Emmanuel Probst is Global Lead: Brand Thought-Leadership at Ipsos. He is also adjunct faculty at UCLA, where he teaches a course that provides “a comprehensive and practical approach to conducting relevant, useful marketing and advertising research.” In early 2023, Emmanuel published Assemblage, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a comprehensive look at the nature and practice of branding.”
There is a better way to do commerce, where brands make money by selling products that are more meaningful to people while companies make a positive contribution to the world around us.”
After I featured Assemblage in a list of “Best branding books to look for in 2023,” Emmanuel got in touch and kindly sent me a copy of the book to review. I’m happy to have Emmanuel on the blog to answer a few questions about the book, market research, and his favorite juicer, among other things. If you’re interested in Emmanuel’s book, background, or take on building brands in the 2020s—read on.
About Dr. Emmanuel Probst’s book, Assemblage
That’s an interesting title for a book about branding. What does it mean?
- Assemblage is a French word that refers to the art and science of blending different eaux-de-vies (brandies) before bottling cognac. It is the craft of the maître de chai (also known as the master blender or cellar master) to select brandies from dozens of samples and craft a unique cognac. Much like the “nose” of a perfume house, the master blender determines the best possible combination of blends of various ages and crus that will constitute the character of the cognac.
- Assemblage is a subtle combination of terroir (land), barrels, and equipment like the still. The art of assemblage combines what nature brings—the harvests—along with empirical knowledge of the craft. The master blender also relies on oenologists, scientists who leverage their skills in biology and chemistry to establish processes and bring distinctive styles to the finished product. In the final assemblage, there will be traces of the ancestral cognac, some of them 100 years old.
- Assemblage is also a metaphor for building successful brands.
What inspired you to write it?
The days of Madison Avenue agencies, exemplified by Don Draper and 3-martini lunches are over. Marketers no longer have to be the bad guys, selling alcohol and cigarettes and blasting obnoxious ads for products nobody needs. There is a better way to do commerce, where brands make money by selling products that are more meaningful to people while companies make a positive contribution to the world around us.
You’ve stated that “brands can no longer force-feed us a plethora of products we don’t need.” Have brands been doing that? Please elaborate.
Most brands are still focused mostly on moving products and worrying about themselves rather than empathically understanding and communicating with their audience. Part of this is driven by the current economic climate and its impact on consumer spending: as people worry about inflation, brands worry about revenue and engage in shrinkflation to keep investors happy in the short run. But brands that focus solely on performance marketing never succeed in the long run.
Brands that focus solely on performance marketing never succeed in the long run.”
What are your top 3 takeaways from the book?
- Brands can no longer force-feed us a plethora of products we don’t need. To succeed, brands must transform us and the world we live in.
- Brands can reassure consumers about the future by leveraging the past and the present.
- Brands can make a positive impact on people, society, and the economy.
You’ve made the case that we should strive to become “assemblers.” What’s the first step we should take in that direction (aside from buying your book, of course!)?
To succeed in the long run, brands must assemble components that support the individual (“me”), that individual’s close group (“my world”), and the society and culture they live in (“the world”).
Dr. Emmanuel Probst’s background and current role
You’re Global Head, Brand Thought Leadership at Ipsos (a market research company) and adjunct professor at UCLA. How are those two jobs connected?
The connective tissue in everything I do is to create and share knowledge on how to build better, people-first brands.
Can you give an example of how you’ve used your understanding of consumer psychology to help a client build a stronger brand (or optimize their marketing)?
I’m working with a brand right now that was really hot…in the 80’s. Their product is outstanding from a technical standpoint, but overshadowed by brands that are engrained in the current online and offline discourse. I’m helping this client transform its brand to make it culturally relevant.
Q&A Bonus Round with Dr. Emmanuel Probst
What are you reading right now?
Adam Grant’s latest book (see below), along with Don Miguel Ruiz Jr.’s The Mastery of Self.
What show are you binging right now?
“Succession.” I like Roman the best. He is arrogant, entitled, and reckless, yet smart and witty.
What’s the last movie you saw?
I don’t watch many movies. Probably James Bond.
What’s something weird on your desk right now?
My Juicy Salif juicer (see below).
What’s playing in the office (or home office) while you work? (What music? Podcasts? Nothing?)
Nothing. I can’t get distracted; I have never been good at multitasking.
What’s your favorite podcast (aside from HBAB, of course)?
Pivot, with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway.
What’s a personal routine or ritual you adhere to?
I meditate 10 minutes a day and take a 30-minute nap.
What’s a hobby you have that no one would expect?
I cook a lot. I like to make everything from scratch, including stocks, pastas, and smoked meats and fish.
What’s something you just can’t stop thinking about lately?
My next project, which combines a book on what’s essential with a photography exhibition.
What are you snacking on while you work?
Greek yogurt mixed with cucumber. I live in California, meaning Nacho Cheese Doritos, sodas, and butter popcorn are a strict no-no.
What’s an object in your home that you love?
My Alessi Juicy Salif juicer, designed by Philippe Starck. It looks like a spaceship and still feels futuristic even though Starck designed it 30 years ago. It is a $150 juicer that you can’t use to squeeze lemons, as the acidic juice could damage the coating. As such, it is a metaphor for a brand and product that succeeded in conveying 100% emotional benefit, and 0% functional value.
What’s a word or phrase you probably say too often?
Predict and optimize brand performance. 😉
What’s a brand (or something in the branding/design world) you’ve seen that you believe is making a positive impact on the world? Anything you want to encourage people to support?
Dove, through its Real Beauty project, helps give people (and women in particular) confidence in their beauty, regardless of their body shapes, skin tones, and conditions. Of course, Dove is in business to sell personal care products, but it does so with a broader purpose than just making money.
Any book recommendations (somehow relevant to branding)?
Adam Grant’s latest book Hidden Potential is not directly related to branding, but aligns nicely with Assemblage, whereby it provides a path to success to the 99% of us who weren’t born with a trust fund, did not go to the top 1% schools, and were not born as talented as Mozart.
Any advice for junior people or people interested in getting into branding?
Be curious. That is, read from a wide range of publications, listen to books and podcasts, create a network of mentors, and contact me.
If you couldn’t live in LA, where would you live?
London and New York. London, because I lived there for 6 years and I miss the city every week. And New York for its energy.
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, author of Brand Naming, and coauthor of the sixth edition of Designing Brand Identity (2024). He runs Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm, and hosts the podcast How Brands Are Built.
Frequently asked questions
Who is Dr. Emmanuel Probst?
Emmanuel Probst is Global Lead: Brand Thought-Leadership at Ipsos, adjunct faculty at UCLA, and the author of Assemblage.
What is Emmanuel Probst’s book, Assemblage, about?
Assemblage is about the fact that brands can no longer force-feed us a plethora of products we don’t need—that brands can make money by selling products that are more meaningful to people while companies make positive contributions to the world.
What does Dr. Emmanuel Probst teach at UCLA
Dr. Emmanuel Probst teaches a course that examines consumer behavior and how it can influence marketing and advertising decision-making as well as methodologies used to gather primary and secondary research data, analyze and interpret that data, and make recommendations based on research activities. The course provides a comprehensive and practical approach to conducting relevant, useful marketing and advertising research, giving students the tools they need to become successful consumer insights and brand strategists.