Some marketing executives might panic at the prospect of leading their company's first ever global branding project.

Christophe Regnault didn't.

He used IMD's Strategic Marketing in Action (SMA) program to fine-tune his branding plans for Vanguard, a Chinese company that makes photographic and video accessories. And with the help of the real-world perspectives that SMA provides, the project is a huge success.

Regnault, 37, is based in Luxembourg as a senior marketing manager for EMEA with Vanguard. He did the SMA program in April 2011.

"I chose this program because it's very practical – this is what made the difference. You get concrete material that you can apply immediately," he says.

Real-world learning was vital, because time was tight and Vanguard was investing a lot of money. Global branding projects often take two years, but Vanguard wanted to unveil its new brand at the big Photokina trade show in September 2012 – less than 18 months away.

Once on the program, Regnault fleshed out his ideas with the help of his fellow participants and IMD Professor Stefan Michel, the SMA Program Director.

The key insight for Regnault during SMA was that cultural factors would be a very important element of Vanguard's global branding.

"Stefan suggested I should reconsider the way I was handling the cultural dimension of the project, and he gave me a couple of books to read on this," Regnault recalls.

It turned out to be great advice.

"If I hadn't done that, I would have made a huge mistake," Regnault says. "I immediately saw the application of the SMA program in a really practical way. In concrete terms, it saved my global branding project. When I got back to my company, just about everything was in place. That's just invaluable."

After the SMA program finished, Regnault continued to discuss the project by email with Michel. When Vanguard unveiled its new branding on schedule at Photokina in September, the reception was extremely positive.

"The bar was set high, but we hit the targets that my CEO and board members gave me. And the feedback from our partners and distributors has been amazing. There are lots of benefits for the company, the brand and for me personally," he says.

"Doing SMA helped me speed up in a professional way and see all the dimensions of the project, including logistics, R&D, product development and finance. For us it's amazing, perfect. Everyone is really happy."

"I'll never forget what Stefan told us. He said 'you've had a nice week together, but this is just the beginning. You still have 365 days to work, learn and update your frame of thinking.' There are very, very few programs like SMA available on the market."

With the help of SMA, both Regnault and his company have a clear direction for the future.

Professor Michel says: "I am very happy to hear about Christophe's success. It proves one of my core beliefs as a program director for Strategic Marketing in Action: The more you put in as a participant, the more you contribute and challenge your own assumptions and mindsets, the more you get out. The value co-creation between IMD and the individual participants does not end when they leave campus. As in Christophe's example, that's when it actually starts to have an impact on your daily reflections and actions."