Grapefuit: We have always wanted to be at the forefront of branding

Branding, Profiler

Grapefruit is one of the most appreciated and awarded Romanian branding companies. It started its activity 12 years ago and worked its way up, always working in benefit of its clients, offering them the best solutions for their problems.

Last couple of years, Grapefruit made some changes, recruiting new specialists in its ranks and convincing Ana-Maria Bogdan to change the front, leaving client’s side to assume the position of Managing Director within the agency.

Despite of its comprehensive portfolio of national and international clients and of the numerous awards received over the years, Grapefruit remains an agency that values good work and common-sense, with a team down-to-earth, approachable and client focused.

Because outsiders can only speculate about how agency is or what it does based on outside information, AdHugger talked to Ana-Maria Bogdan and Stefan Liute that offered the inside info and feeling of  Grapefruit.

Some Questions & the Answers:

Stefan Liute - Co-Founder and Strategy Director, Grapefruit

1. The 1st time I heard about Grapefruit, defining words were “that innovative agency from Iasi”. Nowadays, Grapefruit expanded and is one of the most respected Romanian branding agencies. Can you tell me if the development the agency saw over the years was a matter of strategy or it came more than everything as a result of the work well done?

Stefan Liute: We believe it all happened because of the way we think. We have always wanted to be at the forefront of branding, where new technologies and new lines of thought are joining the mainstream, and set new directions for this field. Twelve years ago, it was all about the then-brand new digital realm. Now the novelties and innovations have changed, but we still focus on them. That is how we stay relevant to our customers and captivating to our own people.

2. You received a lot of international awards over the time and never bragged about them. How do you feel about these awards? What is the opinion of your clients about the awards? Is it a criteria when they come and ask for your services?

Stefan Liute: Actually, we did brag a little. Regardless of what people feel when they chase or get them, awards are publicity generators and everyone is dispensing and using them as such. Now, it is important to be level-headed and take them for what they are and never let them get in the way of focus, good work and common-sense.

We have garnered many awards but we also have made a point out of remaining approachable, down-to-earth and client focused. Arrogance and award-chasing are not our dish—there’s plenty of this behaviour elsewhere.

 3. How many clients do you have now in your portfolio? How did your portfolio evolved during the economic crisis period? 

Ana-Maria Bogdan: We have about two dozen active clients right now. Our agency portfolio lists close to two hundred clients, from four continents. We cover various industries, from financial services (OTP Bank, ING Bank), to healthcare (Labormed, Alevia, Gedeon Richter), tourism (Aerotravel), and many others.

We also see a very interesting and challenging effect of the economic crisis. Some of our entrepreneurial clients decided to hand their entire marketing budgets over to us. They know us, they trust us, and they are confident in our capabilities to manage their resources in a more efficient way, due to the diversified knowledge of our senior staff. Many local businesses realized that, in the current economic conditions, hiring a sizeable force of senior marketers is a less enticing perspective.

 4. How did Grapefruit felt the economical crisis?

Stefan Liute: As an opportunity to learn and adapt. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but we have managed. Crises are opportunities for businesses to change their value chains or to develop new ones, and when that happens, the work of an agency like Grapefruit is often needed. We don’t only do ‘makeovers’—our work goes much deeper than that, as it (re)builds the interfaces (physical or digital) that connect brands and their stakeholders. Our commercial offering has developed in the last few years and more and more prospects have acknowledged the value of new services that go beyond classic brand strategy formulation or brand identity design.

5. What are your plans for 2012? (business-wise, HR-wise, client-wise etc)

Ana-Maria Bogdan: We expand our non-digital offering with things that have an immediate, operational value to our clients—mostly experience design and service design elements. In terms of brand perception, the way a customer request is handled at a specific moment in the purchase process often matters more than the logo. That doesn’t mean we neglect our standard services—you’ll see several outstanding design and communication solutions coming out of Grapefruit this year.

But we also focus on our digital product portfolio. In the last years we’ve gained significant knowledge in the banking sector by working with Banca Transilvania, ING Bank and OTP Bank. We’ve identified some untapped opportunities, so we are now developing and plan to launch a digital banking product.

We also believe there’s a lot of potential in e-commerce. There, we offer not only an enterprise-level e-commerce solution, but value-added services, from structuring a client-side digital department to training, creation or adjustment of internal procedures to support e-commerce operations, and even outsourcing e-commerce operations as a whole.

With this focus on building a digital product portfolio, we’ll also continue to strengthen our team. We plan to bring experienced people on board, with a product-oriented perspective and an entrepreneurial approach. That’s the major priority for 2012.

6. How much of Grapefruit business is represented by foreign clients? Can you mention few countries you have clients from and also couple of those clients? How do the foreign clients reach to you?

Stefan Liute: Currently, we have two active clients overseas, one in Western Europe and one in Latin America. For the Western Europe client we do an employer branding campaign, while for the Latin America one we’re currently developing a third brand in the field of FMCG. These clients reach us through references. For the Latin America client we have worked a decade ago and the client decided to come back to us when the branding need reappeared.

7. What was your turnover last year? How do you predict agency’s financials will evolve this year?

Ana-Maria Bogdan: The 2011 turnover has resumed growth and jumped by 12.5% compared to 2010, surpassing EUR 658,000.

We are confident in the development strategy we have for this year, so we expect better figures in 2012.

8. How does Grapefruit win a client? 

Stefan Liute: By demonstrating both good understanding of their and their clients’ needs and the capability to effectively address them. That, of course, requires research and face to face contact with the client and its customers. We don’t win on price—our fees are never the lowest available, and we are part of a small minority of Romanian agencies that does not do speculative work. In other words, we do not work for free, because we value both our time and our clients’.

Ana-Maria Bogdan: Last year we had a few cases where our new clients told us that the diversified profile and experience of our senior staff made a difference when deciding to work with us. We believe it gives them the confidence that, regardless of the challenge, we have what it takes to address it.

 9. What is your opinion on Romanian branding market? How do you think this segment evolved during the crisis period?

Stefan Liute: I think this particular field is a pretty good mirror for the overall status of our economy and for the business acumen of our entrepreneurs and managers. There is less money to be spent on anything, of course, but the need to find and sustain differentiation has, if anything, increased in the last four years. Branding clients know this, most of them, and their appetite for branding services has not diminished. It is only the level of understanding that varies. Some believe that hastily being offered logo or packaging proposals (even before they understand their own business needs) is the proper way to do branding in these times. Others go deeper and think about product design, service design, and experience design before asking themselves if their logo needs a refresh.

10. What are, in your opinion, the main trends/evolutions that will influence Romanian branding market in the future?

Stefan Liute: We will pretty much continue to ape the evolution of Western European markets. With a slight delay, of course. So there will still be lots of digital potential to tap into. Also, market/consumer research and ROI measurement will provide significant potential for development. Branding projects will be more closely assessed by clients. Such projects will easily span across multiple fields, from the traditional ones (eg. communication and design) to more exotic or technical ones, such as industrial design and supply chain management.

 11. In your opinion, where is the Romanian branding market in CEE and Europe?

Stefan Liute: Stefan Liute: There’s still much work to be done—in my opinion, we still do not excel and I’m not talking international award competition, but street-level reality. We’ve always been behind countries with richer design traditions in our area, such as Poland and the Czech Republic. Serbia and the other former Yugoslavs have done a better job after the fall of Communism, but I was shocked to realize that even Bulgarian supermarket shelves and high-street storefronts look better than our own. We do not have a critical mass of at least decent (if not outright good) design and communication apparent in our everyday lives—not yet.

 12. How does Grapefruit position on Romanian branding market? How about the European market?

Stefan Liute: We’re the agency that regards the brand as interface™. Basically, we regard everything brand-related to be an interface with the brand’s audience. Literally everything, from a call center operator to a mobile website or application, and from internal communication to product packaging. We believe this is the right way to look at things at a time when economic value is often derived from the whole experience with a brand, and not only from an individual product or service.

 13. How do you choose the members of Grapefruit team? What are the must have qualities for a Grapefruiter?

Ana-Maria Bogdan: We are very team-focused. Each of us is part of something bigger, so we need to share some key traits. We have to be really good at what we do, and passionate about it. That will make us stand out individually and as an agency. And we need to never be fully satisfied with our current achievements—to always yearn for more, to be perfectionists. And entrepreneurial. We are a small, tightly-knit organization, so everyone coming on board really matters and influences everyone else.

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