Being a deluded soul…

...I take the following as endorsement, from Tim Wilson, founder of Historic Futures (the man who knows more about real ...

July 21, 2003

…I take the following as endorsement, from Tim Wilson, founder of Historic Futures (the man who knows more about real supply-chain dynamics than the whole of SAP put together…)

Timbo…just been skimming through some of your bloggy stuff…’tis a rich vein and no mistake. At various points I wanted to interject in your very personal musings…got me dander up you know…but I enjoyed it muchly. Keep up the good (work?).

Fing is right…I can imagine/conceive of how to build a brand fit for modern purpose…taking the profit motive off the altar at the start and putting it in the congregation together with all the other things we hold precious…we could even insert some form of Hypocritic oath into the mem and arts…

But how to take an existing chapel down a new path?

I’ve got one answer….f*** everything except the margin…spin out enough cash to buy back all the outstanding shares…de-list…start again. You’ve spotted the Achilles heel in this plan I’m sure…the share price would go through the roof in the first phase!”

Hypocritic or Hypocratic Tim. So Freudian!

Nonetheless,Vindication!? Or maybe vanilla-coated arsenic? Doesn’t matter much. This brand is learning. We are engaged.

In answer to Tim’s point about how to migrate an existing brand into a learning brand, I don’t believe you have to take the profit motive off the altar. (Perhaps cover it up for a while in anticipation of its rebirth though). A disrespectful analogy. I won’t pursue further.

Instead, begin by acknowledging that businesses depend upon stakeholder relationships for their license to operate and also their license to innovate.

Map your stakeholder relationships, and audit the competencies which will enable you to sustain and develop those relationships. Build those competencies in a cross-functional way.

Begin by listening. By re-engaging, and re-educating those audiences on your business constraints and core purpose. Encourage them to act and contribute in ways which promote better ideas, values and behaviours.

Even Coca Cola, the bastion of prehistoric branding has fallen prey to this trap. They simply couldn’t introduce new coke. They had understood neither the nature, nor the power of the relationship capital they had established in the world. Brand Coke supposedly has a value in the tens of billions. Call it $50bn for now. Or is it $60bn? This is their biggest asset. But this is simply a measure of discounted cash-flow on the future premiums they will charge for fizzy water.

How resilient is that notional figure? Only as resilient as the relationship capital which creates it. Only as resilient as the competencies of Coca Cola to remain sensitive, adaptive, appropriate and relevant. Only as resilient as Coca Cola’s ability to harmonise its stakeholders and promote mutual value-exchanges.

The figure is notional, unless the brand is sustainable. (Capital ‘S’ – i.e. able to survive in perpetuity). The world appetite for americanised ‘specialness’ (a coke core value!) may be less sustainable than they imagine, unless it can be translated into something meaningful for their stakeholders. The art – of brand translationship – is at the heart of brand learning.

Coke stand at a similar epiphany today. Coke has very little idea of the responsibility its dream-peddling incurrs. Its license to operate is a fragile thing.

Incidentally, this wasn’t intended to become a rant at Coke. But that’s what dialogue is like. Once you start, who knows where you may finish.

In the words of Stephen Fry, quoting somebody even smarter than him:

“How do I know what I think, until I’ve heard what I’m going to say?”

So I’ll say something else, in the form of an excerpt from the hypocritic (ho, ho) oath for public speakers, created by Bryant and Wallace in 1960:

I, agent/stakeholder in brand X…

hereby promise that I will not be influenced by motives which I would be unwilling to reveal to my hearers.

That I will never let my desire to succeed lead me to use false or sophistic methods of suasion.

That I will endeavor to be well-informed about my subject before I form an opinion on it

That I will accept complete accountability for every speech that I make and never make myself guilty of irresponsible utterances.”

These are fine words. But as Enron showed us, as plain as a pikestaff poked somewhere painful, having codes of ethics doesn’t actually get you very far.

What really matters is motivation and honesty – translating the collective external processes of an organisation into individual internal beliefs and behaviours.

The new brand reality is that motivation matters. Not just delivery. Not just coprorate behaviour, but purpose. If that purpose becomes irrelevant, then the best fizzy brown water in the world, still won’t be profitable…

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