadim and his ProQuo AI team are on a mission to help brand owners grow and succeed, arming them with better understanding of how people interact with their brands, grounded in a 16 driver framework powered by AI. They can run through the millions of combinations marketers face every day and returned one action which is guaranteed to drive growth. So in the end, it’s a matter of certainty, and that’s what matters. I’m Kelly Kovac, see you next time.

Nadim Sadek [00:42:38]: Hi, I’m Nadim, and for me, it’s a matter of certainty, and that’s positive outcomes from your marketing investments.

Kelly Kovack [00:42:46]: It’s A Matter Of is a production of BeautyMatter LLC. You can find more content and insights on www.BeautyMatter.com and follow us on social media @BeautyMatterOfficial.

[END OF RECORDED AUDIO]



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