Tactics are like torchlight. You switch them on, they show you a way forward, you act on them there and then. They’re logical, reactive, contemporary. Your customers and your competitors probably see and react to them in exactly the same light. Great strategy is like starlight. What you’re seeing coming out of a company now was established and agreed upon a long way back. It started its journey many many years ago, has been influencing the way the company thinks and competes for ages, and has taken all this time to become visible.
Having clearly outlined why change is needed and the opportunity that change could generate, too many culture change programmes then leave people to make the changes themselves without very much more explanation. So often, staff are handed new values and a new purpose, there’s some motivational meetings and perhaps a video and gift, and then the business just expects them to get on with it. The thinking seems to be that this gives people personal empowerment; that it brings the change alive for them.
It’s hard to develop a brand. It takes enormous effort, huge willpower, confidence, resources, patience and a thick skin. You’ll face doubt, distractions and problems. It’s gruelling …. But none of that is the toughest bit. Far from it. The most intimidating aspect is actually building a brand that consciously and clearly stands apart from everything else that is being built – everything else that is competing for the same audience you want to reach.
So many companies build their brand around their business. They establish the tangible assets and processes and look to extrapolate the intangible value of that as brands for their buyers. They transit in other words from the physical to the emotive.
Enron is a huge reminder of how easy it is to assume; of how the massive confidence of some readily inspires the trust of many. A reminder too of the power of the inconvenient question – just like the one that the reporter from Fortune posed when she asked the CEO how exactly did they make money? Inconvenient questions are a bit like those sewer tests where they send smoke into the pipes – they’re how you spot where the gaps are and where they aren’t.
Thomson Dawson wrote a provocative and challenging article about “devastating innovation”. Brands that weren’t prepared to innovate far beyond their comfort zone, he suggested, would be devastated in the blink of an eye. What’s more, the fallout from such innovation would reach far beyond immediate competitors to wither those who never would have imagined they were at risk.
It’s tempting to believe that our brand story is ours. It’s not of course. Today, it’s owned by everyone – in the sense that virtually anyone, anywhere can input. And that means you’re not the only one telling that story anymore. Once customers simply provided validation that your story was true. Now they are part of the narrative, because their experience of your brand can so quickly become everyone else’s opinion of your brand, or at least part of it.
If you’re pitching for a new piece of business, especially in a competitive situation, ask “What will happen for them [the people who’ve put the business out to pitch] if everything goes to plan?” Knowing that enables you to plan an approach to make that level of success happen.
We hear a lot about how fast and how much the world is moving. But when brands absorb what they think is consumers’ fascination with the new and shiny and respond to it, reactions can be mixed. The trap for marketers in this is that there are different types of “newness”: the ‘new’ people queue for, talk about, and go mad on social networks over; and the ‘new’ that bewilders, confuses, worries, or even confronts.
Some years back, Deborah Doane wrote a hard-hitting article about the “myth of CSR”. In it, she argued that CSR was a reaction rather than an action; that it was essentially a collective response to uprisings against the behaviours and morals of corporate institutions and that it had been encouraged by an historically weak NGO sector as a way to bring about change. Her concerns mirror many that I have independently raised.