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.

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