CEO’s set brand ethics

Last month, Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi used Linked In to broadcast Uber’s new cultural norms. Like many an incoming CEO, he must work quickly to address negative aspects of his predecessor’s legacy. In the case of Travis Kalanik a legacy described by many as toxic.

uberBack in June 2017, an independent report on Uber’s workplace, commissioned by its  Board, outlined 47 recommendations including defining values in ways that made them more accessible and easily understood and soliciting employee input on improving the culture. That’s refreshing, but what a pity it takes a near meltdown to trigger such action.

In traditional companies, these issues would be classified as matters of corporate culture, as defined by the good old (read tired old) Vision, Mission and Values at created by a senior committee with more regard for how they look on the website than how implementable they are by employees. Modern companies realise that the company is the brand … is the company. So, what Uber is doing now is adjusting the behaviours that should represent its brand in future.

And this is indeed a CEO responsibility; for he or she is the brand manager. As Robert Copeland said (forgive his misogyny, as he came from an earlier time):’To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three men, two of whom are absent.’ Continue reading

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Employees need to fit your culture

Amid the general wailing and gnashing of teeth that surrounds the Millennial discussion, one occasionally happens upon something sensible.MAIN-Netflix-logo

I’ve been reading about how the online entertainment brand Netflix sets expectations for employee contribution. It’s surprisingly hard line; and contains lessons for all employers.

Regular readers know that I believe the best way to deal with the Millennial challenge is to gradually adjust your leadership style and management process to proof them against the future. In 10 years’ time the bulk of the workforce will be Millennials, so the challenge is not going to go away. But that doesn’t mean you should give away the initiative.

I admire Netflix because it ignores the empty value statements that reflect the lazy thinking at the top of so many companies. Statements filled with pointless words like Innovation, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

These are words that whole sectors of our economy use because … everybody else does. They are anodyne and ineffective – because there’s no spirit attached them. Employees, as human beings, will always react more strongly to emotional than to rational cues.

Patty McCord, the previous chief talent officer at Netflix, made two statements in the opening to her Values piece. One emotional, one rational: Continue reading

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Marketing islands

It’s rare find a Marketer criticising his profession, so I was intrigued when the Chief Marketing officer of HP had this to say last month: “Marketers risk forming a parallel universe and distancing themselves from the business.”islands

Lucio was talking to a point we have raised before in this column. Very few Marketing Directors in East Africa seem to manage to earn the respect of fellow directors from other disciplines.

Says Lucio, “The mission of marketing is to build brands that stand the test of time, not to build brands for the sake of it.”

He called on the profession to do better and assume a more strategic role within business. “We must be responsible for generating revenue and demand today and identifying new opportunities for tomorrow.”

It’s interesting to note that a common feature of senior marketers named in the Forbes Most influential CMO list is that they all make significant impact on driving top and bottom line business results. Kristin Lemkau at Chase, Raja Rajamannar at MasterCard and Leslie Berland at Twitter are all cited as valued members of their companys’ senior leadership teams. Recognised as business people first, and specialists second. That’s what company’s want.

Forbes calls these people culturally bilingual, capable of translating highly technical terminology into business impact. That’s a complicated way of saying they don’t hide behind marketing jargon.

They also speak up on all issues affecting the business and customer experience. When did you last see a senior marketer writing in anything other than vocational publications? When did an East Africa CEO last delegate a serious media interview to his Marketing Director?

Lucio says many marketers have become “islands surrounded by mirrors”. Obsessed by discussions about the Millennial audience or the implications of digital channels on broadcast media. But these enthusiasms don’t seem to produce any recognisable opinion leader able to articulate a solution. In my experience, when there is debate in the Marketing world there is also procrastination. Marketers fear to take a direction because their articulation of issues and opportunities may not stand up to debate at executive board level.

HP’s Lucio highlighted three ‘must-do’s’ to help senior marketers win more respect:

  1. Marketing must become more externally focused. The discipline needs to showcase its business-building to the world. It needs strong spokespeople.
  2. Business results must be paramount in creativity awards
    It is time to stop rewarding creativity for creativity’s sake. Design, engagement and communication were never intended to be ends in themselves.
  3. We must reignite the power of brands in the digital world
    There has never been greater need for brands than now. The digital world requires constant engagement. Brands must have a clear, unique, meaningful and memorable narrative.


Bravo, Lucio!


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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China the Brand

Last week I was working in Lusaka, although quite frankly I could have been in Beijing. I stayed in a 5-star Chinese Hotel and used its impressive Congress venue. The place was ultra-modern and as clean as a whistle. Everything worked; the Zambian staff were polite and helpful. All my fellow guests were smart Chinese government and business people. There was no smoking, shouting or spitting. The only alarming experience was to be found in the dining room where the breakfast buffet contained some dishes that alarmed me. Especially since I had narrowly avoided eating stewed donkey the night before – selected in error by a Zambian waiter with an ordering tablet he was ill-equipped to navigate. In fairness to him, we were both working on the pictures as all the text was in Mandarin.


This was in fact an object lesson in the regional penetration of a huge brand. Indeed, Brand Finance -one of the world’s leading independent valuers of brands – revealed recently that China is now the fastest growing nation brand on the planet. Up US$3.1 trillion from 2016, this growth figure is equal to the entire nation brand value of Britain.

In relative terms, China’s nation brand value grew 44% year on year, or at a 20-times faster pace than the United States’. However, at US$10.2 trillion, China’s nation brand value is still only half that of America’s so sustaining growth will be key to narrowing the gap. David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented: “This year’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China marks the end of the Central Committee’s five-year term which has seen a revolutionary change in China’s approach to brands. In a virtuous circle, Chinese brands and the transformed national image of China as an emerging global power are reinforcing each other and further add to the country’s attractiveness to investors and tourists.” Continue reading

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Diversity can produce dividends.

Recently I was with a large group of staff discussing the positive aspects of their work culture. They were emphatic about one thing: ‘We are a very diverse group.’ Indeed, there were men and women, old and young, Asian and African (and the latter from varied cultural backgrounds).1287x929_vodafone_logo

That was the plus side, but when we pushed the question ‘so what?’ far enough we discovered a more helpful insight. ‘The problem is,’ they said, ‘we don’t derive any value from that diversity either for the company for ourselves.’ They saw themselves working in compartments, despite being in an open plan environment. That was no surprise to me: without the right culture an open plan environment is one of the most threatening places to work.

This group regretted that the flavours of their diversity weren’t creating a more exciting workplace or better ideas for the business. This is a point that is becoming more widely acknowledged globally.

Big brand Vodafone has been on an almost 10-year journey to make the company more inclusive and diverse.The telecoms giant began to prioritise diversity in 2008, when Vittorio Colao took the helm as global CEO. He started by improving working conditions for female employees, as he wanted to make the company a more attractive place to work for women. Vodafone now has generous maternity leave policies that include a 30-hour week on full pay for returning mums. Continue reading

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Private Equity

Last weekend I spent a long day in rural Yorkshire in the North of England. Tramping the fields, we had plenty of time to chat and I met a man in Private Equity.Car no engine

It’s an interesting profession. Investing in enterprises with potential for growth. Persuading others to invest. Taking an active role in the Board. Pushing for performance. Supporting initiatives that drive success. And then exiting with a tidy profit.

Sounds easy, but isn’t. Along with Financial Skills you must have an appetite for risk that modern bankers lack. You must quickly understand sector dynamics. You need a working understanding of a many disciplines, from Sales and Marketing to Production and Procurement. And if you get it wrong, your prospects of return and, perhaps more importantly, your reputation may be diminished.

I asked my new friend what steps he and his colleagues took to understand the companies that they bought into. He waxed lyrical about various aspects of Due Diligence. He was extremely confident on matters financial, as you might expect. When we came to brand value he seemed to be on shakier ground. A strong brand was ‘a good thing’. But how to measure brand strength was more of a puzzle. Continue reading

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Toxic brands

While I was in South Africa last week, President Zuma unveiled a new statue to the late Oliver Reginald Tambo, former President in Exile of the ANC during the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. O.R. Tambo was the legal partner and lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela. He would have been 100 years old this year. Quietly spoken, consultative and clear thinking, one of his many achievements was to lay the foundations of the country’s new Constitution.Blog pic Zuma (1)

Quite what he would have thought about being unveiled by President Zuma we cannot guess. One person who watched the ceremony told me she was surprised the statue didn’t melt. The ANC under Zuma is now so far adrift from the vision of its founders that Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang recently commented, “We should honour these two great South Africans (Mandela and Tambo) by accepting that the struggle is not yet over. We should all continue to strive for a truly non-racial, non-sexist and equal society and to vigilantly guard our democracy and our Constitution.”

Grassroots opinion against Zuma continues to build and there are hopes that December’s Elections for ANC President may trigger a change process. The ANC itself is not yet a failed brand or a toxic one. But the same cannot be said for a growing number of prominent businesses that have unwisely chosen to serve the Zuma-Gupta axis. First to go poisonous was British Public Relations group Bell Pottinger, reviled for using their skills to promote racial discord while working for the Gupta’s Oakbay Capital. Clients deserted in droves, senior heads rolled and the firm was condemned by the industry’s governing body for bring Public Relations into disrepute.

Global consultancy firm McKinsey has also lost some of its lustre after being hauled up in from of parliamentary committee in South Africa for its work for the Zuma and company. Continue reading

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Retail success requires relationships

One of the greatest retail success stories in the world, that has prospered for over a century, is now facing down new retail giants. Very soon, online shopping portals Amazon, Alibaba and eBay will command 40% of global e-commerce.


Like every retail operation, the John Lewis Partnership is assessing how much emphasis to put behind traditional channels (stores) and online. Marketing Director Becky Brock believes that it is human interactions, not just a focus on digital, that will help her brand to stand out. She told last week’s UK Festival of Marketing that John Lewis faced “irrelevancy” if it failed to live up to customer expectations.

While John Lewis is upping its e-commerce game and offering customers more digital personalisation, this will “count for nothing” if the retailer doesn’t still offer great human experiences. That of course has always been the foundation of the John Lewis brand – one of the first businesses to turn all its employees into shareholders. Since then, their staff, or ‘Partners’, have always delivered careful service and impartial advice to customers.

Here in East Africa, any retail growth we have seen has been driven by attempts to scale-up physical presence. E-commerce is relatively new; but may have high potential among our young early-adopting consumers. But the hard truth, witnessed both by highly public retail failures and by behind-boardroom-doors disappointment, is that we have not yet mastered retail on a large scale. Continue reading

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Fit for work

The other day, a very senior PR practitioner in Uganda asked me a very good question. Why was it, he asked, that in a column about Marketing, I frequently strayed away from hardcore issues like branding. Why talk about HR and management and leadership?Old skier

The answer is relatively straightforward if you agree with me that Marketing is too important an issue to be side-lined and delegated to the Marketing Department alone. The way a CEO leads a business; the way managers organise business process; and the way the senior team relates to their staff are all factors that impact on the marketing of brands and businesses.

Last week I met with colleagues in London to further develop our initiatives on two important groups in the global workforce. You won’t be surprised to hear that one group was the much-quoted Millennials. The other was the Treacle Layer, about whom I wrote recently. This is the layer of older employees who hold a great deal of institutional knowledge, but are often resistant to organisational change. As you can imagine; these people can play both positive and negative roles in brand delivery.

Although the Treacle Layer is a bigger issue in ageing Western economies, they are definitely present in our region. Look around you in your own workplace and you’ll see plenty of people who have been in the organisation for many years. They know a lot, and have firm opinions about how everyone should behave. But suggest changing something, and you’ll soon experience tooth-sucking and head shaking. Continue reading

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