Posts tagged ‘corporate social responsibility’


Trading identities in the 2010s: when corporate branding and personal branding adopt each other’s methods

14.10.2017


Above: Brand Kate Moss was probably seen by more people when the model collaborated with Topshop.

In 1999, the late Wally Olins sent me his book, Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies are Taking on Each Other’s Roles, a fine read published by the Foreign Policy Centre that argued that countries were trying to look more corporate, adopting the practices of corporate branding. Conversely, as corporations gained more power and their need to practise social responsibility increased, they were adopting the ideas from nation branding. There was an increasing amount of this swapping taking place, and the 21st century has seen the trend continue: more countries have finely tuned nation brands and guidelines on how to use them, while many corporations are trying to look like good corporate citizens—Dilmah and Patagonia come to mind with their work in building communities and advocacy.
   We’ve been discussing at our firm another area where a similar switch has been taking place: that of corporate brands and personal brands. Personal branding is a relatively new development, with (in my opinion) Managing Brand Me the best work on the subject, authored by the late Thomas Gad with his wife Annette Rosencreutz, dating from 2002. (Thomas, of course, founded Medinge Group.) Managing Brand Me features an excellent break-down of the four dimensions involved (functional, social, mental, spiritual) in any good personal brand that still hold true today. They were well ahead of their time given that they had written their book long before selfies became the norm, and before people were being hired by companies as ambassadors based on their Instagram or Twitter followings.
   Those spokespeople are practising their brands almost haphazardly, where some are getting to the point that they cannot be sustained. Others are balancing authenticity with commercial demands: we know that Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi, and no one wants to be seen to sell out their values. Nevertheless, there is a group of people mindful about their personal brand, and it’s only a matter of time before more begin taking on the trappings of corporate brands: inter alia, guidelines on how theirs is to be used; what products can be endorsed by that brand; how it can be differentiated against others’. Kate Moss may well be one example with a recognizable logotype that appears on products that have her seal of approval. (If I can be slightly macabre, the estates of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn all think carefully on how each celebrity can be used to endorse products today; while lacking symbols or logotypes, their faces themselves are more than a substitute. With technology democratizing, it is no surprise that living and less iconic people might adopt similar ideas.)
   What of companies? Many now find themselves on an equal footing, or even a disadvantage, to personal accounts. The biggest companies have to fight for attention on social networks just like some of the top personal accounts in the world, and they cannot succeed without speaking to the audience in a personal fashion. A corporate account that reposts publicity photographs would gain little traction except from fans who are already sold on the brand through non-social media; and there is some wisdom in assuming that millennials do not possess the same level of brand loyalty as earlier generations. They’re on the hunt for the best product or service for the price and adopt a more meritorious approach, and among the things that will draw them in will be the values and societal roles of the company. Therefore, there has to be a “personality” behind the account, aware of each of Thomas and Annette’s Brand Me dimensions.
   It has not escaped me that both Lucire’s fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I do better than the magazine when it comes to social media interaction—getting likes and comments—because we’re prepared to put our personalities on the line. The automated way Lucire shares articles on Twitter, for instance, hasn’t helped build its brand there, something which we’re remedying by having team members around the world post to Instagram for starters, giving people a glimpse of our individual experiences. The images might not all look polished as a result, but it is a step toward fulfilling the four dimensions. It is a quest to find a personal voice.
   In the wider media game, this is now more vital as news has become commodified, a trend that was first expressed in the 1990s, too. Perhaps those authors saw that most media outlets would be getting their news from a more concentrated base of sources, and demand on journalists to be first and fastest—something not helped by a society where speed is valued over accuracy—meant that whomever controlled the sources could determine what the world talked about. Global companies want everyone to see when they’re involved in an event that a good chunk of the planet is likely to see; in L’Oréal Paris’s case it’s the Festival de Cannes. If every fashion publication has its eyes on Cannes, then what differentiates that coverage? What stamp does the media outlet’s brand place on that coverage? Is there a voice, a commentary, something that relates to the outlet’s role in society? Should it communicate with its best supporters on social networks?
   Lucire does reasonably well each year at Cannes with its coverage, probably because it does communicate with fans on social networks and alerts them to exclusive content. The rest of the time, it doesn’t do as well because as a smaller publication, it’s relying on those same sources. In 1998 we would have been the only English-language online publication specializing in fashion that talked about each H&M launch; in 2017 many fashion publications are doing it and our share of the pie is that much smaller. Individuals themselves are sharing on their social networks, too. This is not a bad thing: others should have the means to express themselves and indulge their passion of writing and communicating. Exclusivity means traffic, which is why we do better when we cover something few others do.
   However, I recently blogged that Google News has shifted to favouring larger media players, disincentivizing the independents from breaking news. It comes back to needing a distinctive voice, a personal brand, and while we still need to rely on Google News to a degree, that voice could help build up new surfing habits. The most successful bloggers of the last decade, such as Elin Kling, have done this.
   These are the thoughts milling around as Lucire heads into its 20th anniversary this month, and we reevaluate just what made us special when the publication launched in 1997. Those values need to be adapted and brought into 2017 and beyond. But there are wider lessons, too, on just where corporate branding and personal branding are heading; this post did not set out to discuss fashion media. It’s not a bad place to start our inquiry, since fashion (and automobiles) are where a lot of brand competition takes place.
   Indeed, it signals to me that in the late 2010s, companies need to do well as corporate citizens and have a personal voice on social media, ideas that build on my 2013 paper for the début issue of Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing (where I discussed brands in the age of social media and put forward a model of how to manage them) as well as Thomas and Annette’s earlier research. It’s the next stage of where branding practice could go—JY&A Consulting is primed, and we’re prepared to let those thoughts loose on Lucire and our other projects. The book of the blog, meanwhile, is the next target. What a pity I’m not in Frankfurt right now.

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Posted in branding, culture, France, globalization, internet, marketing, media, publishing, Sweden | No Comments »


Farewell to Thomas Gad: a friend, a colleague, and a uniter

19.12.2016

Tonight, I had the sad and solemn duty to announce publicly the passing of my friend Thomas Gad.
   I’m still waiting for someone to come out and tell me that I have been severely pranked.
   Thomas was the founder of what we now call Medinge Group. After working for 17 years at Grey Advertising as an international creative director, Thomas set up Brandflight, a leading branding consultancy HQed in Stockholm. He authored 4-D Branding, Managing Brand Me (with his wife, Annette Rosencreutz), and, most recently, Customer Experience Branding.
   In 2000, Thomas seized on an idea: why not gather a bunch of leading brand practitioners at Annette’s family’s villa at Medinge, three hours west of Stockholm, for a bit of R&R, where they could all discuss ideas around the profession?
   Nicholas Ind was one of the people at that first meeting. In a statement tonight, Nick wrote, ‘I first met Thomas when I was working in Stockholm in 2000—he invited me to join him at Medinge in the Swedish countryside to talk about branding. So began a professional and personal relationship that was truly fulfilling. Thomas, and his wife Annette, hosted the annual meetings we had at his house every summer after that with unrivalled generosity. My strongest recollection of those days is not the debates we had or flying with Thomas in his sea plane (even though those are also memorable), but Thomas and Annette sitting at the dinner table in the evenings singing songs, telling jokes and bringing everyone together. Thomas was exceptional in the way he made everyone feel welcome and valued in the group—he will be deeply missed.’
   I came on the scene in 2002, invited by Chris Macrae. The event had become international the year before. Thomas and Annette made me feel incredibly at home at Medinge, and we had an incredibly productive meeting. He had taught me to sing ‘Helan går’, for no Swedish gathering is complete without a drinking song.
   At the same meeting, I met Ian Ryder, who wrote, ‘As a founding member, and now Honorary Life Member, of Medinge Group I couldn’t possibly let such a sad announcement pass without observation. Thomas was a really bright, intellectually and socially, human being who I first met at the inaugural pre-Medinge group meeting in Amsterdam sixteen years ago. Little did we know then that our band of open-minded, globally experienced brand experts would develop into a superb think-tank based out of Thomas’s home in Medinge, Sweden.
   ‘For many years he and his lovely wife, Annette, hosted with a big heart, the annual gathering at which he played fabulous host to those of us who made it there. A larger-than-life, clever and successful professional, Thomas will be sorely missed by all those lucky enough to have known him.’
   By the end of the summer 2002 meeting we had some principles around branding, the idea for a book (which became Beyond Branding), and a desire to formalize ourselves into an organization. The meeting at Medinge would soon become the Medinge Group (the definite article was part of our original name), and we had come to represent brands with a conscience: the idea that brands could do good, and that business could be humane and humanistic. This came about in an environment of real change: Enron, which had been given awards for supposedly doing good, had been exposed as fraudulent; there was a generation of media-savvy young people who could see through the BS and were voting and buying based on causes they supported; and inequality was on the rise, something that the late Economist editor, Norman Macrae (Chris’s Dad) even then called humankind’s most pressing concern. If everything is a product of its time, then that was true of us; and the issues that we care about the most are still with us, and changes to the way we do business are needed more now than ever.
   This is Thomas’s legacy: Medinge Group is an incorporated company with far more members worldwide, holding two meetings per annum: the annual summer retreat in Sweden, and a public event every spring, with the next in Sevilla. The public events, and the Brands with a Conscience awards held in the 2000s, came about during Stanley Moss’s time as CEO. Stanley wrote this morning, ‘Thomas brought his vision and resources to the foundation of Medinge, and served as a critical voice in the international movement for humanistic brands.’ We continue today to spread that vision.
   We have now been robbed far too early of two of our talents: Colin Morley, in the 7-7 bombings in London in 2005; and, now, Thomas, taken by cancer at age 65. My thoughts go to Annette and to the entire family.

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Posted in branding, business, marketing, social responsibility, Sweden | 4 Comments »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Four ingredients of leadership

26.01.2014

140121 Defining leadership_Page_02

I was asked by my Alma Mater, Victoria University of Wellington, to give a 90-minute lecture on leadership last week to students visiting New Zealand from Peking University and the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. (My half-serious suggestion that I spoke Cantonese and the three students from Guangdong who understood could translate to Mandarin to the rest of their classmates was turned down.) The above was the second slide, and the four main points I wanted to get across. When I posted this on Facebook and Instagram, it got quite a few likes, so I’m sharing it more publicly here.
   They were a personal look at my style of leadership and what drove my career over the last quarter-century or so.
   The first one was more down to luck and necessity than my being a great visionary who foresaw virtual firms and how we could be brought together through online communications. The second, however, is probably down to a number of factors, though one must also evaluate the risk of taking those steps.
   The third and fourth, however, should be things we can all accomplish, by finding causes close to our hearts.
   One student asked about the fourth, because she noted that there were circumstances where dissent might land one in trouble. (You may think I was taking a dig at China there, but I suspect Edward Snowden might have a thing or two to say about that.) I gave her the example of a person who had a criminal record for a minor matter because he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, and had repaid his debt to society. Did he deserve a leg up because you knew he was a good person? Now, what if that person wanted to go for a particular job? Even if the glass ceiling isn’t shattered, you can still put cracks in it if you believe he’s the best person for it. Help him out: give him feedback on his CV, offer him advice, help rehearse a job interview.
   What if it was someone who wanted to go to a good school but his parents couldn’t afford it? Would you write a letter of endorsement and put your weight behind his application for a scholarship—because you knew he would make the most of that opportunity?
   My apologies for the use of the masculine pronoun but the above are based on real-world examples.
   We all have something to offer the next person, and those opportunities to help others will always arise.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, social responsibility, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Thinking to the future as Lucire turns 15

21.10.2012

I’ve written so many editorials about Lucire’s history for our various anniversaries that now we’ve turned 15, I feel like I’d just be going over old ground. Again. I’d do it maybe for the 20th or 21st, but the story has been told online and in print many times.
   But 15 is a bit more of an occasion than, say, the ninth—so it deserves some recognition. The biggie this week is not so much that we have turned 15, but that we have officially announced a print-on-demand edition to complement our others in print and online, one that sees Lucire printed off as it’s ordered. It combines what we know—the digital world—with an analogue medium that everyone understands. It also gets around that sad reality that for every 1,000 copies printed, 500 usually wind up getting returned due to being unsold and pulped. In publishing, two-thirds sold qualifies as having “sold out”. And that’s not really that great for the first fashion magazine that the United Nations Environment Programme calls an industry partner.
   We’re also celebrating the Ipad and Android editions, which actually launched in August but we didn’t get an announcement out till September. We also débuted a PDF download via Scopalto in France, and there’s one more edition that we’ll announce before the year is out.
   So rather than look back—which is what we found ourselves doing at the 10th anniversary, at a time when the recession was about to bite and there was just an inkling of a fear that our best days were behind us—we’re now looking forward with some relish and wondering just how these new editions will play out.
   If I were to take a look back to 1997, it would be to remark that being the first (at least for New Zealand) does not necessarily translate to being the most profitable. You carve out a niche that no one else had done before, prove a point, and someone else makes it work a bit better. So is the lesson in commerce.
   It used to bug me but no more; we have a good record of doing things in a pioneering fashion, and when you look at Lucire, it’s one of the very few fashion titles from the original dot-com era that’s still being published today, and in more forms than we had imagined. We were always happy to put value labels right next to pricier ones in coverage or in editorials, because that is how real people dress, and because we based our coverage on merit rather than advertising budgets. We looked at the advertising market at a global, rather than regional, level, something which we see some agencies taking advantage of as greater convergence happens in that market.
   I like to think that some day, all magazines will be printed as we’re doing them, but from more bases around the world, to alleviate the burden on our resources. They’ll be, as I predicted many years back, mini, softcover coffee-table books, publications to covet, and be less temporary. (I also said newspapers will become more like news magazines, but I live in a city where dailies are still printed as broadsheets, which reminds me that predictions can often take a lot longer to be realized.) Features will dominate ahead of short-term, flash-in-the-pan news, a path which the 28th New Zealand-produced Lucire issue takes, and something foreshadowed by Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand five years ago.
   We’re also in a very enviable position with a cohesive team. You could say it’s taken us 15 years to find them. At 1 p.m. local time on October 20—15 years and one hour after we launched—our London team met to toast our 15th anniversary, while fashion editor Sopheak Seng, Louise Hatton, Michael Beel and Natalie Fisher worked on a photo shoot today in New Zealand for issue 29. Around the world, our team continues to deliver regular content, and I hope they’ll forgive me for not naming everyone as I fear accidental omissions. Just as I felt a little uncertain but excited about where things would lead with Lucire on October 21, 1997–the 20th in the US—I have a similar feeling today. And that’s a good thing, because if we’ve managed to get on the radars of millions in those last 15 years, I’m hopeful of the changes we can effect in the next 15.


Above: Lucire copies get finished at Vertia Print in Lower Hutt.

Also published in Lucire.

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Source4Style launches today, seeking to revolutionize the business of fashion

19.12.2011

[Cross-posted] Summer Rayne Oakes and Benita Singh’s Cartier award-winning venture, Source4Style, which helps designers source sustainable fabric through a well designed, transparent website, launches its second version today. Lucire has the low-down in the main part of the site, and this story forms part of some of our next 2012 print and other non-web editions.
   We believe this will revolutionize the way the business of fashion is conducted. Think about it: consumers demand sustainability and the trend has no signs of stopping. Yet, according to Singh, suppliers are spending up to 43 per cent of their marketing budgets just on trade shows. ‘It’s a huge up-front time and financial commitment with no guarantee of a return,’ she says. On the other end of the scale, Cornell University research shows that designers are spending up to 85 per cent of their time visiting those same shows, going through online directories, or wading through sample folders.
   Source4Style uses the internet to bridge the divide, and has obvious positive implications for smaller suppliers, who are on a level playing field with the big names. Some of these suppliers are in third-world countries, so it’s not hard to see the financial benefit that Source4Style can have for them and their communities.
   It’s in line with the ideas in Simon Anholt’s Brand New Justice, where Anholt posited that good brands helped third-world communities find greater profits and margins. Source4Style doesn’t quite give these companies brands per se, but through the site, it allows them to be the equal of businesses that are operating in the first world, and levels the playing field.
   It is the solidity behind this venture that sees us devote two web pages and the cover to it. We encourage readers to take a look, as this may well be the moment when fashion changes for good—in more than one sense of the word.

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Posted in branding, business, design, France, India, internet, leadership, marketing, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | No Comments »


Air New Zealand acts in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake

22.02.2011

Good on Air New Zealand for ferrying emergency supplies to Christchurch, for its $50 special to and from Christchurch till Friday 8 a.m., and for extra 747 flights to and from the disaster-struck city tomorrow (subject to the airport reopening down there).
   I’ve also learned that there is an extra Wellington–Christchurch A320 service departing 1.45 p.m. Wednesday.
   These are great moves by the airline, for banding together and doing something that we all wished we could do.
   You wouldn’t see this from a foreign-owned airline here—or, I should say, we have not seen any such action from one. Air New Zealand has acted admirably and reminded us just how important it is to have Kiwis running the show.
   The airline’s stock has gone up in my book—that’s the layman’s way of saying I think its brand equity among domestic audiences has increased.

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