An interview with Emannuel Probst (Video Podcast)

Arek Dvornechuck
10 min readMay 29, 2023

You can also watch this interview on my Youtube Channel

*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.


Arek Dvornechuck: What’s up branding experts? — Arek here at Ebaqdesign and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And my guest today is Emmanuel Probst. And Emmanuel is the brand lead at Ipsos, which is a global market research company. So Emmanuel supports numerous Fortune 500 companies by providing them with marketing and branding insights. So he’s also a professor at the University of California. And the author of Wall Street Journal and USA Today. And he also authored this new book, “ Assemblage”, which I have right here. So on today’s podcast we are gonna talk about this book. Thanks for joining us Emmanuel.

Emmanuel Probst: Thank you so much for having me.

Arek Dvornechuck: First of all maybe we should start by explaining to our audience what does it mean because Assemblage is a metaphor, right? So can you please explain to our audience what do you mean by assemblage? What does this metaphor mean? And, what different types of attributes can we assemble?

Emmanuel Probst: Assemblage, as you said so is the name of the book, Assemblage: The Art and Science of Brand Transformation, and is a metaphor that’s inspired from winemaking and making cognac and brandy and whiskey and bourbon, and here’s what I mean. When you make a whiskey, bourbon or wine, you, the winemaker, assemble- so picks and chooses from different aging processes, different bowls, and creates a product from up to 100, 150 different brandies if you will. And that was what the metaphor is about. The metaphor is to say, we can build brands just like we create a nice cognac or a nice bourbon by assembling the most relevant attributes and the ones that are going to make the brand unique and differentiate the brand, and also are going to help establish the brand in the long run just like you do with a great bourbon.

Arek Dvornechuck: So it’s a great metaphor. So basically we just, uh, you know, as they create a cognac or bourbon, they blend different ingredients. There are many different things that go into that. The same with us, brand strategists or strategic designers or brand builders. We also blend different ingredients. We take some cultural associations. We implement this into our brand. And that’s how we build brands, right? So your book is divided into three sections, right? Transform Me, Transform My World, and Transform Their World, right? So maybe we can discuss each of those and just give our listeners some summary or some overview of what to expect from the book. So In the first part of your book, you talk about heroes, villains, saviors, and anti-heroes, which I think is very interesting. So can you explain on that maybe, giving us some examples of famous brands that you mentioned in the book.

Emmanuel Probst: So the concept for the book is to say, Brands can no longer just sell products. Brands must also transform us and the world we live in. And the as you suggested, is divided in three sections, It’s transform me the individual, transform my world local community if you will, and transform the world we live in. So that is the world at large. And the chapter you referred to is about archetypes and in branding and in advertising, we often use archetypes. A very famous archetype is one of the hero right. Now, the limitation with the hero. So he will think of Batman or Superman or those superheroes. They are inspirational. However, they are not necessarily relatable simply because most people, or should I say, no one can fly from one building to another. And in this chapter, you’re talking about, we zoom in on the anti-heroes, the villains, and the saviors. And an anti-hero is someone who can do something that is heroic. However, it is also someone who has flaws and is trying to improve. And so think of Don Draper or Tony Soprano. Those folks are anti-heroes if you will. And the point is to say that, Antiheroes are more relatable because just like us, they want to accomplish great things. However, they have flaws that they are trying to improve upon. And this chapter also looks at villains and saviors that in their own right are also relatable because they’re not perfect. And they’re sympathetic in their own ways. When you watch a good movie, you often side with the villain. And saviors, examples of modern-day saviors will include Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk because they promised to save the world by taking us to an another planet and maybe by addressing global warming.

So the point of this chapter is to say that those archetypes are underutilized in advertising, in marketing, yet often more powerful than the very traditional archetype of the hero and as described in the title, and when we spoke about this metaphor, it’s all a matter of assembling archetypes that make sense for your brand and transforming people. That it takes me from who am I, who I am to, who I want to become.

Arek Dvornechuck:Right. Okay. So it’s all about transformation, right? And you talk about transformation a lot. So transforming my world as a consumer, as a user of the brand. And then transforming me first then second, transforming my world. And then third section is transforming the world in general, right? You were talking about using archetypes. So these are more general archetypes, right? Heroes, villains, saviors and antiheroes. And you mentioned that antiheroes are underutilized in modern branding we often see heroes. We may see villains and so on, but you argue that we should pay more attention to, for example, savior archetype or antihero archetype. And a great example of that will be Elon Musk with his efforts of, addressing the global warming, saving our planet with his company’s Tesla and so on. That’s a great example. And so now let’s talk about how brands can transform my world, right? Because in the book you talk a lot about the perception and you’re saying quote that “ perception is ultimately what matters for branding”. And I think this is quite interesting and you mentioned that no one can really differentiate products like vodka or beer or bleach or things like that, or even water just by the product itself. It’s all about branding. It’s all about creating that perception. So can you elaborate on that?

Emmanuel Probst: There are few products that can truly be differentiated if you were to strip the logo of the bottle or what have you. So that guy is a concrete example. The same reasoning applies to lager or light beer or many functional products. Think of bleach, think of toothpaste, and so on and so forth. The point being that when we do a blind test, and in this blind test, you would have brands like Absolut Vodka versus Grey Goose versus Belvedere versus Tito’s. Well, an overwhelming majority of people will not be able to differentiate those products. Not to mention that the taste of the product is going to be altered by the ice cube, the temperature of the glass And then if you add mixers, literally nobody can recognize the product. So the point is to say that as a consumer, you choose Grey Goose over Tito’s or Absolut as an example for what it stands for and for how it makes you feel. And that’s the points of this chapter that is called Perception is the Truth is to say we construct our own truths based on our perception of the world and based on our perception of a product and based on the information we are exposed to and in a way based on what we want the truth to be. And in marketing, it’s so important to remember and consider that what matters is how people perceive the brand, not so much what the product really is. And that’s our work and that’s the art of building brands, is to create those perceptions for a given product. And obviously “ Assemblage”, this book shows you how to do

Arek Dvornechuck: That makes sense. And also some of my key takeaways here for our listeners. Some of my key takeaways are that consumers are sick of modern marketing and advertising because we spend so much money on marketing and convincing people to buy our products or services. But you argue that in order to succeed, brands must transform. So this is what you are talking in the book about transform us, transform the world and the world we live in, right? It is more about transformation, about the journey. And also a, key thing for our listeners to keep in mind is that you need to position the customer as the hero, not yourself, right? So the brand is there to help the hero succeed, but your customer is the hero. So it’s all about that transformation and guiding them on that journey. You also talk about the new era of brand relevance. Can you explain on that a little bit? I think that’s quite interesting. Yeah.

Emmanuel Probst: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the fourth section of the book and we look at how can brands help transform the world we live in. Another arching concept of this book is brands can do the right thing and marketers can do the right thing. That’s to say brands can make a positive contribution to the world we live in. And this chapter, you’re referring to the new era of brand relevance. It’s to say well, when choosing a product, we do not think of brands and categories in isolation. So we make our choice in light of the occasion and the particular need that we associate with the occasion. So let me explain. We’ll just go back to our vodka example. Oh, and by the way, maybe we should inform our listeners that we encourage them to drink responsibly well, we don’t mean to ask our listener to to drink more vodka here. When choosing alcohol, for example, you don’t think in terms as a consumer, you don’t think in terms of a competitive set, okay? That is how marketers think of their product. Marketers think of Grey Goose versus Belvedere versus Tito’s, and maybe in beer marketers think of Bud Light versus Coors light Miller light. When people go to the store, they shop towards an occasion, and this occasion can be, “ I’m going to host a barbecue in my backyard”. This occasion can be, “I’m going to orchestrate a romantic dinner for my significant other”. It can be, “ I’m going to invite my in-laws to come over to my place for dinner”. It can be,” I’m going to watch football with my college buddies”, and all those different occasions are going to prompt different choices. And when preparing for hosting that event, a shopper is not going to think “ I’m really wondering what vodka I should pick in this competitive set”. The shopper is going to think well, I’m going to need some solo cups and I’m going to need some beer and I’m going to need some vodka. And depending on the nature of the occasion as a consumer, you will trade up or down meaning for a milestone event like a wedding or a bachelor party or what have you, maybe you’re going to buy some champagne versus for a backyard barbecue party, you’re going to buy some lager. So once you understand the occasions people shop towards, that’s how you’re going to position your product and that’s how you’re going to make your brand more relevant because you are going to set up your brand in the context of this occasion, people are shopping towards.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you for explaining that. Just for our listeners, we can increase our brand relevance, not by just comparing our brand, whether it is about products, as you mentioned, vodka or even services, right? So just keep in mind that look, from the customer perspective, it’s not always about comparing one option to another, one, vodka to another. Sometimes it’s just about, hey I have this occasion now in my life. So positioning your brand to that special occasion. And we can see that in marketing sometimes when we see commercials of beers and vodka and so on. Some brands do that well. It’s a smart move to position our brand around target audience and what they do and position our brand in their lives so that when this occasion comes to light, they can choose our brand because they made those associations, right? So that’s awesome.


So, Again, as we are approaching the end of our episode, I’m gonna link to your book in the description below so you guys can check it out. There’s a whole bunch of examples and a lot more information about that and about your perspective on marketing. And your website is, right?

Emmanuel Probst: Yeah, the best way for people to find me is. by the way very thank you Arek, again for having me on the show today. The best way for people to find me is find me on LinkedIn. My name is Emmanuel Probst and you can access my profile and many of my publications. You can also check out, which as you said, Ipsos is one of the largest and definitely the greatest market research agency in the world. And the book Assemblage: “The Art and Science of Brand Transformation” is available on Amazon of course, and also other retailers like Barnes and Noble and it’s available in many different format, hardcover electronic format and an audio versions as well.

Arek Dvornechuck: So if you guys don’t like to read books, you can listen to the audiobook as well, which is awesome. And by the way, I just wanted to mention that there is a summary. After basically each section of the book. That helps as well to summarize our thoughts and key takeaways.

So that’s great. We are gonna link to your LinkedIn, you’re active on LinkedIn, so that’s how you can connect with Emmanuel. So again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate that.

Emmanuel Probst: Thank you so much Arek, and thank you to our listeners.