Monday, 27 August 2012

Building the Future Together - Bupa Great Edinburgh Run

I only have 40 days until the Bupa Great Race. I am running for the charity I am connected with in Africa, helping to equip through education, support through work initiatives and bring relief to those in extreme poverty through food, accommodation and medical assistance. As a group of professionals we have the ability to change lives through influence and finances. Please support me, both personally (10k is just the start) and as a fundraiser for an awesome charity.

Fundraiser profile page - BT MyDonate

Friday, 24 August 2012

Innovation Comes Through An Inquiring Mind

Out there in the big wide world, people have broken boundaries in exploration, creative thinking, science, transport, space and many more environments. Combine that with the relentless questioning from a young child of why, how, where or what? At what stage in life do we start accepting the status quo and why do we? Shouldn't it be part of life's excitement to retain our curiosity and seek to develop an inquiring mind? Beyond that, isn't it those with lifelong curiosity that break business boundaries, innovate and lead creatively and courageously?

An inquiring mind can be likened to being curious. It starts with a sense of wonder, but beyond that it is the desire to understand something, to create something new or solve a problem. In the words of John Sculley (former CEO of Apple) “Curiosity is wanting to understand something that you don't know something about; and hopefully a lot of other people don't either because it means you can really break new ground.”

Another quote I like about curiosity is from Jaron Lanier (Computer Scientist, Composer, Visual Artist and Author) “Curiosity is the fact that our minds are verbs and not nouns, that we're in motion, that we're self inventing, that we're seeking, that we don't know what our destination is, that we're reinventing ourselves.”

A rare breed of individual never gets out of practice. It's easy to find them; they're the most satisfied, ingenious and high achieving. Four distinguishing traits work in tandem to set them apart: awareness, curiosity, focus, and initiative – they're the innovators and they have developed an inquiring mind.

Innovation is the direct consequence of curiosity. It allows us to start with a blank piece of canvas, creating, innovating, evolving an idea. Building on successes in the past, but also not being afraid to challenge, raise expectations and quite often be a maverick. It transforms us all into designers, the opportunity to create new approaches to problems, to transform a business model, a product or service into something better, or perhaps into something entirely different. It requires us to look at things in more than one way, because it is the only way you get a new insight into a problem.

As a call to innovate, it's time to challenge yourself:
  1. Challenge and ask yourself if you wanted to improve the environment for innovation, what specifically you can do in your current role to cultivate that culture?
  2. Go beyond what's expected, stretch yourself beyond your current environment
  3. Understand the big picture, and incorporate it into your day to day decisions and solutions. Always think for long term, think for future.
  4. Don’t be afraid. Learn to deal with your fear.
  5. Innovation always involves risk. Innovation always brings change. Be ready.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Emotional Branding - Building the Bond

Your customer is loyal because of their emotional attachment to your product or service. Irrespective of whether we are talking about something desirable – champagne, perfume, the latest technology or something that is simply a necessity – cleaning products, household appliances or office stationery! As the CEO of says "every call is perceived as a way to make a positive emotional connection with a customer." So, what does "emotional connection" mean? How is it developed and what impact will it have on your business?

Emotional and psycho-dynamic factors have long been known to drive brand selection and loyalty. Even in today's price-sensitive economy, the imagery attached to brands goes far beyond product attributes, functional benefits and price. It's about capturing hearts and minds. It's moving your customer beyond retention, to commitment, delight and ultimately evangelism. According to Gallup, companies that embrace the customer in this way, not merely as a standalone activity, but in collaboration with brand and business strategy, outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth.

The route to building emotional engagement, goes beyond merely acknowledging your customer preferences, to working diligently to understand their values, character, desires and ambitions. Only an insight-based, personalised marketing approach can form a strong enough bond with a brand, that evokes a personal, emotional reaction in customers. It is also important to understand that people aren’t either “emotional” or “unemotional.” Consumers are typically highly emotional about some brands and products while completely indifferent and “unattached” to others. Business customers are as emotional about their B2B purchases as car buyers, clothing shoppers, and holiday makers are about their selections.

Gallup, who have worked extensively to quantify the emotional connection benefit, cite a metric based on Confidence, Integrity, Pride and Passion; Confidence in the brand’s promise, belief in its Integrity, Pride in being a customer, and Passion for the brand. Ultimately it has uncovered the powerful financial consequences, ranging from share-of-wallet to frequency and amount of repeat business produced through fully engaged customers.

Moving forward, consider the emotions you wish to produce in your customer. Understanding the core emotional need is the most important element to emotional branding. It becomes part of your brand essence, being communicated across every touchpoint of your internal and external communications. It becomes the raison d'ĂȘtre of the brand.

It is important that messaging remains consistent, the brand story is reinforced at every level; this is particularly important at emotionally heightened touchpoints – customer services, social media, telephone helplines.

In essence, building an emotional bond is not dissimilar to the development of a personal relationship. Once established it becomes hard for a person to separate themselves from the brand and begin a new relationship with a competitor. Emotional branding at this level, can only be achieved by putting what customers deem most important ahead of everything else.

Monday, 6 August 2012

An Engaged Mind

Recently I read an article which highlighted CIPD's latest quarterly Employee Outlook survey. Astonishingly, it appears we have a nation of employees who are simply ‘not bothered’ about their work, with 58% of respondents reporting only ‘neutral’ levels of engagement with their job.

According to the article, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at the CIPD, drew links between employee disengagement and recent high profile cases of “unethical behaviours and corrosive cultures overseen by senior leaders”, emphasising the importance of establishing positive working cultures from the top down. He went on to warn:
We know that strong employee engagement drives higher productivity and better business outcomes, so such a prominent display of ‘neutral engagement’ in the workplace should act as a real wake up call for employers.”

Within the realms of brand and management consulting, a lack of engagement is of great concern; it will have direct correlation to the levels of creativity, innovation and credibility delivered to the client. It is clearly evident that whilst employee engagement is frequently written about, it now needs to become a lifestyle choice of both people and organisations, to develop and maintain an engaged mind.

An engaged mind is developed holistically, through a healthy lifestyle. It incorporates physical, spiritual and mental well-being. It cannot simply be confined within the four walls of a place of work, it is curious, excited, receptive, engaged, tenacious. Most likely, someone with an engaged mind commits to lifelong learning, demonstrating intellectual curiosity, pursuing education, new activities, reading, learning new languages or developing new skills. In its most simple form, an engaged mind comes from understanding ones strengths and interests, and how this translates into being a valued contributor to relationships, both in and outside work.

With this in mind, the role of good leadership is to find the most appropriate and productive ways to stimulate employees in developing and cultivating their well-being. Providing an environment of authenticity – it is proven that employees who are themselves in the workplace are more effective. Those who are clear enough about what their organisation stands for and are at ease with the culture are more likely to bring themselves to work and to share stories about their family lives, hobbies, likes and dislikes. A simple concept to nurturing this is to encourage employees to try something new everyday, from travelling to work via a different route to trying new foods, attending lectures or trying a new social activity.

Beyond that, it is about recruiting with purpose – finding future talent who demonstrate these traits. Whilst it may not be the easiest paragraph in a job description, it will be clearly evident via experience, interests and most certainly on meeting. Engaged minds are obvious from the outset, a genuine smile and welcoming, inclusive attitude. They are receptive and confident, with an openess about sharing new activities or experiences, being able to listen actively and offer insights and challenge, largely because they care about the outcome.

Personally, two character traits stand out for the engaged individual – proactivity and energy. A proactive person will seek to understand their environment so they can make suggestions, take initiative, and innovate for the greater good. Their primary focus is on adding value. And they do so with high energy, setting the momentum, rather than it being defined. It will come of no surprise that a person with an engaged mind will inspire others, being the most effective brand ambassador with partners, investors, customers and employees.

My challenge for you today is to find your own, individual path to creating an engaged mind. 

Monday, 30 July 2012

Branding Excellence

Holistic branding, Conscious Capitalism, Branding 360; are these simply a collection of phrases to define Branding Excellence? If so, what is branding excellence and how do we pursue it?

According to branding expert Ron Strauss, 83% of a company’s market value today is represented by their intangible assets (brands, quality processes, relationships, etc.) Most think of brands in the context of communications. But building a strong, credible brand starts with building the right foundation across the entire company. Using the acronym developed by marketing Guru, Raj Sisodia, it is thought leadership built on embracing and collaborating with SPICE; Society, Partners, Investors, Customers, Employees.

It is evident that the pursuit of excellence within branding has to be thought of as a holistic system in which there are a number of elements present. It moves beyond simply being about making profits, to embracing the very raison d'etre to create something of intrinsic value that resonates with the needs of customers and with society at large, whilst embracing the needs of varying stakeholders.

From the outset, it is clear that senior leadership support is essential in creating and driving the sustainable brand journey. It has to be approached in a purposeful and meaningful way. Such credibility is all about trust, setting and delivering expectations consistently over a prolonged period of time. True brand excellence merges both the external facing products, services and experiences with operational credibility across supply chain, culture, recruitment and processes.

The key to keeping this real is to keep things fresh; not allowing the brand to be ladened down by actioning of the strategy, but creating strong differentiated brands which deliver real benefits, in a fresh consistent way allowing them to evolve and mature, in a similar way to that of one's personality and character which grows and develops through experience.

There is much to be said with personification of a brand; for a true brand should be able to stand such a test. What values does it uphold? What is its character? How and with whom does it engage? What benefit does it bring to society? Essentially, (in the words of P&G) every brand must define its purpose of how it uniquely touches and improves lives with its superior benefit.

To do that, we need to embrace and acknowledge the role of every communication channel, not purely digital, design, PR, sponsorship, partnerships (the list goes on), but every applicable tool that is going to actively connect with people in your world.

To close, I would like to leave you with three challenges:
  1. Understand what drives you and how you can make a difference in your sphere of influence.
  2. Find new ways to broaden your horizons, educate yourself and learn.
  3. Get creative – listen to a new radio station, take a different route to work, go to a different performance genre, read a difference newspaper, step out of your comfort zone.

In challenging yourself, maybe you will bring something different and more insightful to your next brand session, planning meeting or pitch.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Building the Foundations

I have always had aspirations to write, to share thoughts and inspirations and perhaps one day, even write a book. However, until today most of what I have written has remained under wraps or for project related eyes only. The tipping point from thoughts to action came recently, in a series of well meaning comments from friends and colleagues; 'You should write and share your insights', 'Can you write for my magazine', to the most honest 'you should write, get focussed on you and not others!'.

So as way of introduction; I am passionate about brands, creating, building and nurturing them. However I believe that brands are more than an identity or compelling customer proposition, brands should be like an iceberg. The visible element should be the smallest part, brands should run through the deepest parts of a company; people, processes, actions, thoughts and mindsets. In this way, brands like icebergs are beautiful. 

Aside from brands, I am passionate about culture, business excellence, integrity, start-ups and poverty alleviation. I have lived in three different continents and love the experience and understanding that each of these experiences have given me. 

Now located in Scotland I am a brand and business strategist working with fabulous clients across lots of different industries. I am also a mentor at Entrepreneurial-Spark, a non-profit social enterprise, with one thing at its heart; helping and nurturing early stage businesses to succeed, so they can make it to their first and second birthdays and potentially get investment or an exit. Finally I am a board member of a charity working in Africa helping to equip through education, support through work initiatives and bring relief to those in extreme poverty through food, accommodation and medical assistance.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, adding value and food for thought.