Thursday, May 28, 2009

Emma Gilding and Brand: Part 3

To continue from the last post, Emma Gilding's group, Insite, at Omnicom sees brand as more than just another sales tool. Instead, the focus is on the ways in which brand encourages citizenship.

Or doesn't.

“Citizens opt into a brand's rules and regulations because they get benefits from adhering to them.” In order to sell, Emma believes that the product must fulfill its promise.

Emma often talks about her work in political terms. “Brand has to have a genuine value to citizens or they fail.

Before new technology, companies could get away with a top-down approach – people had to look to the governor of the brand for the value(s) of the product”. These citizens could never be sure if they were the only ones finding or not finding the value themselves.”

These days the Web forces transparency. There’s nowhere to hide. Consumer-led groups gather to hear from and tell each other about the value of the symbol.

If a brand is not persuasive, the product is no longer a symbol – it’s just a product. It won't distinguish itself among its competitors.

On the other hand, a coherent and responsive conversation between a company's brand and people they target is the only way for promises to remain credible.

Learning by Example

Perhaps the most famous illustration of a failure to really enagage with people who buy a product exists in the famous Mentos/Coke video. Mentos was thrilled and encouraged the distribution.

Coke, on the other hand, objected. Their brand stated “Coke is fun,” but executives put out the message that “this isn’t the sort of fun Coke means.”

“The citizens of the coke world spoke up – just like any civilization,” says Emma. “To them the explosion WAS fun.” In a democracy, if you deny the voice of the people, the brand fails -- or at least is weakened."

And no one will buy what you're selling.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back to Brand and the CFO: Emma Gilding Part 2

Continuing from the last post, how do executives reach out to consumers in a way that builds their brand?

Doug Rushkoff says that the ideal consumer for a company is an enthusiastic amateur. Rather than a top-down model of management as dictators and consumers as subjects, the company needs to be conceived more as a mandala.

A good example is Apple. At the centre is the impression, and, to a certain extent, the reality of Steve Jobs creating ideas and developing them. Around him, are people doing the same, with his ideas and their own. And at the edges, but within the overall structure, are enthusiastic amateurs who are creating and playing with the same sorts of ideas and products to improve them.

Emma adds that “people have always been creating things for the apple products. They have always been brand advocates. The Apps store was a way of channeling that effort.”

The Apps store has hit more than a million downloads. Something that started as a value-added opportunity for gave people the opportunity to contribute to the brand and feel part of it. It gave people the opportunity to participate in the conversation with the company.

Emma would say this is a demonstration of Apple succeeding because it lives its brand. “There should be no seams between an internal and external brand. The people in the building who are guardians of the brand should be customers of the brand. If you don’t live up to the brand value inside your company, you’re not inviting your employees in. You’re dominating them.”

Emma says this doesn’t work anymore because there is no belief system supporting the creation and distribution of the product. And those who buy the product get that.

“As a CFO, you need to walk the walk of your brand. What used to be a quiet but important job now has to be the conscience of the organization in a new way. Are we being true to the brand? That’s a tough ask for anybody.”

Emma Gilding has advice for executives, particularly on how to handle financials.

"Being a CFO used to be a defender role. Now it’s definitely an aggressor role. CEO payments are horribly inflated. What do you do as a CFO? What do you do about your incredibly loyal staff that are being underpaid? Or overpaid?"

Brand should be a guide and a beacon that helps you make the right decisions. So companies today need to re-experience their own brands to see anew what it stands for. They can’t take it for granted or it won’t be specific enough as a symbol. And the company has to be true to it.

“Look at banks,” says Emma. Success or failure has been determined by culture. The ones that have survived are the meritocracies – they put the brand first and the rest second.

“Now look at Lehman and Morgan Stanley – can you think of anything that they did according to their brand rather than according to their star traders?” Goldman, on the other hand, made decisions that worked with the brand. You can argue that these banks all had different histories and different circumstances. But it’s following the brand that created the decisions and histories and so on.”

More in the next post.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brand as the Key for the New CFO

Following on the heels of my discussion with Doug Rushkoff, Emma Gilding, head of Insite at Omnicom, gives her perspective on the key to a profitable business today.

Rather than changing economic models, Emma says that the most important alteration for any company is the attitude of the CFO. Rather than staring at balance sheets, the CFO should be reevaluating the company's brand in order to strengthen market positions.

What Makes an Effective Brand?

“Great brands,” says Emma, “are two way conversations in which there is satisfaction on both sides. The brand – or symbol – innately sets out rules and asks people for something. The symbol promises and delivers something in return.” Both participants must be satisfied for the brand to work.

How to Get From There To Here

Emma says that what a lot of CFOs aren't getting yet is that a focus on bean counting won't produce cost-effective results.

Echoing Doug, Emma adds the notion of “cost effective” for too many is based on economic models that have become dinosaurs.

Rather than focusing on balance sheets, CFOs need to think “what is the new financial value of this brand and how do I support it, both internally and externally?”

Emma is an anthropologist by training and sees business as only part of a much wider cultural landscape. This landscape is too diverse and complicated to measure strictly in numbers.

"Given what is happening sociologically in the economic downturns, the CFO has to be the bravest person in the company as he takes an entirely more strategic approach when it comes to brand."

What does a CFO do, for example, if the brand promises green practices, and the inexpensive supply chain refutes the claim? Or if the CEO is overpaid when the brand is all about tightening belts?

Everyone in the company must live the brand or it becomes an empty and ineffective symbol. This requires a new kind of thinking for those who have traditionally focused on cost rather than customers.


How do you take a symbol and make its meaning pervasive and true to all your stakeholders? How do you make a brand robust and flexible enough to hold real conversations with those who use the product? How do you stop hiding behind rigid monologues broadcast from the top with no chance for people to say whether or not they want or believe it?

More in the next post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Week with Astia, London: Entrepreneur Boot Camp

A few posts ago, I announced the weeklong conference at Astia's London base.

Since then, I had the privilege to attend most of the sessions. At the risk of sounding like I work on their marketing department, it must be said that the meeting was one of the most remarkable I've ever attended.

And I've been to a lot of conferences.

One Weak Spot

If there was a weakness to the conference, it was the way in which the volunteers were organized. This doesn't seem serious because the participants didn't seem to notice -- and because this was the first London event, the rough patches will probably be ironed out next year.

The rest was pure gold.

Where To Start?

Astia claims it offers three kinds of support for entrepreneurs:
--In accessing capital.
--In achieving and sustain high-growth.
--In developing the executive leadership of the founding team.

This is not empty talk. 60% of the start-ups chosen by Astia get funding.

What Else is Different?

Another of Astia's distinguishing characteristics is its dedication to supporting women in business. There were as many men at the conference as women, and in these cases, there was encouragement to put remarkable women into executive roles where currently there are none.

This is not your ordinary affirmative action, and again, it isn't empty talk. Astia offers to find extraordinary women for start-ups who could really use their talents.

Why Support Astia?

There were quite a few exceptional things about the week, not least of which was the intimate feel of each meeting. Astia brings together selected entrepreneurs and experts in finance, pitching, marketing, and everything else a start-up needs to succeed.

There were never more people in the room than could fit around a conference table, and all stake-holders seemed genuinely interested in understanding what everyone had to offer.

The feeling was more mentor/protégé than expert/novice. I've rarely seen anything like the straightforward way in which panelists and conference members interacted -- and in which CEO Sharon Vosmek facilitated conversations.

Even university seminars feel more political.

How it Was Organized

Evie Mulberry did an exceptional job of both securing top-notch speakers but of also combining high-level these experts in panels to complement each other’s professional strengths and personalities.

For a complete range of topics and speakers, check out their website. It's worth visiting anyway.

But Wait, There's (Always) More

At the end of the week, after tremendous knowledge exchange, practice at pitching, and honing of financial models, the entrepreneurs were given a real opportunity to pitch their cases before investors.

The funding opportunity is two-fold:
First, the start-ups could secure funding at the May pitch.

Second, the strongest pitches are selected, and their CEOs are offered mentoring for a month and a bigger funding opportunity in June.

When the winners are announced, I'll let you know.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Part 4: Doug Rushkoff and the New Economy

Continuing from the last post, here's more on what Doug Rushkoff has to say about the effective way to build a business.

It's not news that people are looking for value. According to Doug, however, the most valuable business intelligence is at least as old as the Late Dark Ages: the rules we take for granted as necessary for doing business are only one group of many rules designed by the few people they benefit.

Doug says, “Most organisations are just holding companies – they don’t do anything but are just names on debt. They promote their stories to get more debt, and CFOs focus on spreadsheets – which can be manipulated.”

Other Misconceptions: Is Good for the Bottom Line?

Doug suggests that CFOs have to understand that the things they are doing to cut costs are really not effective. “Outsourcing is always a high investment to start – you think you’ll make it up later.”

Rather than making that investment externally, Doug suggests putting the money back into the business. “Outsourcing is a losing battle because currency speculators know what they’re doing. Businesses can’t win because it’s not a business they’re in.”

“Companies paint themselves into a corner again and again because they think they’re being clever about markets.” Doug says it’s better to stick to what you know about your business then try to beat speculators who are much better because it's they're specialty -- not yours.

Doug adds that competitive advantage is no longer a CFOs ability to get investors. It’s a CFOs interest in, passion about, and knowledge of what the business creates.

Another way to explain it: transparency is something that happens naturally on the Internet, and that companies need to engage with people “for real.” “A CFO needs to look at employees and customers as the same community. Your best customers are enthusiastic amateurs of what you do as a business.”

Over the course of the last 500 years, experts have been promoted to managerial positions in a wide-spread practice of decentralized management. They then hire the cheapest labor possible to do the jobs from which they've risen. Those in charge no longer do what made them successful, and those they hire can't do the job nearly as well.

On the other hand, if you who are experts produce what you sell, know your business, and engage with your community’s passion for your product, you’ll get a sustainable pay-off.

Seems like common sense, no?

Doug adds, “I hope the era of competence is upon us."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Part 3: Doug Rushkoff and Better Business

Continuing from the last post . . .

How can money be earned into existence?

According to Doug, businesses need to deal in local currencies. “If you go into a town with a depressed economy, the people in the town will invest in your success there,” he says.

In Hasting-On-Hudson, NY, where Doug lives, The Comfort Restaurant was in danger of going into bankruptcy. They offered local people “Comfort Dollars” – 120 for 100 US dollars.

People got an immediate 20% return on their investment. They knew the restaurant's credit was good, and they ate at the restaurant anyway.

In return, restaurant could stay in business because it borrowed money at a lower rate from the community than they could from the bank.

Furthermore, Doug says, "There's a sense that local establishments give value to the town. Franchises take value. The best that people can hope for from a franchise is that their kids will get jobs there"

Where Did Comfort Come From?

Doug talks about the Late Middle Ages as the beginning of the end of local currency with the establishment of chartered corporations and centralized economic control. But he notes that the practice has been on its way back globally, particularly since the 1990s. Local currencies appeared during the economic crashes of Japan and Argentina. The practice continues to gain traction -- and even receives government support -- in an impressive number of countries.

There is not nearly enough space in one blog post to cover the history – or even recent history – of the global effects of local currency.

But it's worth checking out if you're a CFO and want to grow your business.

More from Doug in the next post.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Part 2: Doug Rushkoff on the Role of a CFO

Continuing from the last post, how do you fulfill your fiduciary responsibilities to customers, employees and to your community?
Doug Rushkoff says: don't take the rules of economics for granted.

The corporate model is one of centralised control is supported by the currency with which we make transactions, and visa versa. "The money we use is only one of many monies. We just take for granted that the economic rules we play by are the only ones possible."

Doug argues that in the Late Middle Ages, although there was "a coin of the realm" used for long-distance business, it was local currencies made communities prosperous. If you sold a hundred pounds of grain, for example, you received a piece of paper stating the value of that hundred pounds of grain that you could divide as necessary in your community to buy other goods and services.

Because the local currency tended to devalue with time, people would put it back into circulation as quickly as possible to buy what they needed. Communities made investments in themselves as well with the extra cash flow, Churches, for example, were built to bring pilgrims and tourists to town. Local areas, therefore, produced their own ecology of wealth.

Doug offers this as one solution for companies today: “Money can be earned into existence instead of lent into existence.” CFOs that are willing to remember and acknowledge this can participate in and generate real community activity. According to Doug, this is the only sustainable business model today and the strongest competitive advantage.

More in the next post.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Interviewing Doug Rushkoff: The New CFO

Same Old, Same Old

One would think that the key to being a superb Financial Director (CFO for you Americans) is limited to deep knowledge of accounting, regulations, and cash flow if your reading were restricted to CFO Magazine or Finance Director,

Titles of lead articles, for example, include Insovencies are Not Our Fault, Accountancy Qualifications among FTSE-100 FDs, Since Sarbox, Non-audit Fees Dove from 51% to 21%.

You get the picture

And Now for Something Completely Different

Douglas Rushkoff, author of numerous books on business trends, argues that instead, competitive advantage depends on a new focus. I interviewed Doug to see how the role of the CFO can improve the economy from the inside out.

For those of you who don't have the time to watch Doug's talk from Ofcom, I'll go over some territory for the sake of context.

Doug believes that the underlying fault in business on all levels is that “cash fuels the economy.” He says, “This is actually a backwards notion that was invented during the renaissance to promote central banking over decentralized value creation.”

“Your fiduciary responsibility,” Doug adds, “are to your employees and to your customers. This is your community -- and you can adopt a sustainable growth model for and with them rather than a speculative growth model."

Doug's conclusion: "Once you've done this, you are really in a position to take advantage of the collapse of the top-down funding models all around you.”

More on what Doug means by this in the next post.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Astia: Worth Taking a Look

Astia is a remarkable organisation that dedicates itself to developing the know-how for women starting up their own businesses.

In conjunction with other vc-supportive organisations, Astia's work seems to be paying off. Women's start-up's in the UK have done better than those run by men. There seem to be some unique opportunities in this economic climate that shouldn't be missed.

Astia works globally -- they have bases in in Silicon Alley, Silicon Valley, the London, and India. Look into what they can do for you.

Astia's London conference is next week. I'll let you know what I learn.