When a brand concept becomes your corporate strategy

We all know the corporate drill of revenue and market share being the single biggest company purpose. And that the tactics and programmes you implement to achieve those business targets become your strategy – your ‘how to’.

Then there is organisational culture that purists overlay into the strategy mix to keep behaviours in check. Plus, the ever-growing do-gooder empire to have a strong link to CSR and ESG which are actually extremely important and relevant given the current state of the world.

But where does the brand fit in now? These days brand has to evolve to be far more ubiquitous in a company’s DNA. Now more than ever is brand able to shape and drive a company’s purpose and actually turn corporate strategy on its head.

A leader I once worked with said; ‘Take care of the brand and the revenue will look after itself.’

In today’s economic and societal climate that becomes an epic task.

First there is technology. Stay still for a second on the digital curve and you will lose. In an App-convenient lifestyle with byte-sized attention spans and global platforms emerging and evolving at a rapid pace – not to mention the gig-economy, metaverse and crypto all merging to become your parallel universe V-Life…! Brand Boffins, keep up!

Second, there is humanity itself. Brand relevance and authenticity must run deep into society and pull at the tenterhooks of your target market. Choose your pillars for Change for Good carefully. Long gone are the salad days of donation and sponsorship token gestures. Find partners that share your beliefs and can provide mutually beneficial value exchanges. “Our brand stands for…and that is why we back…and value our partners….” Get your elevator pitch ready and your brand voice out there with transparency, honesty, confidence and credibilty.

Thirdly, there are your people. The team you build to carry your brand DNA into your customer base. One bad egg can spoil the cart. Brand marketeers must look closely at employees and to set the behaviour and attitude accordingly. If your company isn’t ready for full-blown Internal Comms programmes then focus on the frontline and leadership team – those who face the public most. Then tackle the ‘frozen middle’ managers with poor people skills. Don’t forget, they must all buy-into your Change for Good programmes and be advocates and highly visible in doing so. Crime doesn’t crack itself. You need to be on top of all the issues around equality, diversity and inclusion, bullying, racism, and more.

And now to customers. Your core tactics should be centered on Always On Engagement, frequent Customer Delight, fresh ways of service delivery, simplicity (with a sprinkle of complexity for the niches who love it – gamers, geeks, specialist segments ). Disrupt to Excite. Old school traditional is as boring to customers as a blackboard is to a seven-year-old hooked on Pokémon. This is why I haven’t mentioned NPS, CSAT… ooops just did! Of course there are givens, but brand people need to push for more.

So take it all in. Look at your landscape and beyond. Levitate your brand to where it really should be because that’s where your customers expect it to be.

Consider your opportunities around Technology, Humanity, Employees and Customers.

If you give your brand the respect, thought and time it deserves you will discover the one thing that becomes the beating heart of your company. That one thing that makes your competitors sit up and take notice…and then follow…

Your Vision, Mission and Values – then your brand essence, proof-points, tone of voice, look and feel and messaging and everything else…will follow suit.


Online Brand measurement

Absolute BeginnersSo, by way of an update on brand health measurement… We have gone from quarterly traditional reports to monthly ones, and have challenged our agency to come up with a real-time online solution going forward. Moving to a 100% online poll-type questionnaire is not as simple as it seems when you’re working in a market with very low adult literacy and desperately need a meaningful correlation to the previous years of measurement conducted the traditional way of face-to-face.

We have gone to a slightly smaller sample size but more frequent, and now ensure that up to 70% of campaigns we test are those we execute online. This way at least we get to balance out what’s really driving our brand equity when most of what we do appears in social media and Google.

Surprise surprise, our first monthly measure shows very positive signs across all indicators of awareness, recall, and campaign effectiveness. Now that we are properly measuring online only campaigns the brand  has jumped upwards for youth.

In addition, we have included a few new questions to measure Brand Relevance. It’s a lite version of what one of our favourite brand strategy agencies Prophet uses in the United States (and dare say it will soon become the norm for brand measurement world-wide as relevance becomes the single-minded objective for all major brands).

But being brave enough to move to measuring your online ads this way will demand you to take better care of online content across the board. In other words, be prepare to see a lot of reds in the campaign KPIs as you start the journey of better constructing online content to be as effective as an offline ad on TV. As well as being entertaining enough to be watched, it also needs to deliver on simplicity of message, call to action, uniqueness and brand linkage. No longer can you shoot random stuff and post it. And still posts just down’t cut it anymore. Keeping your brand relevant online takes more work, production spend and tender loving care than offline ever did.

It never sleeps, it’s always on and it’s scrutinised openly and publicly by millions of people every day.

(Will keep you posted when our agency pitches this new online brand measurement tool in the new year…sort of excited!)

Brand performance and bridging the digital divide

When you work in emerging markets for a few years, you lose track of the type of measurements that one is accustomed to in more mature markets. Brand health is one such measure.

For years I have used Neilsen/ Millward Brown/ Ipsos methodology that spits out a Brand Equity Index with the quarterly variance of emotional and functional brand attributes.

But the difficulty in getting a true picture of holistic brand health (offline and ONLINE) is becoming increasingly apparent.

You see – like most telcos – we are turning the tables on MarComm spend to be more weighted for online. Leading markets can achieve a ratio of 10% offline and 90% online spend (and indeed some markets I have been exposed to can achieve 100% online and nil offline spend). Of course, you can only ‘afford’ to do so if you have a higher than 100% penetration of smartphones and a very healthy trend of mobile data traffic.

In Cambodia we still have about 30-40% feature phone usage and while mobile internet usage is increasing we still need to capture awareness in rural areas with TVC, Billboards and Radio. So we are trying to go for a 60/40 split in offline vs online spend this year, and then a 70/30 split in the not-so-distant future.

So the difficulty is getting a measure of our holistic brand health knowing that some of our campaigns never see the light of offline. And in some months, our digital performance is through the roof but our brand health report says otherwise.

One way we have tried to increase accuracy of brand performance is to cut the data in urban vs rural, then youth vs non-youth and online vs offline.

We can see how online urban youth perceive our brand vs rural, offline non-youth. But it’s still not enough to give credit where credit’s due for high performing digital campaigns when overall Brand Equity is mediocre.

Question to all brand gurus out there. How does your Brand Health Tracker bridge the digital divide to give an accurate holistic measure of your brand health and equity? Particularly those who can manage a MarComm spend ratio of about 30% offline and 70% online? Is it a matter of doing two sets of brand measures – one for offline and one for online? And does testing online require a formula of reach and engagement vs spend, awareness and likability? Very interested in hearing how we can get a firm picture of our online brand equity because, well… our brand will be living more and more online. Makes sense right?


Leadership? Mum’s the word

Many years ago my mother told me I should get a cat because it would teach me to look after myself better. So I did. I learned a lot from raising a cute fur ball to become a tenacious, overly confident cat that would pick fights with dogs.

Same theory applies to motherhood (of the human kind). It teaches you a lot about leadership.

Yes motherhood teaches you soft skills like unconditional love, patience, time-keeping and extreme hygiene. But it helps you master skills that carry into the Boardroom.

Let’s start with negotiation… Being a Mum enables you to separate the essential from the non-essential and to bargain your way up from ground zero. When juggling motherhood and career, things like shopping, wine and movie time (and basic self-grooming) are all negotiated with as much precision and planning as a multi-million dollar deal.

Project Management. I did schedule my birth by C-section but soon learned that absolutely everything else had a dependency on multiple other factors. Also, my attention to risk assessment sharpened. I can assess the readiness of any product launch as quickly as I can assess the safety of a hotel room for a crawling infant.

Problem solving skills. One pertinent question for any interview should be….If you were out in public and your child did a number 2 and you had no nappies, wipes or change-room what would you do?

Extreme multi-tasking, maintaining a single conversation in a room of 100 screaming toddlers, operating with as little as four hours of sleep a night for three months, and sneaking to the loo in the middle of the night without light or making the slightest sound are all things mothers master.

But on a more serious note. Leading a team through change, scenario planning for a crisis, managing upward, sideward and forward – is what motherhood has helped me improve in my business life.

Just as I lead my family on everything from meal plans, holidays and clothing through to financial planning and making life-changing decisions, I lead my work team to be a switched on happy high-performance machine.

I am part of a leadership team that shoulders  revenue and market share. I know what’s important and what’s not. I know when to fight and when to let go… when to speak up and shut up.

Sometimes the best leaders are mothers. Not just because we can problem solve on the fly, multi-task and demonstrate high EQ, but rather motherhood simply teaches you to take full accountability and responsibility for others unconditionally through thick and thin.

If only Motherhood was a recognised skill. Last count of my LinkedIn, endorsements were:
• Corporate Comms – 75
• Strategy – 46
• Motherhood – nil

*Please note. The word motherhood can be replaced throughout with ‘parenthood’  because there are some crack-ace dads out there acquiring the same leadership skills exactly the same way!

Which cultures produce the best dancers?

We all know the likely matches – Brazilians are best at Samba, Latin Americans do salsa, and the Spanish are masters of Flamenco… But what about Hip Hop? Street dance, break dance, krumpin, jerkin…whatever you want to call it.

While the genre may have originated in the Bronx, it is a dance style that has appealed the world over to youth aged anywhere from 10 to early twenties. Black, white, mixed…It’s been the inspiration for white flies to learn how to dance – really dance.
And, it’s shaped an underground movement in countries you’d hardly expect.

I honestly thought the best dancers were African. They have rhythm – never before have I seen a single drum beat reverberate through bodies with such gut-felt force.
It’s their pure physical rhythm that makes them fabulous street dancers.
Then there are the Arabs.
There’s a whole underground movement of young Arab dancers who on weekends only wake after midnight to hit the clubs. They too have rhythm. For the stricter Arab countries, it doesn’t come as naturally. Rather it is a skill they learn by copying. And it is their rebellion against societal conformity.

So 1am cool dudes ditch their kandoras for Western clothes and take their positions at their favourite tables having called the club owner enroute. Vodka with Red Bull is their drink of choice because it’s hard to smell on your breath the next morning.
The dance style is much more fluid in more liberal Arab countries like Tunisia and Morrocco where drumbeats echo each weekend at weddings across the villages. Rhythm is in their blood, and the men can master the moves of a female belly dancer just fine. Hence, their street dance is more natural, fluid and with less technical structure.

But in Oman, it gets interesting because you have Arab mixed with East African and Indian. Indians have rhythm. Bollywood is a world sensation. The young Omanis can dance. So well in fact they rank pretty highly in Red Bull BC Ones most years. Society is less strict than their UAE neighbours and young guys sport trucker hats with kandoras on weekends, a signature hint that they have cool private lives – and street dance is a big part of that.

But can Asians dance? The answer is yes. Japan and Korea are regulars on the B-Boy arena. But perhaps their style is a bit more technical rather than rhythmic.
There is a recent emergence of dance crews in Asia who are now making their mark. And like their Arab counterparts, dance too is a form of rebellion – it’s one of the few ways they can truly freely express themselves.

But compared to their Arab, Indian and African counterparts they have a long way to go. Can rhythm be learned? Yes I think it can. But they could benefit from a few weeks with African and Arab dancers (with a good swig of vodka and red bull for wings) to get their hips moving, and to feel a drum beat run through their core like melted chocolate.

If you want to see some hot new talent emerging out of Cambodia, Polarix Dance Crew is definitely worth watching: https://youtu.be/TRH4ukEjQN0


Teaching your toddler to be a future leader

Every now and then you have a conversation that sticks in your mind. The one I had recently was about we can support our toddlers to become future leaders.
The discussion started with how Asian men – while having brilliant ideas – are not usually successful in winning over clients because they have trouble expressing themselves.
And that many agencies will put a Caucasian up every time for big pitches simply because they have a persona and a presence that appeals more.
It’s an example how traditional family values can get in the way of a kid’s future potential.
My colleague explained that most Chinese parents choose the best schools they can afford and push their child for academic achievement.
They want their kids to be engineers, doctors, accountants, teachers – something tangible.
And when you think about it – you don’t have to express yourself or really present your ideas and sway a crowd in any of these given paths.
So when it comes to many Asian men, self-expression is never taught and so never learned let alone honed as a core business skill.
Leaders don’t need to be engineers or doctors, they just need to have a vision and have the ability to make that vision a reality through leading others.
“I don’t care if my son gets average grades at school,” said my colleague. “I don’t actually use anything that I was taught at school.”
Then I realised the same goes for me.
I finished university without being able to write. Science, algebra, biology, languages…nup. Not using any of that stuff.
How to solve problems, how to develop an idea, how to present that idea and how to work with and lead others…how to fail and pick up and try again…now that would have been more useful!
So the conversation turned to how to help our kids to be great leaders when they grow up.
My colleague’s answer was simply to send his son to international schools from age 4 to forever and let him live in other countries so he could learn from other kids charisma, social skills and self-expression. He doesn’t want his son to take a backseat while a Caucasian steps forward to present his ideas.
What about Caucasians?
We love our son, we have raised him to be confident, feel loved and to be happy. We travel a lot, live in different countries. But is that enough?
I’d be interested to know what other people are doing to build their little ones to become future leaders. I’m pretty sure it won’t have anything to do with having top grades at school!

Why is it so hard to tell your agency they suck?

Ever been in a pitch where you can’t stop giggling?

When you really try to imagine implementing their concept but it’s just plain hideously ludicrous. Yes, the pitch was that bad.

Here the team was pitching a concept that was just wrong on so many levels. And in the room, was the head of the agency. Sitting with a straight face as if it was the most normal of pitches in the world.

I’ve lived and worked across the world. I’ve managed numerous agencies from good to bad and in between. I’ve had to sit through loads of pitches, and been on the receiving end of plain crappy work. But this one took the cake.

If I told you the concept, I would be giving away too much.

But not being content with giving me the most entertaining pitch ever (and not in a good way) they starting dishing up half-hearted projects with half-baked storyboards, whacked up creative and messaging worse than my toddler can manage.

Toddlers may babble a bit, but they’re straight to the point, don’t lie (yet) and what they say reflects how they feel. I would be better off hiring toddlers!

So I read through the contract and hey presto – the usual exit clause of one month’s written notice but only after a formal review and only if issues aren’t addressed. So a review meeting we held.

We skirted around the elephant in the room asking about kids, holiday plans and stuff.

Then came the awkward moment; “Look, we have performance issues and I need you to address them.”

“We’re not happy with your work, your creatives have been way off the mark and it’s taking too long to get stuff done – we have to do loads of rework in-house.”

If you headed an agency and you heard this from your client, what would you do? Sometimes agency heads are the worst listeners.

Instead of guaranteeing a changeover of creative team and giving us a fresh face for managing the account, he said we were causing the issue by complaining and doing the work ourselves…and by the way our arrears were building up.

Sometimes you just need a change.

An end word for agency heads… listen to your client, look at the traffic reports and see what’s getting done, what’s getting reworked and what’s just crap. And for goodness sake watch the body language of your client when your team is pitching.


When Westerners get Arab CSR wrong

How many times have you heard the hard and fast rules about Corporate Social Responsibility? Do this, don’t do that, measurement is a must and if anything falls out of your nicely structured pen then it cannot be allowed. Out goes the standard apology letter explaining how there is limited budget and all funded exploits on behalf of CSR need to be aligned to company strategy.

Boring! Especially if the rules are coming from a Westerner with very little exposure to, or understanding of the Muslim Gulf and its culture.

Said Westerner said  (and I quote) “Under no circumstances should CSR projects and spend be linked in any way to religion, politics or race.” Cough, cough, choke… and then you start seeing red because of their total ignorance of Islam and how deeply  instrinsic it is in people’s lives, and how companies in the Middle East have to step-up Customer Engagement …. and how do you do that? You pin-point  your CSR and sponsorship to the very hearts and minds of your market. And what does 99% of the general public living in the Middle East care about?

You got it! Religion, politics (remember that little thing called Arab Spring?!) and the distinction between race – nowhere else in the world is the gap between rich and poor more noticeable and entrenched in everyday life than in the Middle East. Oil rich Arabs and the expat labour force and all that…?

So how does a significant sized company activate anything viable and meaningful while abiding to the rules of a Westerner who consults here and there , flying in and out of countries and seeing only the insides of offices and hotels? The Arab world has many faces and it is incompetent for Westerners to base opinions and henceforth influence and guide big corporate strategies such as CSR from such pitiful levels of exposure.

The answer is simple – you don’t, and cannot, abide by those ill-informed rules if you really give a flying hoot about your brand. One must take all the rules of engagement from the Western corporates and then apply a Muslim filter over it to make sure programmes maintain a special closeness to customers that ignites emotion and motivation.

Case in point – Palestine. There is nothing new about the fighting between Israel and Palestine. Both sides have been at it for donkeys and you need a degree to understand the full history and political, religious and economic entanglement of the whole situation. But what is new is that the Arab countries have been awakened by movements such as Arab Spring and their discovery and use of a new global voice in Social Media.

The fact is wars are now Tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked. All sides of stories  – if not treated fairly and openly by the press – are certainly aired and expressed on Social Media.

The blurring of lines between truth and lies, and allegiance and rebellion has never been so hotly debated, along with such powerful out-pouring of hatred, love, patriotism and pain all entwined and visible to all. (except perhaps to our Western CSR experts).

So with all this going on, Muslim countries, companies and therefore brands have a duty of care to uphold and express their Corporate Social Responsibility to support the causes that people care about most. Case in point is Yemen.

Supporting Muslim cousins in time of need should be welcomed on any CSR roadmap right now. Here companies and their customers and employees can make a difference in getting support on the ground to the women and children who have lost their fathers, sons, brothers and uncles in a war that is raging and will continue to rage for far longer than it should.

It’s great for Westerners to be hired guns to help corporates in the Middle East evolve to compete more strongly on a world stage, but sometimes their good-intentioned advice should be ignored. And this is one such case.

Too Messi for Arab world?

It’s interesting isn’t it when big global sponsorship deals are made on little or no brand suitability of association. Messi is case in point, and so is his team FCB. It seems every brand with big enough cashflow for decent bragging rights is in on the action. (Would FCB survive at all without its eclectic yet numerous paid endorsements? Probably not.) Let’s put the spotlight on Telecoms for a minute or two. FCB is sponsored by a couple of big players in the Middle East.  However one  is far better structured with its CSR orientation through its specific association with the Messi Foundation. And it’s paying off with the World Cup hype and Mr Golden Boots making the sponsorship crafters feeling good about themselves.

But here you go… one example of how it could have all come crashing down very fast for both telecom operators. It shows also that ill-informed almost illiterate participants of social media can pack a punch.

What if Messi was a Jew?

A smear campaign of Messi raised a surprisingly ugly head when some active members of Social Media – sparked and fuelled by the conflict in Gaza – showed Messi praying at the kissing wall in Jerusalem wearing the tell-tale white lace cap. Here they were accusing him of being a Jew and prompting the Muslim world to think twice about international herosim and for frothing football fans to rethink their allegiance/s.

The company had signed the global deal without as much as assessing his religious standing. A dangerous overlook by a major company whose footprint covers mainly Middle East countries – also Indonesia which is (you guessed it!) also predominantly Muslim.   Imagine what could have happened if major billboards, retail shops and television brand campaigns all featured Messi, and he was a Jew? Chief Commercial Officers would have negative revenue trendlines overnight, marketers would have to re-launch all major products and services under new creative campaigns and brand teams would be pulling stuff off the press and out of stores like Jumping Jack Flash.

Last minute panic checks sounded after the Social Media smear campaign emerged. The difficult questions were asked – Is Messi really a good association for a largely Muslim brand? And for an instant, the shocking realisation that due diligence was not taken set in.

Thank God (and Allah) that Messi is indeed a Catholic. Not as bad as being a Jew in Muslim quarters. But it still sounds the question of whether big Arab brands should be more stringent in assessing sponsorships and perhaps should stop Western hires from making all the decisions. In fact, with so much money being spent one would think it was about time these companies adopt a filter of “does it make sense for Muslims?” They should also adopt a standard practice of market research to test Western assumptions on the actual customer base, who are mainly Muslims.

Brandblogette tends to think there are better ways to spend the money for operations to show a stronger, more genuine and emotional brand attachment to its audience. We are succombing to an illness of online hits & hype.

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