Alexander Klöpping: 'Take every chance to show who you are as a brand and turn a transaction into a real moment.'

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Podcast over Media (POM) is one of the first and most successful podcasts in the Netherlands. Last year hosts Alexander Klöpping (tech-enthusiast and founder of Blendle) and Ernst-Jan Pfauth (journalist and founder of The Correspondent) could no longer deny the potential of POM. Without stepping away from their charming way of doing things, it was time to seize the opportunity and professionalize.

We sat down with Alexander and asked him: why was it time to take the next step? How did they experience the process? (Hint: like a therapy session.) And what are his lessons learned about building and growing a (digital) brand?

As one of the founders of Blendle, you've gained a lot of understanding about building a brand experience that resonates with thousands of users. What is your most important lesson learned? 

As a founder I'd always find it very hard to let go and trust others with your brand. When the brand reflects who you are, what you think and what you do, you'll form strong opinions about what it should be and look like. A brand is only a brand when people feel it, have an emotional reaction to it. A lot of that feeling is what we (the founders) put in it. So there's a natural protective barrier that doesn't want other people to interfere or say something about it. This resulted in a lot of micromanaging and not being open to other people's ideas. Looking back I would do this differently and trust the process. Like we did in this case with the rebranding of POM. It's uncomfortable, you have to give in on some stuff, but it's the only way to go.

What's the key to great digital product design? 

Make it more Supermario! Always add an element of playfulness. Nowadays every piece of software looks alike; flat design and smooth animations. It's all very sterile and there are no 'human' elements. However, 10 years ago software was very playful. Think about the first Apple icons. The notepad app icon actually showed a notepad, including shadows and handwritten text. You sense the joy. My advice: take every chance to show who you are as a brand, turn a transaction into a real moment, explain what a specific action does or try to put a smile on somebody's face. You have to keep pushing to get this off the ground.

My advice: take every chance to show who you are as a brand and try to put a smile on somebody's face.

Why, after 5 years of minimal change, was it time to reposition the podcast? 

We [Alexander and Ernst-Jan] are constantly balancing between liking that everything is small, amateurish, and unprofessional and on the other hand wanting to be taken seriously, reaching a lot of people and being of considerable size and influence. It was time to stop messing around and start embracing our ambitions. The decision to change our name from Podcast over Media to POM was difficult but necessary. The new name opens up a world of possibilities. POM is an umbrella brand; it's ambiguous and gives us the freedom to work out many more ideas (and hobbies). 

We are immensely grateful (and I'm not saying this because it's a nice thing to do). We somehow didn't have the clarity of mind to put it all together, but we do now. We feel empowered. When you have the visual design it becomes real. You can talk about abstract ideas, but you just don't feel it until you see something. By setting boundaries and goals, you get more creative. We grew during the process. It's very motivating.

How did you experience the rebranding process?

Looking back it felt like a therapy session. It was very insightful and there was a lot of psychology involved. It struck me that agencies never deal with an individual client. More people are involved, and getting those people in line is a big part of the process. In our case, unspoken ideas and expectations were brought to the table. We encountered differences between our personalities and expectations that we've never thought about before. It's of great value to get an outsider asking you critical questions every now and then. You can visit the psychologist, but a visit to Verve is as effective ;). By openly discussing everything, the new visual design is a real reflection of who we are. We are thrilled with how the identity turned out.

I think a brand really succeeds if you get a strong emotional connection to it, without it being attached to a specific person. 

What does POM's moonshot look like? And how do you plan to get there?

"We want to become the clubhouse for all talented people from our generation who are active in media, technology, culture and or politics and are now missing a place to go. I envision a diverse group of people with whom we can discuss the state of the world. This can be an artist, soccer player or fringy tech specialist. I'm curious to see what happens if we bring all these people together and give them a stage. It's an extension of our core: our very vivid community. POM connects people that don't know each other but somehow find each other because they speak the same language, read the same books or share a particular curiosity. 

We'd like to make all kinds of podcasts but also grow in other directions. We see POM growing into a production and publishing house. We imagine children's books, software that helps people be more efficient, articles in newspapers, or even TV shows. To reach a bigger audience, we want to make more productions for different interest levels and create different entry levels. These productions can be with us, with one of us or without us. I think a brand really succeeds if you get a strong emotional connection to it, without it being attached to a specific person. 

In general, moving forward is the goal. This is only possible if we keep trying out new stuff. By staying close to who we are and what we find interesting, we keep our credibility and always stay a bit niche.

I'm always fascinated by the response of audiences on rebrandings. You know upfront people won't like it. I find this very funny. 

Why was there a big farewell party for the original artwork? 

I'm always fascinated by the response of audiences on rebrandings and change in general. Just think about the recent introduction of the NRC-logo [Dutch newspaper] or when radio programs change a jingle. People get really attached to brand elements; it becomes part of their furniture. Then, without asking, brands decide to change: "How dare they!" You know upfront people won't like it. I find this very funny. 

Our current listeners are very vocal and will always share their opinions and ideas in our active Telegram group. We also started treating the original artwork of POM as a piece of art, so the change became a story in itself. I think the amount of attention we've given to it has contributed positively to the extent to which people accept the change (we actually had even bigger plans, something with trucks, billboards and a mafioso-like funeral). This way, our community got the chance to be 'in the know' about the change on a meta-level. It showed the irony of it but also helped with our own grieving process.

For years, at the end of every interview, Alexander and Ernst-Jan have asked their guests a set of the same questions. So let's give Alexander a taste of his own medicine. 

What purchase for 100 euro or less has been of significant influence in your life?  

[Laughing] I recently bought a beautiful wooden tray to store my post-its (which I searched long and hard for and found somewhere in a store in the USA) on my dinner table. Whenever I think of something I have to write it down, otherwise I'll just forget, but I want to spend less time on my mobile. With Post-its near me I've cut out the risk of getting lost in a rabbit hole whenever I grab my phone.

If you could design a billboard, what would it say? 

I can think of a lot of things, but I'd go for 'Let it go'. Text only, brutalist (to stay within designer terminology), capital letters, white on black. The message is multi-interpretable but valuable for everyone. Remember: nothing is as important as it seems. 

What comes first: form or function? 

Definitely form. I've recently bought a keyboard and was looking for a corresponding music app. The apps are all so ugly, like they're straight from the 90s, and then there's one from Apple and it looks good. The ugly ones confuse me. Even if they had more functionalities, I'd still not use it.

What's your all-time favorite gadget? 

I love post-its. I think they're amazing. It helps me organize the unstructured thoughts in my head. It gets the thoughts out and puts them into place and space. At Blendle I demanded every room had post-its and pens. It's not new, but it's the best thing ever invented.

We are Verve.

Designers, developers and strategists who transform good brands into great ones.

Just like Klöpping we believe that every touchpoint is a chance to show your brand’s personality. That’s why we build Living Brands that are scalable, flexible and outspoken. Next to POM we unlocked potential for brands like Miro, Dutch Design Week and Squla.

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