Interview with Manfredi Ricca

Interbrand’s Global Chief Strategy Officer

The strongest and most influential brands are those that, in a way, are collaboration platforms

We live in an age of increasing global challenges where the business world has to rise to the occasion, as much is in their hands. Through brands, companies have the power to influence the choices we make as individuals and citizens, impacting global affairs and the world at large – more so, in fact, than ever before in history.

This is the view of Manfredi Ricca, Global Strategy Director of Interbrand, one of the world’s leading brand consultancies. With over two decades of experience, he works with the creation, management, and assessment of renowned international companies in a wide variety of sectors. In this exclusive interview, Manfredi explains how brands can realize their potential to drive transformation in their own fields and beyond.

The interview was conducted by our partner Michelle Machado. The main parts of the interview are highlighted below.

Interbrand’s Global Chief Strategy Officer


Michelle Machado: In an article you wrote titled ‘Brands as Acts of Leadership’, you talk about certain brands being seen as part of the solution to the world’s problems. How can you go beyond being a relevant, high-performance brand to one that is truly transformative?

Manfredi Ricca: We live in an age of rising global challenges and declining trust in, and influence of, institutions. This means that businesses must step up, because much is in their hands. Through brands, specifically, businesses have the power to influence the choices we make as individuals and citizens, impacting global affairs and the world at large. More so, in fact, than ever before in history. That power is both an opportunity and a responsibility.

This means that creating shareholder value is no longer the reason businesses exist, but a means to achieve a broader and higher purpose – because, today, that’s what gives brands and businesses the legitimacy to operate. Making money is no longer an acceptable reason to be, in light of the many long-term issues and existential threats that this paradigm has created.

We’ve therefore moved from an age of brands embodying a ‘what’ for shareholders – “here’s what I do, finance my growth” – to an age of brands embodying a ‘why’ for a broader set of constituents – “here’s my purpose, finance my battle”.

Michelle Machado: How can a brand recognize its potential to drive transformation?

Manfredi Ricca: As the shape of society changes, the role of brands in this decade will not be to ‘change the world’ – but, rather, to empower others to do so. In other words, to give their constituents the agency, means, connections and conviction to do so.

The strongest and most influential brands are those that, in a way, are collaboration platforms – helping creators, consumers and communities collaborate and adhere to shared principles.

The brands that are seen as being part of the solution rather than the problem are activists that happen to sell certain products and services. They create movements, so to say. Awarding them revenue isn’t for consumers a moral dilemma, but on the contrary, a way of funding a movement they want to be part of.

Michelle Machado: Phrases such as ‘humanizing the relationship’ or being ‘a brand of the people for the people’ have become a kind of mantra in many companies. These clichés are often repeated without leading to any practical results. What, in your mind, makes a brand truly human?

Manfredi Ricca: As always at times of seismic shifts, there are the true early adopters but many unconvinced posturers. Writing a purpose statement can be complex but isn’t very hard. The hard bit is actually putting it into practice and accepting the consequences of doing so.

So how do you walk the talk? I believe there are four practical steps.

•  Break out of the purpose vs profit debate. Start seeing your profit as a resource that your constituents will want to contribute to.

•  Reverse engineer your thinking around purpose. Pick your ‘enemy’. What is the wrong you exist to right? This will enable you to be extremely sharp about your principles and red lines.

•  Next, create accountability. Having a clear purpose is necessary but isn’t sufficient. Translate your purpose into a more proximate goal – a clear ambition, meaning a set of goals you commit to achieve within a certain timeframe – and make it the organisation’s obsession to achieve them.

•  Finally, make moves, not campaigns. Don’t spend time and effort on saying, but on doing. If the doing is genuinely good, the people will do the saying for you.

Michelle Machado: What do you think brands will need to gain strength and stand out over the next 30 years?

Manfredi Ricca: 30 years is a long time! But what we can say with some degree of certainty, based on our data analysis of the world’s most valuable global brands, is that there is a clear and proven chain at work. Great leadership internally is essential to build brands that create strong engagement externally; which, in turn, is indispensable for building relevance, and subsequently, business results. In short: if you want your brand to be relevant and play a role in people’s lives, start from building exceptional leadership internally.

Michelle Machado: At Mattos Filho, we operate in a conservative industry that has not changed much over the last few decades. There is a tendency to think these original ideas we have mentioned apply more to other industries than to our own business model. Would you mind sharing your views on these points?

Manfredi Ricca: The scale and pace of the challenges and change we’re witnessing will leave no industry untouched. The question for Mattos Filho is not whether there is going to be change, but what kind of change there is going to be, how fast, and what to do about it. My observations, specifically, would be the following:
Would you ever have thought ten years ago that we would be seriously looking at autonomous cars, virtual assistants and even a technology – blockchain – that is likely to make money as we know it a thing of the past? Possibly not, so it feels dangerous to rule out the possibility that change will indeed come to your industry. Unless, of course, you can find a reason why your industry should be the only one that is immune to this change.

Don’t expect the kind of talent you are looking for to simply compare you to the other law firm down the road. They will put you up against some of the businesses they admire most as consumers and citizens, and will expect you to uphold the same standards, opportunities and innovation as very different types of businesses – from big tech, to health, all the way to other types of services.

So even if your industry might be resistant to change, it will be forced to change if it wants to continue to attract world-changing talent. I don’t think you will get a choice as to whether to change, but simply as to whether to lead or follow the change.