February 26, 2013
The branded bunting was out in profusion and I certainly witnessed plenty of determined, progressive intent when I was fortunate enough to visit several of India’s leading brands and participate in the state and business sponsored debate about Brand India some years ago now.
So it’s not without concern that we learn that the most valuable brands in India: State Bank of India; Tata Motors and Reliance Industries have seen a recent decline in their net brand worth of as much as 13%.
According to the WARC site, Unni Krishnan, Brand Finance brand strategy director, believes that the larger organisations “face serious challenges in their ability to transform themselves in line with the changes taking place in the market”. And according to Professor YLR Moorthi of IIM Bangalore, external factors like global economic volatility, cost pressures and corruption scandals are all “external worries” threatening to undermine the confidence of most Indian brands. As we know only too well in the West, when the “signature” brands come under threat, so does the nation brand.
In an article first published in the India Economic Times, then by Admap/WARC, then updated for the book Nation Branding (2009) under the title “Whose Brand is Flagging Now”*, we warned of the dangers inherent in brands that send mixed signals to the market, that promise one thing in their advertising and livery yet deliver something else.
With particular reference to Indian brands and the Brand India debate, we pointed to the almost paradoxical juxtaposition of a rational, overly professionalised inclination in some of the brand positioning that perhaps belied the somewhat bureaucratic reality of day-to-day corporate operations. We argued then, and still do, for a more authentic and powerful blending of the best aspects of the aforementioned characteristics with the unscripted, buccaneering, spiritual, almost chaotic and certainly pioneering traits that are undeniably as much a part of a tantalising national culture and which need to be embraced not just begrudgingly accommodated.
Perhaps it is testimony to this argument that some of India’s smaller branded businesses have bucked the blip amongst the “big beasts” of Indian commerce with, for example, the likes of defence business Mahindra & Mahindra increasing value by 65% and Idea Cellular as well as Axis, a retail bank, growing by 73%. Could it be that their core cultures are still fleet of foot enough to be able to transform rapidly and keep in tune with their core values and the changing needs of their stakeholders, both inside and out?
Perhaps just as importantly, could there be lessons for the likes of TATA and co to learn as they look for ways to reverse this setback in brand value before it becomes a trend? Time, as they say, will doubtless tell.
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Ian writes: I was more delighted than usual to recently receive a card from the leadership team of a particular client company who have had more than their fair share of challenges, most of which would put the usual corporate change travails to shame.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board was one of the brand development case studies I featured in Brand Champions.
I’m sure I don’t have to labour the difficulties they have faced in turning around stakeholder perspectives about visiting their country.
I’m sure I don’t really have to mention the impressive advertising and marketing campaign they have embarked upon to chart the re-awakening of that beautiful part of these islands as you’ve doubtless seen it already.
I possibly don’t even have to point out the huge leaps forward Belfast has made as a City destination of choice; or the way the pride of the people of Northern Ireland has blossomed as they have grown in confidence and joined together to embrace the future, regardless of the hostile financial backdrop or ever-testing political landscape.
What you probably don’t appreciate, however, is that the transformation of the Northern Ireland brand started and has been continuously role-modelled from within. Alan Clarke and his team at the tourist board have been on a journey of transformation that has ensured that they walk the advertising talk in terms of the values, behaviours and culture they cultivate and perpetuate when they’re promoting their national brand. They are passionate about delivering on the brand promise and are now rightly proud of the fact that they can invite visitors to share in their stories, a far cry from the bitterness of the past.
It’s incredibly heartening to see the fledgling signature projects like the Giant’s Causeway re-development and Titanic exhibition come to life as planned and to witness the passion, confidence and pride with which they are being promoted. That wouldn’t have been possible without the internal engagement signature projects which gave the brand refresh its backbone by leading with the values and transforming the corporate culture. Many congratulations to the senior leadership team and your colleagues for what has been a real team effort throughout.
Take a look at the NITB website to see what’s happening in Northern Ireland in 2012, experience a dose of positivity and to witness a brand flourishing from within.
If you haven’t visited yet, you really don’t know what you’ve been missing.
It isn’t very fashionable to talk about what motivates people at the moment. As we all know, it’s an employer’s market and survival and job security are understandable obsessions. But even though employees have undoubtedly slipped quite some way down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fear and drum-banging cascade communication will never be enough to sustain performance indefinitely. And surely even the most hard-nosed FD must have one eye on the consequences of recovery.
Almost every week now we’re hearing about employee engagement studies like this one from the Hay Group. Yet we’re still shocked that, despite the fact that most business leaders identify disengaged employees as one of the top three most significant threats facing their business, very few ever “get down to” or even discuss employee engagement in the boardroom.
So what can we infer from this paradox? That the leaders don’t really care? That they feel they can get away with doing nothing? That they are wary of stirring the passions of their people if they start whispering sweet nothings and aren’t sure they’re up to dealing with the consequences? I have my theories. You make up your own minds.
I’m not sure the latest report into internal communication trends from Edelman helps though. While there’s much of interest in the report, it hardly role models effective communication in the way it’s written. And I’m frankly dumbstruck by statements like “Employee engagement is becoming more and more about how an employee “experiences” the organization – relationships with leaders, managers, colleagues, andcustomers coupled with access to information,connectedness to conversations.” “Becoming”? If engagement hasn’t always been about actual experience, what exactly have people been talking about/doing?
Against this disconcerting backdrop, it’s interesting, however, to note the slowly swelling tide of articles stressing the importance of culture to the apparent employee engagement conundrum. One of the latest is by GE exponent Ron Ashkenas in the Harvard Business Review outlining the need to focus on evolving culture development rather than dictating change.
Regardless of the apparent gap between leadership thinking and doing, however, it’s interesting to observe that authenticity emerges time and again at the heart of the engagement and culture discussions.
Genuine, trustworthy communication is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of employee engagement. It encourages openness and honesty and stimulates involvement, all qualities which are critical to developing and sustaining a culture of performance.
True performance cultures aren’t just short-term focused. They are sustainable and are based on mutual trust and respect. Only a fool focuses solely on the outputs without devoting time and effort to understanding and replicating the conditions that maximise returns.
Job security, pay and rations are clearly very important. But true wisdom lies with the 30 to 40 per cent of leaders who not only acknowledge but, right now, despite the downturn, aren’t fretting over definitions or business case but are putting in place systematic engagement and culture development strategies to not just survive but move ahead of the game. There are clearly genuine engagement lovers, those who talk a good game and those who dare not speak its name.
We’re intrigued to hear what category your leadership team currently falls into