The power of brands (and public relations)

A week ago (on 5 September 2017) the LEGO Group announced its first decline in half-year revenues in ten years, a drop in profit, and 1,400 job redundancies.

My eventual reaction was surprise and interest – I am after all a LEGO watcher in a professional (marketing) capacity, but also an adult fan of LEGO.

My immediate reaction, though, was almost one of sorrow. I was upset for the company, not at the company.

Such is the power of a brand that knows what it’s doing.

I noted Chairman Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s tone in the media release, expressing sorrow at having to make 1,400 employees redundant, all of whom had made contributions to the company’s success, and acknowledging the pain this will cause those affected.

Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s narrative went further: he was candid about his part in the dip, and equally candid about not being able to guarantee growth for a couple of years. The tone of the media release was calm and clear. It was language unusual to me in such a scenario – and I’ve written, and been part of, many similar announcements in my career.

The reaction around social and mainstream media has been equally measured. The LEGO Group has built a reputation for being open and authentic.


A brand connection 50 years in the nurturing: a LEGO motor, new in 1966, from the author’s collection

In my own case, I also realized that my brand connection has been built over 50 years. I still have LEGO I had when young (a common experience). There are few brands that can maintain that strong a connection over that length of time, ride the highs and lows with its community and come through intact, and create a genuine reservoir of goodwill with its audience on which to draw in harder times (a tenet of great public relations).

The last time the LEGO Group faced financial uncertainty was back in 2003. Last week’s announcement is nowhere near that serious – but it will be interesting to follow the company’s declared changes, observe (and be part of) these changes, and see how it communications them – all the while maintaining its brand values.

The company took the lead in communicating the news, creating and establishing a position it could defend, and making what appears to be business decisions very quickly. This is a company with steel beneath the smile on the minifig’s face.

Interesting times.

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Let’s have meaningful marketing conversations

It’s the digital equivalent of eyes glazing over, that unfortunate side-effect when a conversation you think is interesting is boring the other person.

And the effect is bad enough when it’s face to face with just one person (especially if it’s your partner). Imagine the compound effect over thousands of prospects, some of whom might love you, some of whom might want to love you, some of whom are wary of you, and some who are just downright hostile. McGraw-Hill Magazine’s famous print ad. springs to mind.

Even with the advent of the Internet, on-line tools, CRM systems, database management tools, blogs, and more (all now familiar stuff) companies still spend seven-figure sums on digital content and outbound marketing, only to struggle to justify the investment.

Worse, they know it’s not working.

The digital difference then means merely arriving at this sense of unease faster.

But there is another digital difference, the most wonderful asset a marketer could want. The social web is your on-line radar receiver, a means of trapping and making sense of the noise in the digital ether. What’s more, it’s operating in real-time, so you now get closer to prospects and customers as the conversations are taking place.

Mapping individuals to organizations and industry sectors already in your customer database clearly lets you re-cast the messages you want to use with these individuals, potentially to each individual in turn if you wish. And it lets you package products, offers and services in the same way, either to respond to specific opportunities, or to wrap a ‘cover’ round an existing offering to reflect the in-bound insight you’ve just gleaned from the conversations you’re now part of.

When I first wrote about this four years ago, these conversations were couched in terms relevant and meaningful to marketers and, if we were lucky, sales managers. Today, boards are demanding to see the opportunities because they now understand that their organizations can distinguish between those that are immediate and real, and those that are irrelevant. They are quickly qualified because they reflect actual needs being expressed in detail by real people.

As every marketer knows, it’s good to get as close to reality as possible.

(Also published on LinkedIn and at

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In light of recent events…

I’m no political commentator but, re-reading Henry Mintzberg’s (@Mintzberg141) book Managers Not MBAs, I chanced across the following passage. I think it casts light on possible context for both last week’s US Presidential Election and the earlier Brexit result in the UK. What’s especially telling is that he’s quoting data from the late 1990s, in a book published in 2004.

He notes:

‘The facts…tell a different story [relating to the facility of the notion of a rising tide benefitting all on the back of increased shareholder value]. In 1989, the United States had 66 billionaires and 31.5 million people living below the official poverty line. A decade later, the number of billionaires had increased to 268, while the number of people below the poverty line increased to 34.5 million… In 1996, 26 per cent of all workers were in jobs paying poverty-level wages, a larger proportion than in the past…’

Notwithstanding the various aspects of racism, xenophobia and other unacceptable positions, comments and behaviour demonstrated on both sides of the Atlantic, what seems clear to me is that the political class indeed has become disconnected from those it purportedly represents.

My answer to a question from my late-teenage son, who simply asked “why, and how?”, seemed straightforward: citizens (I think, certainly speaking for myself) seek job security, good healthcare, opportunities for themselves and their families, and safety, with adequate infrastructure to deliver all of this. It’s my belief that most individuals are prepared to pay for these services through fair taxes. I suspect they are less-interested in political dogma or global systems, either capitalist or socialist, per se. Easy to say, difficult to deliver, even more so when preoccupied with aligning with others and to systems always underpinned by vested interests. That is, though, the point and purpose of elected officials.

And they’ve just been reminded.

(See Managers Not MBAs – A hard look as the soft practice of managing and management development, by Henry Mintzberg, Berrett-Koehler, 2004.)


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Yes, it’s all about influence – and data

I’ve just read this article by Stephen Waddington in the CIPR‘s online blog Influence.


Well worth a read – and I ask a few questions in the Comments section at its end, which I repeat and expand on here:

  • how widespread is rigorous data analysis in our profession?
  • can we ever advise clients or colleagues without data to underpin that advice?
  • how many of us actually do this?
  • do we factor in the resources (analysts, PR professional and budgets) to make this real and meaningful?
  • how do we convince management that what they thought they wanted to hear might not be what people are actually saying?

Food for thought. And thank you Stephen.

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The hunting of the Snark


Businesses are besotted with extracting what they see as more efficiency from their operations.

The instant they repeat their first success, most try to become “more efficient.”

It’s an occupation that generates its own jargon (efficiency is a perfectly acceptable word without further embellishment) and has, over the last 30 years or so, created a subsidiary economy of organizations seemingly expert at helping their clients (the original organizations) become more efficient (often with little direct experience in the host market).

It’s akin to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, a fictitious animal that is never actually caught, but which becomes an obsession with a barrister, a broker, and a banker (as well as a butcher, a baker and a beaver, among other persons and creatures).

I’d love to see data plotted as a curve showing returns on efficiency gained and costs seemingly saved, compared with returns on new products or services created and sales and profits gained.

As Seth Godin reminds us, the biggest danger in obsessively seeking to save a dollar is that we might eventually win, creating the worst product for the cheapest input price.

Markets (and the customers within them) always seek new products and services, and often better services and products. Value can always command a competitive price. Creating a competitive advantage other than price will always pull ahead, and always out you in command of your own destiny. And reinventing a market segment or product or service definition on your turns gives you advantage.

Saves you hunting mythical beasts.



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Malcolm Turnbull’s Crazy Ivan

Today’s announcement by Australia’s Prime Minister to recall both the Australian Senate and the House of Representatives, and serve an ultimatum – pass legislation or witness a double dissolution of both Houses, and an early Federal Election – deserves analysis.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media after announcing his plan for a double-dissolution election if industrial relations legislation is not passed. Photograph: Rashida Yosufzai/EPA/Guardian Australia

What better way to do so than to run the Playmaker Systems ruler over the Turnbull strategy.

And what we see is a high-risk, no-prisoner Preempt Play invoking the Crazy Ivan and the Trump (not to be confused with another high-risk political playmaker currently running for power).

The Crazy Ivan is the deliberate acceleration of an impending threat. In quintessential Aussie terms, it’s running straight at the opposing front row forwards, seeking to crash or crash through.

It’s intent? To re-set the agenda, to short-circuit stifled process and debate, and to do both in a way that totally overwhelms the opposition.

Gone is negotiation and caution: Turnbull allowed the Senate last week to pass laws to change the rules for how senators voted (after, it will be recalled, a pyjama-party all-nighter). Now we know why. The Senate must pass the legilstaion seeking to introduce a construction industry watchdog, or have its bluff called.

In fact, his play was crazy enough to blindside his Treasurer, who had to re-set his forthcoming budget date almost on the hoof on the radio.

Alongside the Crazy Ivan play sits its stablemate the Trump: the act of usurping an opponent’s own position. Turnbull’s political opposition, the Australia Labor Party and the Greens, are opposed to the new legislation. Now they have a simple choice: stare down the Coalition, or blink.

Both Plays are high-risk/high-reward.  We can expect, over the next three weeks, and then, if called, into the election lead-in proper, our fair share of Labels (the application of a memorable word by one party on another – blackmailer seems to be the best bet right now), Call Outs (mock indignation – form a line) and Deflects (the evasion of an attack by an opponent – look out for an early Deflect counter-play by Labor leader Bill Shorten, perhaps seeking to reclaim the agenda with accusations of weak tax policies within the Coaliation to  move attention away from his party’s support of the construction union under attack).

Of one thing we can be certain: Canberra’s playmakers are only just starting to sharpen their drafting pencils.

What a start to the week.

(Photo credit source/copyright acknowledged. The author no longer has any formal affiliation with Alan Kelly’s patented Playmaker Systems methodology: I just love applying it, especially to the political scene. He does too: read his Plays for the Presidency analysis.)

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