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Strategy meets Empathy. Meet Fiona Barnett – the new Director of Strategy at Brand Genetics

For some people, “home” means the same house, in the same town since the day they were born, but not Fiona.  For her, “home” means everything from Borneo to rural Scotland.  As a result of these diverse childhood experiences, Fiona was immersed in a wide range of different communities as she was growing up.  This sparked a fascination with what brings us together, what sets us apart and those deep human truths that cut across geographies, times and cultures.

During these travels, she was inspired and captivated by TV advertising and how these 30-second films became a shortcut into culture, products and the lifestyles that people aspired to.

“They were extremely handy when you needed a quick master class in what was cool and what was not,” she explains. 

These were clearly important life lessons.  In Asia, Fi learned that condensed milk was best eaten poured onto a slice of bread, and in Australia when you eat a meat pie you put the ketchup in the hole in the middle!  These and other local idiosyncrasies sparked a lifelong fascination for brands, connections and storytelling.

Fast forward to the present, and Fi now has almost two decades of experience in creative brand strategy and consultancy behind her, including an impressive eight years at AMV BBDO where she progressed from research assistant to board account planner.  She is a highly experienced qualitative researcher with a love of lateral thinking.  Fiona’s passion lies in applying this lateral thinking creatively to tackle thorny strategic problems and innovation challenges.

“Collide insight with brands and smart creative thinking and you get into really exciting territory. There is nothing quite like that triumphant mental click as insight and opportunity align!”

It’s a proposition that has paid dividends and Fi has worked on a rich portfolio of brands including Sainsbury’s, Rimmel, Mars, Unilever and PepsiCo, guiding them through the ever-changing world of marketing.

“Brand experience is no longer advertising and a box on a shelf – it is a fully transparent, values-driven full-on immersive experience.  This is second nature to new or start-up brands, but an exciting and challenging opportunity for established global brands.  People want solutions from brands that share their values and demonstrate characteristics they share or admire.”

So, what is it about marketing in 2019 that keeps her excited and engaged?

“The new focus on proactive and transparent values and behaviours – human to human interaction.  Brands need to know what they stand for, being super clear and open about their strengths and weaknesses.  It means ditching traditional personas and ‘core consumer’ speak – marketing has become personal.  We interact with people, not consumers.  It is now about interpersonal relationships, not transactional manipulation.  It is time to start really focusing on the values and character strengths a brand and a person have in common.”

She now joins Brand Genetics as a Director of Strategy and she’s pretty excited about it.

“I already knew Tom [Ellis] and Cliff [Fawcett] and I had always admired the unique combination of ‘smart and heart’ that Brand Genetics bring to their work.  Smart thinking and happy people is both what Brand Genetics does, and how it does it.  The positive human-centred philosophy is completely in line with my passions and perspective. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

And she’s already made a big impact in a short time, having successfully run projects for Panasonic and Durex.  But Fi’s ambitions go beyond simply delivering client delight.

“I want to further our human-centred approach through both on- and off-line insight, and deepen our strategic input into our clients’ business.  Brand Genetics wants to continue bringing the latest positive psychology into its tools and techniques.  Ultimately, I want to help our clients to grow their business by bringing positive happiness and fulfilment to the people their brands serve.”

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