Insider Interviews: CMO Kim Wijkstrom – Branding Starts with a Story not Silver Bullets

On this edition of Insider Interviews: Joakim (Kim) Wijkstrom, SVP / CMO of Vanda Pharmaceuticals, has learned from Apple to “Think Different” and has made sure One Main Financial does “Lending Done Human.” He has sent little, teeny Absolut bottle-shaped Christmas sweaters to readers of the New York Times, and leveraged Andy Warhol-style pop art to promote schizophrenia drugs. A Swede who grew up in West Africa, Kim also opened the Latin America markets for two TBWA\Chiat\Day clients.

If that sounds like the start of a good story, then that’s the point. Because for this marketer it always starts with the story, not the silver bullets.

Kim has developed a “cultural curiosity” from both moving around and a liberal arts degree, which has been a big asset in his marketing career: “I think advertising lends itself naturally to someone who is interested in how we shape and creatively express our worldview, how we understand the things around us, how perceptions are shaped. So, I think it made sense for me to land there. But as it turns out, I’m half a humanist, half of something more analytical. Perhaps I was never going to be the next Leonardo…[but] you figure out the way to take whatever you’re equipped with and put it to use where it is best applied.”

This attitude is also encompassed in his top performing article in The Continuum, about “brand and demand” marketing. There, and in my recent Insider Interviews podcast conversation (listen anywhere, such as Apple or Spotify…or even below) Kim sticks with the story that brand always must start with the story! The delivery tactics — what he has called the silver bullets – are secondary.

Kim Wijkstrom Insta

So, how did Kim finesse his own “brand story” – or POV about storytelling? Well, that starts with a guy named Steve Jobs.

“I was really lucky I got the opportunity to work on Apple when it came back to TBWA\Chiat\Day… and that was the launch of the now-iconic Apple campaign “Think Different.” I was a junior person then, so I’m not claiming any credit for the campaign…but what was amazing was encountering Steve Jobs and seeing the process by which that campaign came about. That was a ton of learnings about what actually really matters. He couldn’t give a crap about ROI or metrics, frankly. The simple answer there was, ‘you can see what works. Here’s my point of view, and this is a strong point of view. And if people react to it, that’s what matters’. And Apple sells a lot of product. So, it’s not like the brand doesn’t work in selling or performance.

You can think of any Microsoft advertising through the ages. And it’s hard to see how it made anyone care anyway, which way or another.”

But when you’re talking to a storyteller you cover a lot of ground. We also discuss:

  • How movies are an analogy for Kim’s point of view about storytelling first
  • Why our obsession with tech and IoT won’t drive brand loyalty (“You can now have your car tell you that you’re low on milk because your smart refrigerator is coupled with your car, and so forth. But are you going to buy the refrigerator based on that? Do you think it’s a quality refrigerator?”)
  • Why too much emphasis focus on “bells and whistles” — demand or performance-driven marketing — “offends” him (“Because fundamentally, all marketing is for performance purposes… to grow your market share or grab people’s attention. You need to start with what is it you’re trying to say and why would it be compelling to people, as opposed to just being the method by which you can deliver the message.”)
  • Why even DTC companies’ product is often the story… such as Warby Parker’s design
  • How our obsession with metrics and attribution is not wrong but often misses the point entirely, focused on the ROI, as opposed to just “can you see if it’s working?” (“If people are talking about your TV spot or care about it or have a positive reaction to it somehow then that’s probably more important than any sort of little blip of metrics.”)
  • And, just as he learned from hovering around Steve Jobs, Kim offers advice for junior marketers.

When you DO add in those tactics for delivering the brand story, Kim’s still a believer in direct marketing of different forms, whether it be digital or mail.

“… [But] to me, the point of a brand in the mix is it’s going to amplify your ability to get pull through on those tactical pieces. Because if people receive something in the mail, whether email or online, it’s really easy, of course, to dismiss it and throw it out. If you have a brand, it’s not as easy. They may actually open it. So, it basically primes demand. That’s what a brand does.”

But wait, as they say, there’s MORE!…

Kim made a move from marketing menswear (Perry Ellis) to financial services (One Main Financial) to pharma. But for any of those verticals the same story (even for a drug) can be extended into different spaces, like digital to video without having to be prescriptive! (And, yes, we discuss the challenge of pharmaceutical advertising and FDA constrictions. But check out their innovative approach to Fanapt for insider insights to how it can still be impactful.)

Want to know the three-point “a-ha” takeaways Kim got from Steve Jobs? You can hear about in the podcast. And if his learnings from Apple aren’t enough to entice you, wait until you hear what he says about how to market an odorless, tasteless product: vodka. Or, how an MRI machine proves out his belief that brand is what drives ROI.

And that, my friends, is how you do a cliffhanger.

E.B. RossE.B. is a strategist, podcaster, and writer who creates content and “explanatory journalism” that drives revenue and humanizes brands. She also profiles executives through her podcast, “Insider Interviews with E.B. Moss” and guest hosts/produces Advancing Diversity podcast for MediaVillage where she was formerly Head of Content Strategy. She ran ad sales marketing at Food Network, Lifetime and Westwood One and now helms marketing consultancy, Moss Appeal. To inquire about help with a B2B podcast please email [email protected]

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