Show 76 – How connected brands drive growth

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The latest FutureBrand Index highlighted how the most future proofed companies consistently align the totality of the experiences they create with their wider corporate purpose and that was the focus of Show 76, which was produced in partnership with FutureBrand.

Joining Russell Goldsmith at the London offices of GSK, were:

Background to the FurureBrand Index:

Jon explained that FutureBrand exists to future proof companies. It’s the reason they exist in life and what he means by future proof companies is the ability to grow even when times change. The agency therefore put the FutureBrand Index together about five years ago as a way of exploring that idea and looking at whether they could create insight into what it is that drives some of the more successful and some of the larger brands in the world – the ones that are most resilient. Do they have a special DNA or an ability or way of working that could not just give further insight to the industry but could actually be something that could be applied to any brand of any size anywhere in the world?  In order to achieve that, FutureBrand worked with PWC and their Global Top 100 companies by market capitalization and then built a sample of an informed global public.

Jon said that this sample was not made up of hardcore influencers, but neither were they people that you just bumped into in the street – they had certain job titles, certain salary incomes etc. They were asked to rank the PWC list by 18 brand attributes including Thought Leadership, Innovation, Personality, Story and Trust as well as what Jon believes are some of the more pressing concerns that a lot of consumers now have, such as Sustainability, Waste Management, Quality of People and the way employees are treated.  He said that as a result, they ended up with a [brand] perception strength but that it’s not a valuation study per se, but instead, is an ability to understand whether there is something that makes some brands future proofed and some brands not and whether some brands are better at managing the way the world changes over others?

Jon said that the big finding over the five year period [that they’ve been running the study] is that actually the thing that the most future proofed brand share, regardless of where they’re from in the world, and whether they are New Era brands or older or what sector they’re in, is an ability to really build a connection between why they exist and the experiences they create for people, every day.  He added that by ‘people’, he means anyone who interacts with the brand, which could be an employee or analyst, as much as a consumer or customer.

The study therefore looks at the entire ecosystem of the brand and Jon said that what comes out is a really simple concept that forms a real agenda for marketing these days, which is to practice what you preach. If you say you stand for something, then you need to deliver that, in everything that you do in the way everyone is treated, in the way you present yourself to the world, and in the way that you treat people in it.

Jon said that there are some stalwart brands that you see time and again delivering despite times changing, i.e. Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and Toyota, but he added that they are seeing some really interesting brands such as Kweichow Moutai, which he described as the ‘unheard of’ biggest spirits brand in the world, that’s doing a fantastic job of standing for something and giving people experiences around that, that absolutely deliver on what it stands for and that FutureBrand’s informed global audience are very excited about.

Jeremy said that brand valuation agencies can’t even agree on the value of the world’s biggest brand to within a $160bn but that that’s completely missing the point because what the FutureBrand Index does is drives a conversation. He said that, as a ‘Chief Strategy Officer’ (CSO), like Jon, they are essentially just storytellers and that in fact, whatever business unit you are in, whether you’re operations, finance, logistics, etc, it doesn’t matter, we’re all storytellers and our jobs are to represent the brands that we work for and explain the vision, the mission and the values and so the question becomes ‘what’s the value of those stories and what do they mean?’. He added that the challenge that we have is how do you tell those stories fast and as compellingly as possible, remembering that the audience is the most important part of those stories.  He said that it’s the old cliché of: ‘What you stand for is more important than what you sell’ referring to Simon Sinek’s talk about the goal isn’t to sell to people who need what you have but to work with people who believe what you believe.

Jeremy thinks that brands essentially are just collections of stories, quoting Brené Brown, who said, ‘a story is really just data with a soul’.  He said that he works with a lot of data scientists and that they talk about the Four V’s:

  1. Volume – how much is there?
  2. Velocity – how fast is it going?
  3. Variety – how many different types of data are there?
  4. Veracity – is it accurate?

However, Jeremy said that you could add a fifth V – Value – what’s it worth? He asked what is it worth to have some type of a purpose and what does that mean on culture?  Although he added that just because you can measure it doesn’t mean you should.

Jon said that is exactly what FutureBrand are trying to demonstrate and that it’s not about valuation.  What is at the heart of the Index is partly purpose, but it’s also about the delivery of experiences and interactions every day that linked to that purpose.  He said that the real key to growth is to what extent brands create the connection between purpose and experience. Looking at the list, Jon said that the top 20 brands are creating a really connected brand experience because people are saying “I know what that company stands for and it feels relevant and meaningful to me”.    However, Jon believes that the challenges come when the brand tries to do that on a global scale and in companies that employ people who may have their own agendas.

Kerry thinks that what’s quite challenging within the Pharma sector is that whilst they understand all the aspects that Jeremy and Jon had been discussing, in a sector where you don’t always have direct contact with your end user, it can complicate that connectivity. She said that Pharma companies have not been good at trying to establish what they stand for because they may think it’s obvious, i.e., ‘we’re all here to make medicines to help people’. However, whilst that may be the case, Kerry asked the question how you differentiate from that? How do you communicate that to an audience that, in many cases, you don’t have that direct connectivity with? She said that GSK have started to look at their own study from a reputational point of view and that it is now one of their 10 global company KPIs that is now being monitored by their Board, which she added is a real step change over the last year.  She said that they see very clearly that in India and China, the value of the GSK brand means something because it is a sign of quality and efficacy as you get that direct connection.  However, when you move into the US, there are differences in terms of how the whole insurance system works and again in the UK with the NHS, there are different levels of connectivity as well as how healthcare is perceived. Plus [you need to take account of] the difference between the role of government versus private industry in those countries as well. Kerry therefore thinks that the complexity is made more so because you can have a global view as to what you might stand for and a global view of how you want to deliver that experience. But then you also have to be very aware of that local nuance as well because it has to be relevant and authentic. Kerry thinks that the Pharma sector is playing catch up, but that for GSK it’s a really big focus for where they are heading.

Jeremy added that there been a lot of fear and anxiety in the boardroom and a lot of trepidation about the future. He said that some of the research that they are looking at the moment shows that four out of five executives are overwhelmed and under prepared for the challenges that their business is going to face over the next five years, around technology, where [their] brands are going to go, and about consumer behaviour and how that is going to change.  He said that because of that fear, people often ask ‘What keeps you up at night?’ but Jeremy believes the question should really be ‘What gets you out of bed in the morning?’. That then leads to ‘What’s my why?’, ‘Why do I work for this company?’, ‘Why does this company exist?’, ‘Why do my customers care?’.

Healthcare & Technology Companies

Jon explained that one of the major drivers of the of the FutureBrand Index this year was the perception that [as a brand,] you are changing people’s lives for the better.  He said that what they have seen is that core driver is something that is, at the moment, more associated with healthcare companies because they are making technology meaningful to people’s lives in a way that feels relevant and exciting. With regards to technology brands, for the sake of our discussion, he categorised them as New Era Technology brands such as Facebook and Amazon etc., and those that are more established companies like IBM, Microsoft and Intel, that have been around for some time, have experience and have been through ups and downs.

He describes the New Era brands as struggling to grow up. He said they are like teenagers, struggling with some of the adult issues. They need to pay taxes like adults pay taxes, but they haven’t quite got their head around that. They have a need to take care of their family, i.e., their users, in a way that perhaps they have been slightly disregarding of in terms of privacy. He clarified that there wasn’t necessarily a causal link between how those brands are currently performing today on the FutureBrand Index versus what they’re doing in the world but he said that he certainly sees that some technology companies are struggling to grow up in a way that healthcare companies have and are being given the credit for in terms of changing people’s lives for the better as opposed to just changing people’s lives but not being sure if it’s for good or bad.

Kerry was quite adamant though that this wasn’t a case of healthcare vs technology brands but instead it was healthcare + technology brands. She said that GSK’s new Head of R&D, Hal Barron, was previously at Calico, which was created and funded by Google and that GSK’s Board deliberately “brought in a person who is going to really shake up how we work in R&D and put innovation at the centre of that conversation”. She added that GSK has a new strategy, which is the multiplying effect of Science x Technology x Culture and that will be the way that they will see success and their future R&D.

Kerry went on to talk about GSK’s recent announcement [July’18] of a four-year collaboration, with 23andMe as a key proof point of their R&D strategy. She explained about the opportunity that it brings to access the 23andMe’s five million customer base and look at ways that GSK can interrogate that genetic material to find cures for the future.

Part of Kerry’s role is also overseeing the STEM recruitment and inspiration that GSK provides as a company. She said that five years ago, it was very much about biology, physiologists, chemists etc, which they still need, but now they are also looking for computational scientists. They need a real range of STEM operation. She therefore thinks that the role technology and innovation play in healthcare is evident not just in how it interfaces with the consumer, i.e., the diagnostic pieces, but that it is fundamental to the how they are changing the way that they will actually discover new medicines and vaccines and who they employ.

Picking up on Kerry’s comment about healthcare + technology rather versus, Jeremy said it brings to mind something that Garry Kasparov said, when he commented that the best combination is a good human and a machine, referring back to when IBM’s Deep Blue beat him in a chess match, joking that IBM destroyed his life because he was the unbeaten Grandmaster at the time, the best chess player in the world. Jeremy explained that since that time, machines have certainly got more intelligent and that now, you could get two amateur chess players with two PCs with very basic spec and combined they could beat any Grandmaster anywhere. He therefore believes that the idea of good humans working with machines is perfect. Therefore, relating that to the topic of the podcast, he added that when you think about what the perception is of brands that have lots of good humans inside working with lots of good technology and using that technology for good, that then becomes a really interesting discussion.

Jeremy quoted Seth Godin, who said “If you wait until there’s another case study in your industry, you will be too late”. However, he said that half of the issue he has [working at IBM] is that he can’t talk about much of what the company does. He describes IBM as a 107-year-old start-up with over 380,000 employees. He said that they have 6000 people in their research team and in fact, they don’t actually spend that much on marketing proportionately, yet spend 7-8% on research, just under $8b a year. They registered just over 9000 patents last year and for 25 years running, registered more patents than any other company in the world, most of which has gone into healthcare. He said that a large proportion of that has been around Cloud, Quantum, AI and Security. However, when you ask 3000 people to look at the perception of a consumer brand like Disney, they’re going to get a very visceral response, but when you say IBM, they’re going to be thinking sometimes of mainframes, or computers and they may see it as something from the 1960s or related to a film such as ‘Hidden Figures’.

Jeremy said that most of what IBM has invented isn’t public yet and so, the biggest issue is maturity. He said that AI is driving a huge transformation for the company at the moment and that most of the most innovative brands in the world are using IBM’s infrastructure. However, they can’t talk about it because a lot of it is cutting edge.  He quoted Frank Chen, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz in Silicon Valley, who said that in 2014 not one company mentioned AI in their earnings calls, however, this year, 300 of the top 500 companies in the world all said that AI is key to their strategy. Yet most of them won’t talk about it.

Jon added that he sometimes finds as a brand person, rather than as a tech or healthcare person, that there’s a kind of established way of behaving that brands tend to follow, which could be announcement, technology or breakthrough based, which he understands is a key part of the story.  However, he said he is also interested to understand who works at the companies too.  What are their passions? What’s the environment like that they work in? What do they do? Being able to think about the totality of the experiences or interactions you’re able to create as opposed to just the same kind of announcement, white paper, keynote or earnings call-based conversations that corporate brands operate in could, for Jon, really broaden out the relevance of companies that obviously have to compete on the ground but open up new fronts in other ways.

Sharing stories internally

Kerry said that as you can’t “buy a GSK”, the company has been seen as a very faceless organisation. She explained that this was really what prompted the company to really re-evaluate from a reputational point of view what they we doing.  What they found was that, whilst people didn’t know much about the GSK story, when they did tell them, they liked it. So, actually their issue was not about changing who they are as a company or changing what they did but actually making sure that enough people were hearing the message. She added that this could be internal as well external and not to assume that those 100,000 internal people know what you’re doing.

Adding to the importance of sharing stories internally, Jeremy said that as part of his role, for a few weeks of the year, he works with the IBM team at Wimbledon [tennis tournament]. He said that he spoke IBM’s Wimbledon lead, having looked at all the stats they had generated across social media, sharing stories of everything they were doing at the event with their technology and security etc, and that looking at the reach of all these stories it just looked to him like an echo chamber of IBMers. However, the response from his Wimbledon team leader was that the project isn’t to try and reach millions of people about Wimbledon. The audience is IBMers.  Jeremy said he then thought about his role as CSO, and that lots of people inside the company don’t know about some of the truly life changing work that the organisation does, and that it’s his job is to tell the stories. He then realised that’s his purpose at IBM – his audience is to inspire the 380,000 IBMers.

Kerry said that in a recent study, 88% of employees are proud to work for GSK, yet they have this perception of being a faceless company outside. They therefore look to see how they can leverage that employee advocacy base and develop those employee ambassadors.  She gave an example of the drug testing that GSK carried out at the London 2012 Olympics. She said that it was a great thing to do reputationally, but actually internally, there was a lot of pride that developed of people from GSK seeing something external that they thought was a good thing for the company to be doing. She added that in the UK, GSK now runs a program on social media, primarily Facebook, where they post 30 second videos, which talk about the work and principles of what they do rather than about products.  She said that the engagement levels they get from the informed public are fantastic but so are those from their employees too. She thinks that giving employees bite-sized tools and bits of information can make them feel good, as they can go back to their family and say, ‘hey guess what, did you know this happened today or I learnt this today’ and then potentially sharing that with their networks as well. However, that internal pride that that develops will not work if it’s not authentic.

Jeremy said he remembered the GSK ad spots they took at the time featuring Marlon Devonish with the tag line ‘The crowd is my only drug’.

He said that the ad painted a picture of the values that GSK has and could understand that whilst most people from the outside looking in might say “Oh that’s OK. That’s interesting. That’s nice. A nice bit of corporate comms”, internally, he suspected that a lot of GSK people looked at the ad said: “I work for that company, that’s some pretty cool work”.

Kerry explained that those ads were shown on screens internally at GSK’s offices and that they supported it with outdoor advertising, but not in places like Piccadilly Circus, but instead at every GSK site around the country, for example using six sheet bus shelter posters by their plants at Stevenage, Ware, Ulverston, and Barnard Castle, very deliberately targeted at when people were arriving and coming back from home.

Perception in terms of innovation

In the Tarantino episode of Jeremy’s own ‘Ten Words’ podcast , he talked about Samsung’s Global CMO YH Lee, commenting in a Marketing Week interview about the fact that her background is in consumer goods and that she admits that she is not at all technologically savvy but in fact that’s helped her to differentiate herself to talk and behave as a consumer. She goes on say that she appreciates that if she doesn’t get something then her customers won’t either and that in that article, she says that she takes all the difficult technology that Samsung has developed and interprets it for everyone using very basic consumer language. In his podcast, Jeremy talks about YH Lee just wanting to understand people and see things from a customer’s perspective just like a consumer would and that that’s going to help her think differently from everyone else in her team and that by having a different vision will make her a brilliant CMO, putting her in the customer’s shoes.

Mentioning this led to a discussion on how important the perception is of being innovative in contributing to brand value and so Jeremy started with a quote that people use when they talk about disruption and innovation that people don’t know what they want until you show them.  However, he added that often, whoever did it first isn’t the most successful. For example, he cited Kevin Kelly, of Wired Magazine, who said that there’s no business case for innovation and that it’s best to affect what you know. The way Jeremy sees it is that innovation is just really doing the same thing as everybody else but faster, whereas disruption is when you do a new thing that makes the old thing completely obsolete. The challenge is for those CMOs that say this is the way we’ve always done it. He said that we therefore approach brand comms in the same way, we approach brand building and share a voice … but for Jeremy, you can’t because Social media doesn’t work anymore. He said that 90% of social media interactions for most consumers are now in private messaging apps and that Gartner suggests that 75 of the top 100 brands are going to lose a fifth of their brand equity by 2020. In the middle of that, he said that we talk about band anxiety and the stress of a CMO and that Harvard research showed that 80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs, because they’ve invested in shiny things, they’re acting as business as usual and are not disrupting themselves. Whilst Jeremy wasn’t’ sure that he completely agreed with that, he said that there is definitely a case for traditional marketers acting like they’ve got to do things faster vs. Samsung who say, ‘No, let’s bring in a completely different person that’s going to look at things from a customer’s perspective and it’s going to help us create new business models or new products that are going to make the old ones obsolete’.

Jon said that when it comes to innovation, what’s really at stake is to stop being banal, but we live in a world now where efficiency and systems have been so highly tuned that every car looks the same, every yogurt pot looks the same and things have been smoothed out to within an inch of their life.  He therefore thinks that what people are crying out for is to be stimulated again. He said that if he’s making a drink or a dairy product, he wants to think about, not just what it tastes like and how much it costs, but how he is going to stimulate every sense and make it a really immersive non-banal experience. He used Ferraro as an example of a company he points to as innovative, where none of their products look as banal as a chocolate bar. He said that everything stimulates your brain. They don’t open in the same way, they don’t taste the same. They cost more – in fact, the cost of gluing the doily onto the Ferrero Rocher, if put in the hands of a modern-day factory maker, would will be straight off as a complete waste of time!   He thinks that factory producers and anyone that’s produced something or made a product or a service, have had the same brief for 30 years, i.e., make it faster, cheaper and quicker and so it’s no surprise that we now have a lot of products that are very hard to differentiate and that lo and behold CMOs are not trusted by their CEOs because they’re being served up products that aren’t that exciting anymore.

Jon believes the brands that are exciting these days are those that are spending a little bit more money and putting their money where their mouth is, making products that are not banal, that are really stimulating for people and that people are prepared to pay more for.

Kerry added that you can’t be innovative on the outside and unless you are innovative inside.  She said that a big focus at GSK is on the culture of the company and that there is a physical restructure in certain areas and certainly a mindset shift to be much more innovative and to say it’s okay to make mistakes, making accountability, decision making –  things that in a smaller company are maybe there from the start, but [not necessarily] when you have a large company of over 100,000 people in over 150 countries, that has complexity and different and diverse skill sets from scientists and manufacturing sites through all the commercial operations. She said that GSK has recently introduced Facebook Workplace as a collaborative and communication tool, which means everyone from the Exec team down, can talk to anybody, sharing ideas and collaborating.

Jon said that what Kerry had described says something about GSK’s approach to diversity and a diversity of talents and ideas coming from all sorts of places, which he added IBM are like too. He said that the approach to a diverse workforce, working with a diverse peer network and being able to bring the power of that to create new creative ideas is one of the big drivers of the future of businesses going forward. It’s not just an HR tick box exercise, it’s actually a genuine opportunity to drive business value by having a culture that really embraces diversity in a way that really is meaningful.

Walt Disney Company at No.1 in the FutureBrand Index

Jon said that when you look at the performance of Disney over the period, what you see, which is common to a lot of the businesses that are either consistently strong or strong this year, is their ability to stand for something that people really warm to, that is meaningful to people and to be able to deliver that in a coherent way. So, whether they’re operating in their heartlands of dreams, theme parks and films or whether they’re able to broaden their brand into places like news and sports and where they’re beginning to broaden their portfolio, you’re beginning to be able to make Disney more meaningful to more people. He thinks that the reason Disney has got a really strong balance between what they stand for and what they do and deliver every day is because they’ve been able to really broaden their portfolio beyond what they’re known for, but in a way that is coherent and meaningful to people.

Jeremy said that his perception of Disney would be that that’s the internal employee culture that they’ve got, which is absolutely outstanding. He explained that he invited Disney and Pixar to come and help IBM tell its own story internally because they’re obviously an incredible brand of storytellers. He added that the thing that struck him more than anything almost before and after Disney got involved with some of the employees within IBM, where IBM are trying to communicate, was that IBM invents amazing things, but they don’t often do a great job of telling everyone about it. However, Jeremy said before Disney went in, many IBM people were regurgitating the same “here’s what we’ve done, here’s what we’ve invented, we’ve got six Nobel Prize winners, IBM’s amazing, digital transformation, etc” stories, but then Disney helped them to articulate their own personal stories and find out their whys and that reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  They did role playing where everyone had to find their own personal story, go on stage, including people who are not at all well versed in public speaking or may have a lack of confidence or were super nervous.  One example that he shared was of a young girl who had just got engaged who was talking about how the reason she loves IBM so much was because of the blockchain that the company helped to manage in ethical diamonds, as she can source where her engagement diamond came from. Another was of lady that was literally in tears on the stage, having just come back from Africa, and who had been 10 foot away from a rhino – the most profound experience of her life. She absolutely adores these creatures and yet had no idea that the IoT projects that IBM were working were saving rhinos and endangered species.

Jeremy also touched on his own personal reasons for joining IBM because their AI technology helped to save the life of his premature twin babies in hospital and it was nothing whatsoever to do with his job. He said they had 0% chance of survival. Therefore, Jeremy said that trying to find, as an employee, a way to unlock that in a way that is credible and not cheesy and doesn’t seem like it’s manipulative or trying to tell too raw a story for commercial gain, that’s the challenge we’ve got.

Jon added a further example of companies struggle to redefine themselves within their category and talked about their client Nespresso, that was struggling for a long time to really make its way in coffee, because they kept trying to define themselves as a coffee maker. However, after they transitioned their thinking to thinking like a luxury brand that just happened to make coffee, everything followed.

Impact of social media on brand perception and value in respect of social issues

We talked about a few examples here and how much of the issue was brands just not being good at sharing their purpose and being misunderstood or if was just about them jumping on the purpose bandwagon and getting it so wrong and the impact social media can have when they do get it wrong.  The three examples we discussed were:

  1. Iceland’s recent advert about the impact that the production of palm oil can have on the environment was not cleared for TV in the UK by Clearcast, the industry body that clears ads for broadcast on the UK’s main commercial channels. Their decision was because they said Iceland was in breach of rules banning political advertising laid down by the Communications Act 2003 as Greenpeace were involved in the project, which meant that the ad contravened the UK code because it is in collaboration with an environmental activist group.

  1. Nike supporting the NFL player Colin Kaepernick, which had a mixed response because as well as those supporting it, there were also hashtags trending on twitter such as #BoycottNike and #JustBurnIt as well as President Trump weighing in on Twitter criticising Nike too.

  1. Pepsi’s ad with Kendall Jenner that they had to pull because it was so badly received as it was seen as trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement.

Kerry said that those examples highlighted the three ways this issue can go.  She said that in the case of Iceland, it has been brilliantly successful because it is authentic and real. She explained that Iceland stores have genuinely taken palm oil out of their products, with aisles now dedicated to palm oil free. It’s therefore not a communication exercise but a genuine, top to bottom, throughout the business, aligned decision they have made and that exemplifies this part of the purpose that they have.   With the Nike example, Kerry said that yes, it’s related because they’re in sportswear and they are in sport, and he was a sportsman, but when you move on to Kendall Jenner, it’s completely irrelevant. She therefore believes that it’s that authenticity that is so key to whatever you do.

Kerry added that now on social, if it’s something that people don’t agree with, they have equal weight and can garner a swelling behind them even though it might not be what you intended, so you have to be really thoughtful before you go out there and think about how you want this to land as well as what the downsides could be, which way could it go and how are you going to cope with that, because you cannot get into a battle online in social media with a company versus a group of individuals.

She said that in the pharmaceutical industry, when they produce a new vaccine, many people are very happy because that is a lifesaving product but there will be people in the world who are anti vaccination and believe it’s not a good thing to do – it’s a fair right that they have – but what’s interesting online is that you can get quite a swell of activity of ‘anti vaccers’, as they are known, talking about the downsides. Kerry said that GSK don’t get involved [in those discussions] because what you then get is the self-regulation of all the other thousands of people that come out and say actually you should get your kids vaccinated. Kerry said that you therefore have to be very careful about the topics you’re putting out there and then equally careful about when you intervene and when you don’t intervene

Jeremy, however, thinks that we worry too much about social media and the impact that we think it may have and that we sometimes over dramatise its reach. He said that social media is really interesting because the vast majority of consumer conversations at the moment don’t happen on social media anymore and that at the most, probably 5% of the conversation is on Twitter and maybe, if you’re lucky, 10% is on Facebook, but that 85% is in private messaging apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, etc.  or people sending a URL on e-mail to their friend – conversations that brands can no longer see, in what Jeremy said is called Dark Social, which is all private. He said brands are getting beside themselves and really nervous by sometimes only looking at 3% of the conversation instead of trying to look across all the different channels.

Looking at it from a technology point of view, Jeremy thinks that the big shift is that brands used to be in control but are no longer in control anymore. Now consumers and customers are in control and he talked about personification and that we don’t talk about it enough. He said that 55% of consumers are never going to give any data to marketers ever, which results in marketers questioning how they do their jobs?  For Jeremy, it’s simple. The only way you can do your job is by worrying less about the 3000 things that might sit in your database based on what they (consumers/customers) have done in the past or clicked on and worry more about what mood are they in – what mood were they in in the last 10 minutes based upon anonymous data and matching that to millions of people with the same values. He said that you could read an Instagram photo, look at the emojis and do personality insights across on tone and sentiment analysis, things that IBM’s Watson does at its core, which he said is basically its biggest output in trying to understand, based upon anonymous behaviour, what’s really going on, what’s likely to happen next and what should we do about it.

Jon responded by saying that he thinks brands remain firmly in control but that they are just challenged in their ability to understand that the consumer has power and the consumer has a point of view and is aware of that. He said that if you’ve built a brand that’s robust enough, then you’ve built a brand that can accommodate the changes that are coming all the time, which is what he calls a ‘Future Proof Brand’.

Other interest findings from the FutureBrand Index

Jon said that when looking ahead in three years’ time, we will see a world that is increasingly dominated by American and Chinese brands – brands that are fundamentally built on the power of their huge home markets but that come at the world from a very different perspective. He said that Chinese brands are coming at the world from an anticipation and wanting to be global, whereas he thinks American brands tend to do it because they need to be. He believes that the values that are driving a lot of the Chinese brands are much more in tune with where the world wants to go and where the world will potentially react to where it is today – Confucian values, values linked to harmony, to long term evolution, long-term improvements and consistency over a long period of time. He therefore thinks that looking three years hence, there’s a really interesting battleground there and that if you’re not American or Chinese then you have got to have to do something special and non-banal to stand out in that world, which is a really big pressure now for anyone who wants to compete going forward in the longer term.

Jon said that LVMH has a challenge around the way it’s perceived around its purpose and brands such as Unilever and Walmart are going to struggle going forward in terms of how indispensable and how meaningful they come into people’s lives when they become increasingly under competition from new threats and new business models.  He added that in fairness to Unilever, under Paul Polman, they were obviously one of the first companies to put purpose at the centre of the business plan.  However, things have changed in the company recently [as Polman is stepping down after 10 years] and so Jon thinks they’ve gone back a little bit potentially to their model of employing from within and are trying to recover the essence of what Unilever stands for and so are battling to remain meaningful in a world where banality is punished very quickly.  He thinks that being able to make their purpose resonate again is a big challenge but is sure Polman’s replacement will be aware of what the issues are and will tackle it and so expects Unilever to come back fighting.

Jeremy added that whilst LVMH may be a brand struggling a little bit to explain their purpose, he said it begs the question about do you really need to have a purpose and how crucial is it? He said that if you look at Virgil Abloh, Founder of Off-white, and what he’s doing at, what Jeremy described as, probably the top most desired brand in the world, and at his collaboration with IKEA, and then look at you a certain demographic on the street, who do you want more than anybody else, LV or Off-white?  However, Jeremy said that that doesn’t always reflect in the brand values of what it is that they had been talking about. He also added that if we went back three years to 2015, we would have never in a million years expected to be sat here today thinking that in two-years’ time 50% of browsing behaviour would going to happen without a screen, that voice is going to change everything and that if we don’t make sense of that, we’re all ‘screwed’ as brand marketers. That, for Jeremy, is a dichotomy of marketing – trying to keep up with what’s actually going on, on the street, and sometimes trying to ask too much.

Kerry also added that there still a need for real human physical connection hopes that we won’t become a world where we only interact virtually, which Jeremy agreed on.  He said that he had listened to Sam Harris’s podcast interview with Johann Hari, author of ‘Lost Connections’, which was all about depression and anxiety and that he was making a case for how today, we’re actually the loneliest society that there has ever been. Jeremy said that in the interview, they cite research from around 20 years ago where, when people were asked if in a crisis who they would go to or call on, they had about five people to go today the most common answer is zero. He added that the average amount of time that kids go and play outside is just less than an hour because they want to be inside being connected, yet an inmate spends 70 minutes a day outside because they have to by law.  That, for Jeremy, is where the challenge lies for brands to drive a real genuine deep-rooted experience.

Final thoughts

Jon – Simplicity. Having the ability to have a simple communication is something he thinks is missing, i.e. being able to say: ‘this is what we’re trying to do, we are a brand that stands for this, therefore everything we do should work like this, this is therefore why I’m doing this’.  The ability to do that would make a huge difference.

Kerry – Authenticity. If it’s not authentic, don’t even start. If it doesn’t feel true to you as a person as a leader as a company, it’s just not going to fly.

Jeremy – Quoting a line from Jerry Maguire … “People just want to be inspired”. How do we go and inspire other people to do what inspires them, and not to as hung up on what’s the value of it?


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