B is for Brand


Nice words about my recent book ‘Brand & Talent’ …

Originally posted on Nothing but hoopla:

B I have to confess that I’ve recently changed my thinking about the intersection of brand and engagement. Not having been educated or experience in the world of brand, I wasn’t party to the thinking behind the value of brand and it’s place in the success of organisations. Over the last 5 years as businesses search for a post-crash formula for success, I think taxonomy has got in the way of simplicity and what it all really means. Employee engagement has so many definitions and like many, I couldn’t articulate employer brand well enough to make the argument for its place either. Even the term internal communications is being debated – should we call it employee communications now?

As we strive to make work better for people, does it really mattter who ‘owns’ the relationship with employees or who is responsible for engagement. There is one commonality for every employee and I believe that’s brand. And

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Brand and Talent

My second book, Brand and Talent, is now out through Kogan Page.

It’s a simple premise. Most organisations, and those who service them, tend to see brand management and talent management as separate disciplines. While many acknowledge the areas of overlap, solutions and thinking is still very functionally-driven.

In Brand & Talent I offer an alternative approach based on a clear, simple model driven by four simple ideas.





What’s more – I’ve tried it with clients and it works.

Buy it in the UK/Europe

Buy it in the US

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The ingredients for success? Purpose, People, Failure, Luck and Learning.

PALM SPRINGS, CA – I had the real privilege to attend EY’s Strategic Growth Forum (SGF) in Palm Springs last week. An amazing event focusing on mid-cap growth businesses and entrepreneurial startups from across the Americas.

The event itself was flawlessly executed. Quality and attention to detail at a level I have never before experienced in corporate events and hospitality – so kudos to the EY team that made the event happen.

In terms of takeaways, it was a real honor to be relatively up close and personal with some inspirational and highly effective leaders – (I didn’t manage to attend them all as I was working after all) but  managed to squeeze in some really amazing talks – Jeffery Immelt from GE, David Rubenstein CEO of the Carlyle Group (maybe the best speaker I have ever seen on the topic of business), Kathy Ireland, Dr Kjell Nordstrom from Stockholm School of Economics, Jeffrey Sprecher of ICE who just bought the NYSE,  Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani, and Andre Agassi.

What did I take away? Here are my key thoughts:

  • Purpose. It is essential in life and as a business. In my world, this is good news since BrandPie helps companies find their purpose and bring it to life internally and externally.
  • People. Every speaker made no bones about it: get the best people, (almost) at any cost, so long as they fit your culture.
  • Failure. It is good. Do it. Do it fast. Learn from it and move forward.
  • Luck. All modestly, but probably accurately, credited luck as a powerful factor in any success.
  • Learning. Every single one was passionate about constantly learning and its importance.

Of course, there were many more points made – I particularly related to Jeff Immelt’s passion for focus on outcomes as well as a culture of “zero optionality” at GE; and Kjell Nordstrom’s point that technology has abolished the need for “the centre” so that relationships, organisations and communities can operate “periphery to periphery.”

Time well spent.

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The pursuit of shareholder value as a stupid idea

Dan Gray has waxed lyrical about Jack Welch and others in the business strategy firmament turning their backs on the previous century’s predominant focus on “pursuit of shareholder value” as  the core driver of successful business.

Interesting to see that the first (apparent) argument for the pursuit of shareholder value came from none other than the near-canonised Milton Friedman who said it in 1970. (Forbes article here is an entertaining read on “Who’s money is it anyway?).

It’s interesting to see what the relentless focus on quarter by quarter shareholder returns has done to the long-term performance of capital:


Another reason to advocate Purpose driven business…

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“Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose” ― Leonardo da Vinci

Just back from my holiday, which unfortunately coincided with a death in the family, and had some time to think about the importance of Purpose – in life and in our work.

It matters.

BrandPie have built our consulting model around it.

Others seem to agree:

  • 87% – Informed people who believe business should place “equal weight” on society’s interests and their own business goals. (Edelman Good Purpose Survey, 2012)
  • 94% – CEOs who say that their company is “increasingly held responsible not only for our own actions, but also for the actions of others in our value chain”.  (Corporate Philanthropy CEO Conference 2010)
  • 61% – of recent graduates that are likely to factor a company’s commitment to sustainability into their decision if choosing between two jobs with the same location, responsibilities, pay and benefits  (2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey)
  • 62% – of the public across 20 countries “say they trust corporations less now than they did a year ago.”  (2009 Edelman Trust Barometer)
  • 42 – The number of academic studies showing positive correlations between social enterprise and financial performance.  (Harvard Business Review)

Havas Media Group published a global analytical framework[1] that looked at more than 700 brands in 23 countries and found some remarkable insights:

  • Meaningful Brands outperform the stock market by 120%. Since 2004 the Share Prices of the top 25 Companies on its Meaningful Brands Index (BMI) have increased faster than companies who are not seen as being meaningful by consumers.
  • The Top 10 brands all scored above 50% when asked if people would miss the brand if it disappeared tomorrow. The average across all brands was just 38%.
  • 70% of people think that companies and brands should play a role in improving our quality of life and wellbeing.
  • However, just 24% of people agree that companies and brands are working hard at improving this.
  • This is mirrored in Western Europe (29%) and Eastern/Central Europe (31%), Europe and US (28%), but less so in Japan (46%) and developing markets such as Latin America (48%) and Asia (51%).
  • Just 32% of people trust companies and brands.
  • 54% trust those that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Forbes magazine published figures[2] that support this as well:

  • 87% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests
  • 20% of brands worldwide are seen to meaningfully positively impact people’s lives.
  • Only 6% of people believe the singular purpose of business is to make money for shareholders.

Brand Valuation consultants Millward Brown and former P&G global marketing officer Jim Stengel developed the list of 50 brands, which they say built the deepest relationships with customers while achieving the greatest financial growth from 2001-2011. To arrive at the Stengel 50[3], they valued thousands of brands across 30+ countries. The list included both B2B and B2C businesses in 28 categories ranging in size from $100 million in revenues to well over $100 billion[4].

Investment in these companies – the ‘Stengel 50 ‘– over the past decade would have been 400% more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500[5].

UPDATE – Nielsen has just also released a report on the same subject called “Consumers who care”

Nuff said.


[1] “Meaningful Brands – Havas Media Group’s metric of brand strength 2013”

[2] Mainwaring, Simon, ‘CMO Vs. CSO: 8 Steps To Bridge The Divide That Could Undo Your Business’ by Simon Mainwaring, Forbes.com, 2013.

[3] Stengel, Jim. GROW: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, Crown Business; 2011.

[4] Millward Brown is to publish a book in October 2013 entitled ‘The Meaningful Brand’


[5] King, Bart. ’50 Fastest Growing Brands Serve a ‘Higher Purpose’’ sustainablebrands.com, 2012 .

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Brilliant ‘trojan horse’ marketing

Dove Canada build PhotoShop app to raise awareness of the issues with retouching.

CXOs: Have you discovered the 55-minute guide series yet?


Amen to this from Dan Gray!

Originally posted on Live Long and Prosper:

It’s official. Short is the new long (unlike this post perhaps!).

A few years ago, Kevin Keohane and I had the heretical notion that the answer to getting c-suite types to open their minds to the business value of brand and business communications was to merrily swim in the opposite direction to most of our brethren.

Where they tried to persuade people with pseudo-academic tomes full of detailed case studies and examples, we decided to take the path less travelled – short, unapologetically opinionated and no-holds barred synopses of critical insights and what to do about them.

So the 55-Minute Guide series was born, and a long-overdue scan of the books’ pages on Amazon would seem to suggest we were bang on.

If there’s a golden rule of branding, it’s to be authentic – to ensure that the gap between what you promise and what you deliver is as small…

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Publicis-Omnicom merger

As an ex-Publicis ( well, and ex-WPP before that) employee I felt compelled to write a bit about this topic.

First, size notwithstanding it makes sense. Speaking very generally and from a less than fully informed position … Publicis feel strong in advertising and PR, and made numerous Digital acquisitions but are beyond weak on credible brand strategy/branding agencies. Omnicom is strong in brand , analytics and advertising in particular. So that makes sense.

Second, Richard Pinder’s comments seem informed and reasonable.

Third, let’s not forget the “rule of three and four” when it comes to consolidation in any sector.  The classic BCG article is here and makes a strong case for the right balance of market share among big sector players.  In summary (from the BCG site):

A stable competitive market never has more than three significant competitors, the largest of which has no more than four times the market share of the smallest.

The conditions which create this rule are:

  • A ratio of 2 to 1 in market share between any two competitors seems to be the equilibrium point at which it is neither practical nor advantageous for either competitor to increase or decrease share. This is an empirical observation.
  • Any competitor with less than one quarter the share of the largest competitor cannot be an effective competitor. This too is empirical but is predictable from experience curve relationships.

Characteristically, this should eventually lead to a market share ranking of each competitor one half that of the next larger competitor with the smallest no less than one quarter the largest. Mathematically, it is impossible to meet both conditions with more than three competitors.

The Rule of Three and Four is a hypothesis. It is not subject to rigorous proof. It does seem to match well observable facts in fields as diverse as steam turbines, automobiles, baby food, soft drinks and airplanes. If even approximately true, the implications are important.

The underlying logic is straightforward. Cost is a function of market share as a result of the experience curve effect.

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Desperately seeking skillsets – it takes more than an algorithm

I’ve been working with a business partner developing a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook as a bit of a learning/side project/commercial enterprise and an idea arose for a second app idea – completely unrelated to the plug-in.

Mobility and talent sourcing/utilisation are huge issues for organisations so we did a bit of digging around as part of preliminary research – what is out there and what kind of platform would work best. Could make a good app – internally – for organisations, particularly in professional services.

So we considered Google search; LinkedIn search and Advanced People Search; SharePoint; Facebook; and an online dating site – the former for obvious reasons, the latter based on the buzz their algorithms generated in the tech and online psychology arenas.

The clear winner in terms of speed and accuracy was LinkedIn – likely its combination of dense user-generated data, user-generated natural language search courtesy of the “endorsement” feature; and its search engine.

The other methods performed OK – Facebook performed poorly as expected, for the obvious reason of generally smaller sets of people and its not being a professional network. Google was obviously slightly out of scope but did deliver third party resources as well as plenty of links to LinkedIn (the key being add “Linkedin” to the search terminology). SharePoint was hard to judge due to access issues, but we assumed would perform somewhat less well than LinkedIn, within and organisation, due to challenges in getting categories and tags correct and getting users to complete profiles etc.

The surprise was the online dating site, which we thought would be a match made in heaven (pardon the pun).  There was a lot of buzz several years back about the powerful algorithms this multi-million dollar industry was using. The app idea had been based on using that kind of back end as a basis but make the focus finding people and skills rather than ‘dates’.  A brilliant idea: just repurpose it!  But based on the performance (and we think we found out why – for reasons like this) it’s amazing the species can procreate, let alone use the tool for skill seeking. [It was an interesting experience ... but that's a story for a different day.]

Still – there are learnings to be had that apply to all social media.  In passing, Shel Holtz recently put up a brilliant blog posting about conventional wisdom being anything but when it comes to social media and many of these things rang true in this very unscientific study.

The long and short of it is that, blindingly obvious as it might sound, if you want to find a specific set of skills within a defined universe and even geography – regardless of the platform you are using – you can’t rely on one way to find them.  The devil is in the user profiles – a combination of tags, categories but most importantly user-generated, natural-language data.

Crafting a purpose-driven brand for EY

REGENT’S CANAL – About a year ago, on 12 July, 2012, I got an email from the global head of communications at Ernst & Young, having just pitched for a big employee engagement opportunity:

“Would you have a moment to talk this afternoon – not about this week’s presentation, something different.”

“Something different” ended up being leading a project to help our client guide EY’s Global Executive team, including their new CEO-elect, through the process of discovering a brand positioning that would help them make the most of the biggest strategy refresh the organisation had undertaken in recent memory.

You get maybe two or three of these “once in a lifetime” opportunities in a career, if you are very lucky (or very good) – or both.

Today, on 1 July, a refreshed EY is rising.

What a difference a year makes.

A year of excitement, learning, the kind of challenges that board-level big-bet decisions present, and a definite experience of high performance teaming.

A year of more than my fair share of COemissions from long haul flights.

Since when has the Big 4 category been this exciting?  This is a team that has embraced the importance of integrity.  Clarity. Simplicity. A whole systems approach. A brand positioning that touches everything. Sustainability. Sponsorships. Talent attraction. Go to market strategy. Public affairs. Client service. Acquisitions. Offer. Employer value proposition. Alumni. The works.

A clear Purpose.

An explicit Ambition.

A confident Strategy.

A relevant, authentic Proposition/Positioning.

My over-riding sense is one of an organisation that has genuinely committed to building its brand from the inside out and doing all that “joining up” stuff I keep banging on about. An organisation that gets the fact that brand is more than a logo change.

It’s also a great example of co-creation showing in the work across digital, advertising, internal and external communications for all stakeholders from talent to clients to regulators and beyond. It helps to have good wingmen – client side, on our team and in the other agencies.

An inspiring start that comes at a perfect time for EY. It won’t be perfect. It won’t happen overnight. Rocks will be thrown. Stumbles will no doubt occur.

‘Building a better working world’  is the continuation of a journey to 2020 for EY.

I’m immensely gratified to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

And I’ve never been so pleased to have lost a pitch.


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