Jeremy Sampson. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Jeremy Sampson. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

WHAT IT MEANS: Details of disagreement still under wraps. Sampson looks forward to Africa growth challenge.

Veteran brand man Jeremy Sampson leaves Interbrand, the agency he founded 24 years ago, confirming a bitter legal dispute is behind his decision to jump ship and join rival company Brand Finance.

In a forthright interview, Sampson, considered to be the godfather of brand strategy and brand valuation in SA, told the Financial Mail he was not at liberty to go into the details of his rift with Interbrand’s top management, other than to say a 2014 agreement stipulating that he give 20% of his time as a consultant had "not materialised to my satisfaction".

His move to Brand Finance’s Africa division, chaired bybrand expert Thebe Ikalafeng, will strengthen its credentials, as Sampson is well connected and has been tasked with growing new business, both domestically and across Africa. Ikalafeng says Sampson’s unparalleled pedigree will enhance his agency’s efforts to "broaden the role of branding on the bottom line and in the boardroom".

And it’s the African growth challenge that excites Sampson the most. The continent is "vastly underbranded" and local brands are in danger of being "mopped up" if they don’t compete more aggressively.

Sampson says many SA brands fail to capitalise on Africa’s potential, often because of poor management systems, a lack of proper risk strategy, and sparse understanding of trademark law. Part of the challenge brands need to overcome is "understanding how the narrative has changed and the speed with which it is happening".

Technology, he says, has become both an equaliser and an enabler, and future-thinking brands need to know how to leverage their point of difference and distinction. "It’s a brand war out there and brands often have little idea of what they want."

Those sentiments are echoed by Yellowwood CEO David Blyth, who’s quietly been reinventing his agency in recent years to occupy what he says is a much-needed space between the business and management consultancy.

Part of the TBWA stable, Yellowwood has moved into a gap where it’s facilitating high-level conversations about brand development based on in-depth research. Like Sampson, Blyth talks about a "combat mentality" in the branding arena and the need for brands to develop deep dialogue with customers. Blyth has located Yellowwood in an area between management consultants, who he says are driven purely by the bottom line, and business consultants, who are exclusively growth driven.

He adds that successful brand agencies will be forced to move into this space as their clients have a " powerful need" for all-encompassing strategic development based on insight, but with close guidance in execution and change management. He says increasing "budget-shrink" will mean agencies have to develop an intelligent research competency and full understanding of data and analytics.

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