Brand Strategy Is About Knowing Yourself

Interview with Ruth Balbach, Vice President of Global Creative Design and Development Live Action at NBCUniversal


NBCUniversal is a behemoth of the entertainment industry. Its Universal Studios division is the oldest surviving film studio in the US and one of the ‘Big Six’ Hollywood studies. NBC meanwhile, its television division, is one of the US’s ‘Big Three’ networks and home to many of TV’s top-rated properties, including ‘Sunday Night Football,’ America’s Got Talent, and ‘This Is Us.’ According to Nielsen's live program/same-day time-shifted ratings, NBC finished the 2016-17 TV sessions with a 2.1 score, claiming the first place in the much-coveted 18-49 demographic. This was achieved in no small part than because

NBCUniversal is operating in an increasingly competitive space, with a crowded market forcing them to use every tool at their disposal. For example, when it came time to promote ‘This Is Us,’ the show’s launch was backed by a marketing push known as Symphony. Symphony works on the principle that various divisions across NBCUniversal collaborate to promote one project. Such innovations helped drive adjusted operating cash flow, the profitability metric the company uses, up from $1.62 billion in Q1 2016 to $2.02 billion this year. The film unit's growth is particularly impressive, with titles such as Fifty Shades Darker and Get Out pushing revenue up nearly 121%, outperforming that of all other units.

One of the most important tools that NBCUniversal has at its disposal is its brand. It is dripping in history, yet in the fast moving entertainment industry, it has kept up with the tastes of new demographics while still retaining its position as a trusted source of news and entertainment. Ruth Balbach is Vice President of Creative at Universal Brand Development. She leads the creative and teams that build brands and franchises and is responsible for the crazy creative ideas that drive the live action franchise business for product and experiences. We sat down with her ahead of her presentation at the upcoming Brand Strategy Innovation Summit in September.

How did you get started in your career?

After graduating with a general liberal arts education, I went back to design school. Prior to that point I did not know there were creative careers. One of my teachers hired me for my first job in design, and the course was set. At first I focused on the craft, and gradually moved into strategy and leadership. I love solving other people’s problems.

What do you believe are the main components of a successful brand strategy?

  • Know yourself – have a clear sense of who you are and your purpose for being
  • Know your customer – what are their problems, what do they care about, and why should they care about you?
  • Know what makes you special – and remind everyone. A lot.
  • Know what you want to say – be consistent and clear with your communication, and be simple.
  • If you can’t say it concisely, they certainly won’t get it.

How do you maintain a strong identity in a crowded digital space with a wide range of channels?

Again, it’s about knowing yourself, your customer, and your unique purpose for being. And then it’s about how you express it. This is where great creative comes in. Remember that:

  • You won’t be all things to all people so don’t even try
  • Stay true to what you want to say.
  • Have fun saying it.
  • Do beautiful, smart, interesting things that no one has seen before, or seen the way you are doing it.
  • Don’t be afraid - take smart risks.
  • Don’t try too hard.

Do you think it is ever sensible for brands to get involved with politics?

If it’s part of your brand DNA, then yes absolutely. Now more than ever we all need to get involved. It’s back to what you stand for as a a company, with your people, and walking the talk. Maybe that’s how we got in this mess – not enough people and companies getting involved.

How do you measure the success of a brand strategy?

When you’ve established an emotional connection with your customer, then that’s success.

You can hear more from Ruth, along with leading figures from other iconic brands including Google, Mattel, and Fender, at the Brand Strategy Innovation Summit. View the full agenda here.

BONUS CONTENT: Carina Ertl, VP of Global Marketing at Swarovski, discusses why it’s so important to align brand values to your corporate values 



Image courtesy of Supannee_Hickman/


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