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Modern-Day Drapers

Move over, Mad Men. In 2013, brand experts are the new kings

You might think of a brand strategist like a bigger picture Don Draper—more ideas, fewer catchy slogans, far less hair gel. Wider range. In a 28-story, I.M. Pei–designed building on the corner of Park and 59th, brand-strategy-and-design firm Lippincott has dozens of them, all hard at work plotting how you’ll soon be thinking about the sort of big-brand names you typically take for granted. Since 1943, the firm has been helping Betty Crocker, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Samsung and dozens more of the world’s most powerful companies define and redefine themselves in the eyes and hearts of consumers.

“Often what we’re doing is what we call ‘revitalizing a brand,'” says CEO Rick Wise. “We’re helping them refresh it, restage it.” This means digging deeper than the traditional modes of advertising: methods like updating Starbucks’ look for its 40th anniversary. Or positioning eBay as more user-friendly experience by introducing a simpler, cleaner logo. Samsung’s new Galaxy smartphone? They named it.

Wise says the branding industry attracts driven, left-brain/right-brain people: architects, industrial designers, writers, business consultants and people with psychology backgrounds. Energetic twentysomethings fresh from college and graduate programs make up nearly 40 percent of Lippincott. “We’re somewhat restless and demanding of ourselves,” says Wise. “We run hard, we work hard. Most of us got into branding because we like the notion of taking strategic thinking and applying it to a tangible outcome,” such as helping Walmart redesign its stores and logo around its slogan. Currently the company is working with clients in Asia, where projects include the launch of Estée Lauder’s brick-and-mortar stores. As Wise says, “We love the notion of helping a client with a big transformation.” What’s bigger than changing the world, one consumer at a time?