The Future of branding and companies

Is aspirational marketing dead? Can your business foster innovation - or does it crush it? Have you got stuck between two business models? NEXT14 explores the new normal for business

WARNING: Liveblogging – prone to error and inaccuracy. Will be updated/improved over the next 48 hours.

Kay Schwabedal, E-Plus Mobilfunk

What happens when a bus hits a company in the middle of the road? That’s what had happened to E-Plus. They’d under-invested in the future. They’d taken a linear extension of what works now and extended that into the future. That underestimated the network. We’re moving from owned cars to mobility, from owned expertise to crowd-sourced knowledge.

Why has the idea of brand gone so wrong? Historic brand management tried to lure you into a world where you saw a better you. It was aspirational. Brand management meant working on product features and brand assets.

Now, a customer goes to Amazon and sees himself, not an aspiration of himself. Brands become adaptive and self-actualising.

So, E-Plus looked at use cases to become relevant. They launched a portal – Curved. It’s a content portal that transforms the use case into a mobile handset contract. Relevance becomes use case becomes contract. The site has been analytically designed into relevance.

How will the world evolve in the future – what happens to our organisation? A lot of companies are getting stuck between these two ways of thinking. They try to do both. Can that work? Or does one need to be the winner to give clarity?

Panel Discussion



  • Ulrich Hegge, comdirect bank
  • Thomas Spreitzer, T-Systems International
  • Kay Schwabedal, E-Plus Mobilfunk

Moderated by: Anita Zielina, Gruner + Jahr

Kay Schwabedal: Business will move from managing quarters to disrupting businesses. A lot of non-strategic jobs will disappear. What you can’t do in the business will be done by the network – so design to partner.

Thomas Spreitzer: Use the opportunities of digital change to get closer to the customers. Lead that change, don’t outsource it to a chief digital officer. A lot of things have changed in the last five years. Think about social media. Think about Nike Fuel.

Ulrich Hegge: Businesses have always changed. What’s different? The speed of change. You have to be agile and aggressive as a leader in a startup environment. And big business needs to act like a startup, but corporations can’t do that. What we need to discuss is better ways of making the transition to better reflect market needs.


TS: You can’t give up responsibility to a different board member to lead change. But you can partner with outside companies to help change. They bring new ideas and energy. We generate new units outside the corporate, and incubate them as part of the corporate.

UH: Putting a startup in a corporate environment typically kills it. My recommendation is slightly different. Take the thing that is most strategically important, and if you think you can do it better, set it up with P&L and money, and let them do it without interfering – or as little as possible.

TS: Buying a startup doesn’t work – I agree. But that’s not what we did. We had people within the company with new ideas and new platforms, and we gave them freedom.

KS: Do you have a disruptive system or a technological innovation? If you have a disruptive system, the governance of the existing business will most likely kill it. Does corporate have the ability to act like a VC? Can it sustain long, extended negative cash flows?


UH: People who work in startups tend to be a completely different breed to those in corporates. How do you make those people happy in corporates?

KS: Why is it so important? Corporates die! It’s a Darwinistic model.

TS: Where are the spots of difference where you can survive? There are still some things big companies can do that small companies can’t. Not every big company will die.

KS: How many people do German telcos have working on SMS? How many does WhatsApp employ? Do the people working on SMS have the right to survive in those jobs?

UH: Biggest challenge? Regulatory frameworks – they stop good ideas coming to fruition. That’s very specific to some industries.

KS: Are we being fast and aggressive enough? Are we selling mobility or cars? Can the organisation follow the speed if you change the answer?

TS: Can you give people enough freedom to explore their ideas. Normally that freedom is crushed by corporate systems. You no longer have the time to work in classical linear systems.