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The Power of Brands and Communication

#talkingwith Luis Freitas / Joker

In this latest interview, we caught up with Luis Freitas, founding partner of Joker, who brought us valuable insights into brand building and the essence of effective communication. This interview not only highlights Joker’s innovative approach to the marketing world, but also gives us a deep insight into how brands can create an impactful and lasting identity, challenging traditional conventions. Join us for this enlightening conversation that goes beyond the surface, exploring the critical importance of branding and communication in consumer behavior and emerging trends in the construction sector.

How was Joker born, and how do you differentiate yourselves?

Joker was born out of a passion for brands and a desire for small companies to start building brands, creating a model that would enable these companies with fewer resources to have a varied and complementary range of services at their fingertips.

We started out as a marketing consultancy aimed at SMEs, but today we also work with larger brands and projects, including multinationals. Combining the way of thinking and acting characteristic of a consultancy with the creativity of an agency, we ended up finding a demanding but very challenging positioning: we are “problem-solvers” at the service of brands. We sometimes joke that “when it’s easy, it’s not for us”. Brands come to us looking for a different answer to a problem they’ve already tried to solve in various ways.

We have experience in several sectors because we shouldn’t work with two clients in the same sector at the same time. We don’t just work on the tip of the communication iceberg, we have access to sensitive information that often has a direct influence on the business. So we end up working with different industries, from food to construction, clients with national or international projects, etc. Different brands with different requirements. But it’s up to us to always think of the brand as a brand, adjusting to the specifics of each sector.

How does Joker manage to add value, despite such a wide range of sectors?

It’s precisely because we think about the brand, rather than communication. Firstly because of the method, but also because this focus is more transversal to all industries.

Portugal has a hard time creating great brands. We have an enormous talent for communication and very advanced design, but we fail to build long-term strategic pillars. A Portuguese supermarket is beautiful compared to a supermarket in another country – the products generally have incredible design and great communication – so why don’t we have great international brands? In my opinion, it’s because we put all our faith in short-term needs, a cultural issue linked to “making do” and the need to see immediate results. We are a stubborn company that challenges our clients to break this habit.

How important are brands and communication?

I can say that the brand is everything (or almost everything). We live in a world of brands, and people make decisions because of the brand, even if they’re not aware of it or don’t think they’re influenced by it. How many people do we know who say they don’t pay any attention to advertisements? People who say that “brands don’t mean anything to me”, and when we look inside their fridge, we always find the latest products for needs or tastes they never thought they could have.

Human beings are not rational, as Prof. António Damásio demonstrated decades ago in “O Erro de Descartes”. In this book, the Portuguese neuroscientist shows that we are an emotional being and that decision making on a strictly rational basis is almost impossible. But we still choose to believe that we are a rational being. I believe it was Yuval Noah Harari who said that we are a rationalizing being – and herein lies the danger for us as people, but the opportunity for those who work in branding. Hence my fascination with the world of brands.

Brands help us make decisions. Generally speaking, people think they’re making a rational decision, but deep down they’re just rationalizing a decision made by emotion, then looking for 2 or 3 features that will justify the decision. Emotion will make a decision, and reason will justify it.

This happens even when we talk about price from the middle class upwards – and there are many industries where you don’t communicate so well and don’t work on branding, because you think price is the most important thing, and in fact that’s not the case. We love to say “I bought the cheapest” much more out of emotion, out of a sense of accomplishment and pride than out of our wallets. We’re capable of spending five hours looking for the cheapest energy supplier and then happily going out to eat in a more expensive restaurant because we’ve had a tiring day. And those 5 hours were spent saving 50 euros a year, partially spent in 2 hours to compensate for the effort. Every day we drink a more expensive beer or water, a cake we don’t need or go to a more expensive restaurant than the one next door.

The price is only partially relevant when we already have our basic needs covered, when we actually have money to eat and clothes to wear. Beyond that point, price ends up being more of an emotional decision. There is a type of product where I feel good about making a decision on price, because I do, and there is another where I make it for other factors.

The brand also builds these factors (safety, reliability, …), doesn’t it?

Exactly. And goes to the market and tries to understand, for each type of consumer, which are the key factors in their purchasing decisions. Is price more important? Then we’ll communicate price, work on communication so that the consumer feels better and feels that they’ve made the right decision on price. In another industry, we change completely and make them feel more comfortable, make them feel better or make them feel involved.

All of this is brand work, and these decisions have to be made, not in the finance department, but in the marketing department – within the boundaries set by the finance department, of course.

A brand is about building an identity, and communication is…

Communication is the voice of brands. It’s not enough to be, we have to show that we are, and communication is a tool to show what the brand has decided for itself, what the brand wants to communicate with its consumers. Then you have to make the best decisions to get from point A to point B in the most effective way, getting your message across as clearly and effectively as possible.

In the construction market, typically only large companies have a brand and active communication: why are there still so many companies without communication?

Obviously, a small company typically has fewer resources and finds it difficult to hire a service that gives them the assurance that they are communicating well and that they will get results. Without resources, some people decide to do what they can and get on with it, not caring whether they’re doing it right or wrong, but other companies choose not to talk because they think it’s better to keep quiet if they’re going to screw up. The lack of resources inhibits some communication and this is justifiable.

However, there are many “small” construction companies that have the financial capacity and don’t do it because of a lack of training – they really believe that there’s no point in communicating. In the construction market, most SMEs believe that word of mouth from clients is sufficient and magnanimous, and that no one will make a decision because they’ve seen a communication from you. This couldn’t be further from the truth. On the one hand, in no industry is anyone going to make a decision because they’ve seen a communication. A brand is built up over years, it’s a race to the bottom. These companies often try two or three times and if it doesn’t work, they put the brakes on and give up. Brand building is an ongoing job, to build emotions in the minds of potential customers and then eventually reap results. On the other hand, these companies forget that when a customer comes along and says “Manuel recommended me”, that person hasn’t just had one recommendation, that person has had 3, 4, 5 recommendations, and after receiving these recommendations they have had to make a decision, often based on the brand they have built and the quality with which they communicate, probably on an emotional basis. The reason for choosing that recommendation over others is ignored.

In construction, the result is even more long-term than in other markets, making it harder for someone with less training in the area to believe that it’s worth it.

What specific communication challenges do construction companies face and how can they overcome them?

The main difficulty is a lack of coolness. Construction is dirty, heavy work, and it’s very difficult to communicate something that isn’t aesthetic and is very technical at the same time. What’s more, construction companies provide a service where the visual output of the work is very dependent on the choices made by the client. When someone goes to evaluate a job at the end, they will fall in love (or not) with Beelt’s work, because the decoration was incredible, or because the architect did an exceptional job… Whether you like it or not, it’s difficult to evaluate the quality of a wall’s construction through any kind of communication… Assuming that three contracting options know how to do a wall well, the emotional part will fall on the one who was lucky enough to have the best project.

The solution is to give a voice to the person who actually dealt with the process. It’s the client, the person who handled it, the person who solved problems, the person who understood the value of the service, who can give voice to what sets the company apart: the budget, the timings, the experience, etc. Communication that focuses on positive feedback from all customers will be fundamental.

Have there been any developments in communication in the construction sector in recent years? What have they been?

Social networks and the evolution of video have done a lot for the sector, because we can now show the process. For example, creating a timelapse movie of the construction of a building is a beautiful thing to see and one that was out of reach 10 years ago. Suddenly, the focus is more easily on the process. On television or in the newspaper you can’t show the process. On social media there is space and time to show the process. So a world of possibilities has opened up to show what was difficult in the past. And fortunately, the big companies are using it. And as they’re using it, sooner or later the medium-sized companies will follow and, one day, the small ones will follow the medium-sized ones and this will probably mean that in 10 years’ time, the market will be completely transformed and good brands will start to appear within the smaller companies.

What communication strategies do you think are best to meet the unique needs of this sector?

As much as any brand has to have an emotional side, as we were talking about earlier, we have to assume that this is a market where choice is always very rationalized, and there’s a lot of time consumed in making it as rational as possible. Therefore, communication must also have a great deal of weight on this rational side. Looking at medium-sized companies like Beelt, which have to show knowledge and know-how, you have to take rational factors and then add emotion. You have to do that slightly more traditional job of giving a talk, of attending an industry conference to speak and give your opinion. Even on social media, it’s very important to have the opinion of management expressed, to show know-how and vision. And this can make a difference and help us separate the wheat from the chaff, between the average companies and those that are continually looking for innovation, looking to stay ahead of the market, the best technologies, the best processes, the best procedures. We have to take advantage of all the existing channels to show exactly that. Are we ahead and doing more and better, or are we the same as everyone else?

It’s time-consuming and demanding work. But it’s also much easier to do the wall the way it’s always been done.

Sustainability and social responsibility: is it mandatory to communicate? Does it come from the companies or is it imposed just to communicate?

Totally obligatory. We’re back to the subject of emotion. We may be part of a fringe that doesn’t make the decision directly because of this factor, but we feel better if we choose a sustainable solution because there is pressure to avoid the road to the abyss.

Whether it comes from companies or is imposed is a more complicated issue. Fortunately, companies know they have to impose it on themselves, but companies are made up of people and I have no doubt that more and more people are doing it organically and consciously.

What trends do you anticipate for communication in the construction sector?

The big trend in the sector is the continuous evolution of process communication. We now have channels and tools to show more of the process, while at the same time the market is becoming increasingly transparent. More transparency and reality are demanded every day. And people want to see and find out how things happen, what’s behind what’s visible, it’s a general trend in the world. So between people wanting to see what’s behind the end result, us needing to show the process that led to the end result and having the technology and the channels to do so, all the vectors are pushing in the same direction and we’re going to have to find ways to show it with more interest – because this is a problem that hasn’t been solved, the lack of interest in this work. The big trend is to find the best way to show the public this process.

What role can communication play in the level of service provided? And in the perception of the company?

If the trend is to be more transparent and to communicate the process at all times, companies have to be better, there’s no hiding it.

Twenty years ago, you only wore a helmet on a construction site if you thought someone was coming to check on you. If today we’re constantly capturing content and showing processes, everyone has to have their helmet on at all times, because there’s a camera pointed at them. This is something we experience in our personal lives, we know that cameras are on us all the time, and we have to be better people. From the moment you have a timelapse showing what’s happening on that site, your helmet must be on at all times, your safety ensured and the rubble properly dealt with. At all times you are being scrutinized by someone who is capturing content for communication.

What is Beelt doing right?

What Beelt is doing best is its dedication to finding answers to these issues.

Beelt knows where it wants to go but, as you might expect, it has more questions than answers. Beelt is looking for how to find new forms of communication to build a construction brand in an SME, but it has a big challenge because it looks back and can’t find the answers, it can’t look at what A, B, C did well and do the same to make the leap from small to big, because there is no similar. I would say that everything has yet to be discovered, but Beelt’s commitment to seeking this out and doing better every day, and to knowing how important communication is for the company’s future growth, is the greatest compliment that can be given to Beelt. It’s this commitment to innovating, to finding out where the market is going and wanting to be the first to take that step.

What characteristics of Beelt do you think are important to our success?

As young as Beelt is, it’s built on a brand that knows what it wants, that knows where it’s going, and that has defined some factors that it never forgets and that it works on stubbornly every day. Being so close, I know that they apply to both being and appearing, that they have to do with excellence and that they have to do with meeting deadlines and budgets. Beelt decided from day zero that these three factors are what it wants to differentiate itself with in the market and it strives to communicate them every day. Beelt knows who it is and what it wants to say, so it has the most important part sorted out. It can then explain it better or worse, deliver this message slower or faster, with more or fewer resources. But you know perfectly well where you want to go in terms of the brand and how you want to be perceived in the consumer’s mind. Most companies, not just in this industry, have no idea where the consumer’s sweet spot is. Beelt, knowing this and yet striving to communicate it in a sustainable way, has everything it needs to grow rapidly.


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