Opinion

Inside FutureBrand: Insights from Karen Fontana

18 June, 2020 Share socially

What is your background and how did you get into branding?

I began working in the communication field after I graduated in advertising and marketing. For six years, I worked as an art director in local advertising and integrated communication agencies then I specialised in graphic design in order to strengthen my knowledge of brand. There is deep and strategic thinking behind brands which I love and it makes sense to me now that people feel so passionately about some of them. I'm really glad I changed direction.

You've worked in strategy and design, do you think it makes you a more rounded brand expert having experience and a clear understanding of the challenges of both roles?

Absolutely, yes! Having experience of both means that I can integrate them and encourage the rest of the teams to do the same - strategists need to be thinking about brand language and communication design and designers should be contributing to the brand strategy. Today, I lead a team whose focus is brand engagement, culture, and corporate education. If you want to transform people’s view of a brand then you need to work from the inside and let innovative thinking flourish. In doing so we are ensuring the business is built to last which means we are generating real value for our clients.

What is your view of the branding landscape in Brazil at the moment?

Over the last ten years there has been a revolution. Never before have we spoken so much about brand experience, design thinking and agile methods, customer journey and human-centered approaches. The changes have arisen for several reasons - from the need for awareness of design as a process; of multinational companies’ need for tropicalisation and to adapt for the Brazilian market; and of national companies’ needs to remain competitive. All of this has generated new business opportunities, which large branding consulting companies have taken good advantage of. The market change made advertising agencies revise their business models and resulted in the emergence of tech agencies. Now, data-driven management has caused a new evolutional wave. We are often digitised, but we don’t have a digital mindset.

Your focus is now on brand engagement, culture, corporate education and transformation – what do you enjoy most about working in this area?

Transforming people's mindset and behaviour is a huge and difficult challenge. I am proud that over the course of four years, we have positively impacted over 60,000 people and partnered with more than 20 brands. Creative, disruptive delivery comes from two needs – firstly, understanding how we can improve employee effectiveness; and secondly, wanting to develop better ways of working.

At Springpoint, a brand that FutureBrand S?o Paulo operates in this area, the work is network-based and we call in highly skilled freelance professionals, creating high-performance teams per project.

We don’t see competition, we see opportunities for partnership. We are experts in creating desirable futures for companies. As a company we never rest on our laurels and the challenge of creating new brand experiences is what truly drives me.

You lead the D&I initiatives at FutureBrand S?o Paulo, why is D&I so fundamental to business success?

Investing in gender equality and diversity practices is no longer solely a HR issue but also relevant to the core of businesses and necessary to leverage new opportunities. According to Harvard Business Review, companies with above-average diversity had 19% more revenue from innovation. In Google’s Aristotle project, we saw that inclusion allows collaborators to be themselves and psychological safety makes teams more productive. Randstad has a study indicating that D&I is valued by 87% of professionals from all over the world. That is translated into attraction and talent retention. A McKinsey study revealed that companies with more cultural diversity in their executive teams are 33% more likely to have more profitability. And companies with gender equality have operation profits 56% higher than mostly-male companies. The UN itself addresses the theme in two of its 17 global SDG goals. These are strong arguments and cannot be ignored. It’s a positive change and there is no way back now.

How do you make sure as a company that you’re becoming inclusive and not resorting to tokenism?

When one understands the actual value of diversity, the fair representation of people of different genders as well as ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds becomes necessary. Admitting lack of experience and that these initiatives are being conducted for the first time is an important step, but the effectiveness depends on the help and participation of everyone. Respect, safe spaces to talk, and organised committees enable transformation through dialogues, debates, and round-tables. Sharing the results with the entire team ensures there is value beyond the result.

Why do you think so many big brands are struggling to get D&I right?

Implementing an inclusive process takes time and requires planning.

First of all, it’s important to understand what privileges are and to admit to ourselves if we benefited from them. Secondly, it’s crucial to understand the real benefits of D&I, which is beyond any employee value proposition or external communication – this would be tokenism. As I said, it’s about innovation, results, creativity, the importance of working in a safe space. Then the organisation may be ready to manage diversity properly.

Do you believe diverse teams require different leadership skills to manage?

Managing teams with different backgrounds requires attention and effort from leaders, but having diverse leaders is equally important. Women of African descent, even though they are the majority in Brazil, represent less than 13% of executive seats. Nearly 70% of LGBTQ employees have experienced homophobic comments in their work environment. It is impossible to lead coherent initiatives or support free speech without acknowledging we don’t know how to handle all situations; understand and hack our unconscious biases; create psychologically safe environments; or be open to reviewing and restructuring the workplace to be inclusive and welcoming to people with disabilities.

Many brands worry about meritocracy, but meritocracy and inclusion should not be mutually exclusive. No one rises to the top without the help of others so it is important to make sure everyone has access to the same level of support. Well managed D&I leads to better innovation, creativity, and superior results. This is not new news.

You’ve been at FutureBrand S?o Paulo for 10 years, what do you enjoy most about working here and what has made you stay?

The autonomy to explore design thinking in its many forms keeps me here. I have the privilege to work with brilliant people, and the collaborative environment couldn’t be more inspiring. It is really creative, the standard of work we deliver is excellent and we really try to promote more horizontal relationships inside the teams and among the people. We are results-driven, of course, and I believe the strength of our multidisciplinary and integrated delivery is as a result of having a diverse team with a wide range of skillsets. Good design thinking is at the heart of what we do.

What makes FutureBrand S?o Paulo stand out?

Over the years, I've come to realise that design is about more than aesthetics. And this helped me to explore its many angles: identity, strategy, services design, brand experience, instruction design. They are all interconnected and are at their most powerful when used together. That is why, here at FutureBrand S?o Paulo, we decided to combine these departments and now have multidisciplinary teams: strategy, verbal identity, and design. They work together, regardless of the job. There are, of course, core fields, such as administration, and specialist teams – digital, insights, branded content, naming, 3DX, to name but a few. We bring these professionals together, according to the nature of the project. The results couldn’t be better or more in-depth.