Brand development; stakeholder engagement and diversity


WASP males don’t tend to get too many invitations to be involved in the promotion of diversity management; which is a shame really.  I’m a firm believer in the notion that the promotion of diversity should embrace the full range of stakeholders and should truly practice inclusiveness in the way stakeholders are engaged with the philosophy or it runs the risk of being seen as a marginal activity aimed at an exclusive audience.  Within businesses, this means adapting the language used to promote diversity from the usual hearts, flowers and equality stuff to appeal to left brain and bottom line thinkers. As with the CSR and sustainability agenda, It can be done, as it makes damn good business sense. But a “push” communication approach may be one of the reasons why the diversity flag bearers within organisations sometimes find themselves struggling for real influence at the top table.

This thought piece isn’t intended to critique the notion of diversity or challenge its increasing relevance to the organisation development and employee engagement agenda within challenger brands in particular. It’s intended to promote the diversity cause and to that end, I would like to share a rare moment of Belgian enlightenment.

Picture the scene.  The wonderful and irrepressibly inspirational Myrtha Casanova of the The European Institute for Managing Diversity had enlisted my help to co-facilitate a workshop she was running with the senior executives of a global producer of cereal crops and foodstuffs.  They had been embroiled in a PR war with NGOs and pressure groups worldwide because of controversial growing techniques and what was perceived as an arrogant communication stance which was adversely affecting brand perceptions and most importantly hitting them where it hurt, on the balance sheet.

The workshops were intended to develop diversity strategies across their global businesses come what may.  Most of their senior executives were gathered in Belgium to that end – and they weren’t very pleased about it.

It was soon clear that their beleaguered HR Director had been forced into developing a diversity strategy by the board who were in turn responding to US legislation.  The executive cadre encamped in Belgium were 90% male, mostly of Anglo-Saxon origin and frankly, felt they had much more pressing priorities.  In short, the workshops quickly regressed into trench warfare.

The turning point came, however, shortly after lunch on day one when, rather than push more and more statistics, facts and process at the group, we adopted a less evangelical approach and asked them to explore their brand from the customer’s perspective.

They had traditionally seen themselves as a business to business organisation but it took one of the more junior managers, who also happened to have the largest team and who also happened to be a woman, to point out that housewives could make or break their brand.  By drawing a simple supply chain model she was able to quickly illustrate the route their primary product ultimately followed to market and how it was immaterial that they weren’t putting the bread on the shelves themselves. Women still make the vast majority of purchasing decisions per household and the retailers were reliant upon their suppliers to provide raw materials in tune with the ethics and values of the consumer.  An epiphany!

This simple, jaw-dropping moment proves to be a revelation for her cynical peers who had clearly spent years developing competencies and promoting values appropriate for managing their equally macho purchasing managers in the businesses they were selling to.  Suddenly the link between organisational culture, brand and their PR problems was put into stark relief. More importantly, they realised that, without a more representative management structure they would make similar mistakes.  The business case for diversity had become clear and the rest of the session was put to productive use developing a central and local diversity policy, strategy and engagement approach which owed much to a loaf of bread!

If you want to find out more about the EIMD (a not for profit organisation founded in 1996, with headquarters in Barcelona and which operates across the European Union), take a look at their website or feel free to drop us a line and we’ll tell you more about this and similar stories.


What is a true brand champion?


Superman or Supernerd, what is the profile of a brand hero? Seems to me that you don’t have to have a qualification in the legacy of Marvel comics to appreciate the link between the popularity of heroic figures in popular culture and testing social circumstances.  It’s no great surprise, therefore, that the Golden Age of Superhero comics coincided with the aftermath of a catastrophic World War. But this isn’t a geeky treatise on the power of fiction and fantasy. This book is grounded in commercial reality. It’s about the superpower behind organisations, it’s about the people behind brands.

We’re all aware that these are troubled and testing times for so-called free market economics. I pointed to problems with the capitalist system in Brand Engagement but when, a few months later, single companies lost more in a year than the GDP of the nation they stem from, it would appear the scale of the issue was larger than anyone anticipated. In the first few months following the infamous credit crunch the UK government allegedly invested more in interventionist policies to stabilise the economy than they spent financing the whole of WW1. But even the dark days of international conflict gave rise to role models and heroes. Where are they now?

As former Masters of the Universe investment banks, those bastions of a certain brand of performance culture momentarily slunk into the shadows for a rethink, how many ancillary industries have we seen suffer in their wake? Seems a genuine corporate champion or two wouldn’t go amiss.

It may be popularity polls and shareprices rather than bombs that are dropping these days but as world and corporate leaders struggle with economic crises who wouldn’t welcome a caped crusader who could clear tall buildings in a single bound?  If they also had the answer to the sub-prime mortgage fiasco plumping out their codpiece, all the better.

Here in the real world, as so many political and corporate leaders appear t have embraced “the dark side” we’re more likely to bump into a bumbling Clarke Kent, a nerdy Bruce Banner or an uber slick Bruce Wayne than a Super or Batman.  The heroes who are most likely to live and work around us every day are the alter-egos of what we may expect.  They include police officers, doctors, lollipop ladies, bean counters, teachers and insurance underwriters, personal assistants, Mac wizards and spreadsheet jockeys. They’re often the little people who are able to rise above the universal and altogether natural concern for the self and put the needs of others first in their list of priorities.  They too fight for health, safety, authenticity, growth and excellence in their own modest way.  But like many of their comic book counterparts, they’re not forced or compelled to heroic acts. They do it because they choose to.

Though they seldom acknowledge it, organisations count on there being enough of these workaday superheroes in sensible shoes quietly making a stand for truth and justice within the corporate rank and file. If they aren’t wearing their underwear over their tights or aren’t sporting a natty cape and tiara, however, how do you spot them?

10 Ways to Spot an Engaged Employee

Well, if anyone is prepared to willingly bear the symbol of a brand on their breast there’s a fair chance they’re going to be substantially engaged with that brand. But what does an engaged employee actually look like? While there are variations and eccentricities, in my experience the most common traits exhibited by engaged employees are that they are:

  1. Obvious  (they clearly add value although don’t always shout about it)
  2. Authentic (they are themselves in the workplace)
  3. Receptive (they listen and are open to new and different approaches)
  4. Involved  (they are active members of the community)
  5. Proactive  (they take the initiative)
  6. Energised  (they do things)
  7. Achievers (the things they do tend to be fruitful)
  8. Advocates (they are proud and happy to recommend the brand)
  9. Role models (they lead by example)
  10. In demand

Delve beneath the surface of the various Best 100 Companies poll and you’ll encounter these characters and characteristics in spadefuls.  Having been privileged to have worked with a number in the past I can confirm that in each case:

– the Top Team were advocates of a culture-led approach to brand management

– they developed a very clear business case for change

– they understood the current culture and were clear about the desired future culture

– they involved and engaged all employees in the development of a compelling story about the evolution of the business

– they “professionalized” their internal communication function and ensured that line managers in particular were skilled communicators

– they insisted on partnerships between the external and internal facing communication/engagement functions, like Marketing and HR.

Doesn’t sound anything like where you work? Well next time there’s a corporate crisis just pause for a second, try to look beyond what the emails from the CEO and army of middle managers are saying and consider why the otherwise unassuming and bespectacled Jane from IT always grabs her coat and heads for the stationery cupboard when the going gets tough. After all, someone keeps the super villains at bay and the systems running!


Welcome to The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

A place to meet, to explore. to challenge, to gather thoughts and ideas about the engagement movement and developing potent brands from within.

Our mission is to celebrate and unite the community of people who believe that big brands are sustained and maintained by everyday superheroes.

We aim to share the collective body of stories and  together, create the third in the brand trilogy.