Back to basics?

MISSOULA, Montana – After a chunk of time off, I’m struck by how over-complicated the world of branding and brand transformation is often presented as.

Bow ties; 2x2s; 3-,5-,7-,9-,12-step approaches; bridges; onions; venn diagrams; radar charts … but they really all boil down to the same thing. Collins said it, Porras said it, Sinek says it, HBR says it, Gallup has said it, Wally Olins certainly said it too — and I’m sure many others as well who aren’t top of mind:

There are some immutable principles, although the technologies and tools used to manage a brand are in constant motion, constantly evolving. It starts with a core principle or central organizing idea – call it essence, DNA, purpose, vision, mission, values, or what you will (in numerous combinations). It then needs to permeate every operational facet of your organization and connect to your people, so they can engage effectively with each other and with your external stakeholders. And then you need to ensure that everything you do to influence your marketplace (and drive sustainable growth – probably the newest idea among the lot) is aligned to that – across product, service, communication, talent acquisition and management, etc.

Then again, it’s much easier said than done … which keeps consultants and agencies and in-house teams busy, and will continue to do so.

Today we have more tools, more data, more channels and more ways of creating and co-creating systems, content and ideas to connect people with our brands. Tomorrow we’ll have even more. But the basics never really change, no matter how you dress them up.


B is for Brand

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


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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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.

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…

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

Amen to this from Dan Gray!


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.