Coffee with Y&R's strategist, Maria Iankova
D: So tell us a little about your professional background…
M: I've been working in the field of marketing, marcom and research for more than seven years already. My career began as a consultant in the area of economic and social development promotion in Bulgaria. Then I moved to North Carolina, USA to complete my MBA and worked on market research and brand management projects for clients from various industries such as Sara Lee Branded Apparel, biotech companies in Research Triangle Park and others.
Formally, I became an account planner in 2004, when I came to the UAE. Initially – at Zaman, a boutique brand consultancy in Dubai , and then – at Young & Rubicam, Abu Dhabi.
Looking back, I believe I've been quite lucky so far because I had the opportunity to work on superb assignments: re-branding of large family holding companies, launches of newly-established corporate brands, product launches… I also got involved in various aspects of planning: from getting consumer insights and brand strategy development to ad testing, developing IMC programs and creative briefing.
That's pretty much about it.
D: How would you describe a snapshot of the UAEs planning scene?
M: In my opinion, planning is still in a state of flux, searching for its own identity and its own place in UAE agencies. There's a lack of unanimity (and clarity)as far as the role and the unique value added of planning are concerned. Thus, the shape that planning assumes in the various agencies depends very much on the philosophy of agency management and the personal strengths of planners.
On the other hand, it's indisputable that large UAE clients do expect deep understanding of their customers' mindset, good knowledge of market trends, and carefully crafted messages that reflect their brand's mantra and vision. Their requirements highlight the value of strategic planning and encourage agencies to strengthen their planning capabilities.
As a person who believes in research, I also can't help observing that the account planning approach in the UAE has become more "scientific". Perception audits, database research, copy testing, campaign evaluations, theoretical frameworks etc. - they are no longer just tools requested by global players, but are being more and more often used for local brands. Which I believe is a great sign that the UAE market is maturing and planners have many more opportunities to base their work on a solid foundation.
D: What in your opinion is the world's greatest proposition?
M: Well, that's an ambitious question :)
I'll tell you one of my favorite ones: Apple's promise of technology for "the crazy ones", so brilliantly articulated through its "Think different" statement.
Stemming from a clear understanding of human needs & motivations. Capturing the essence of the brand. Desirable. Distinctive. Breaking all conventions. Deliverable. Providing an inspiration. Crossing cultures. Relevant over time… It provides all preconditions for building a great brand.
D: Actually one of my favorites as well!
But Maria, today, do you think some people are starting to grow cynical of such communication by realizing the duplicity it represents? 'Creative tools for creative people' telling people to think different when the actuality of the matter is, every tom dick and Harry has an Ipod and every graphic designer an Ibook...Apple today stands for the antithesis of thinking different…it stands for conformity. Do you think such a platform is as powerful today as it was during the anarchistic 1984 campaign?
M: Driven by the desire to capture a larger market share and to demonstrate higher growth to shareholders, companies often face the danger of diluting their brand's equity and making people cynical about their brand claims. But, in my opinion, Apple hasn't reached that point yet and its proposition is still relevant.
Yes, it's true that some of its products like the iBook and the iPod are being adopted by more mainstream users. But, that's what happens when you move down the product lifecycle path. They are facing a challenge and need to think harder on a product level.
I disagree, however, that the corporate brand of Apple stands for conformity. In my opinion, it still keeps its promise and continues to offer innovative, stylish, user-friendly technology for people who expect something beyond the norm. Today, for example, the iPhone is redefining the world of the traditional phone customer and its market entry was almost as powerful as that of the iBook decades ago.
D: Very valid point. What do you think is the most interesting piece of content occupying any medium right now? (movie, print ad, TVC, Youtube, song, game, anything you want)
M: Well, probably Seth Godin's "Idea Virus". I particularly like the thought that ideas spread whether you want them to or not, so you might as well take control.
For me it's also intriguing that it became one of the best selling hard cover books, even though it can be downloaded for free.
D: Damn it's goanna take me a while to read up!!! Thanks for sharing.
So if you were conducting this interview what would you have asked yourself?
M: was hoping you would skip that question :)
Probably I would ask: Which is rule of thumb/ philosophy/ generic insight/ principle that guides you in your work as a planner?
Personally, I try not to forget two things:
1. People don't say what they do and don't do what they say. So, be careful with the insights. :)
2. "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence rests in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." (Sun Tsu) – There's a very nice article by Simon Silvester, which explains how this is relevant to planning. (LINK HERE)
D: Maria, really glad we managed to chat, thanks so much for taking time out for us :) Good luck at Y&R.
note: The opinions expressed in this conversation are those of the respondent and may not always reflect those of Y&R.