The Authentic Company and the product brands – lecture in Sydney

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About two weeks ago, I gave a lecture on Authentic Organizational Identity at University of Technology in Sydney as I was invited to join a series of lectures called Future Design Strategies. Martin Kornberger (who’s just published a wonderful book on branding called “brand society” – I haven’t finished reading it, but do check it out, he’s a very smart guy…) suggested my giving a lecture ‘down under’ and it was great fun!
Graduate students across the fields of visual communication, fashion, product design and architecture showed up, appearing to have very high expectations (I was surprised by three students asking before the lecture if they were allowed to record the lecture – I don’t recall that happening in Copenhagen…?) and the concept is great. Basically this series of lectures is asking what kind of strategies or processes will help us create better design in the future? As my theory on organizational authenticity is basically a process towards understanding an organizational identity before doing strategic design work I went ahead, curious wether the ‘aussies’ would enjoy my ideas – and even more curious about the mix of students. After all, there’s a big difference between designing logos, skirts, skyscrapers and chairs. But they seemed to enjoy themselves and they were eager to participate. We were discussing Absolut and wether they should make their heritage more visible to the public (most of us still haven’t noticed the historic print on the front of the bottle) and how you explain this stuff to a CEO – not an easy job, one participant assumed.
Among the group were a couple of professors and a marketing manager from Sara Lee. You might not know Sara Lee – it’s one of those corporations that own and trade a large portfolio of product brands. Just like Procter & Gamble or Unilever. And that was his concern exactly. How do you start utilizing the authenticity of the company when in fact most of your time is spend dividing the marketing efforts between different product brands that seem to have nothing to do with the corporate brand? No easy task at all. As I am writing in the first part of my book (I’m writing chapter 12 now – it will soon be done. Promise!) I think there’s a movement in the world of branding towards more corporate brands that create value to their fans (both customers and employees and other stakeholders) by expressing the same ideas, values and beliefs through their products. It is becoming more and more difficult to divide different parts of the brand and the idea of the brand as a virtual construct carried by advertising and digital imaginary universes is not only becoming difficult, it is also lacking the authenticity that people value and ask for. Never the less, my new friend from Sara Lee is doing his best in one of these product-brand-dividing companies and his concern is real. What do you do? Is organizational authenticity relevant?
First of all, the leadership, organizing, marketing, sales work and everything else going on in the corporation involves managers and employees who have to find motivation, common ideas about what it is they are doing and pride in their work. I’m sure all these people want to work for a company that is sure of it’s identity and tries to become the best it can be. After all, authentic organizational identities are better at focusing their efforts, have lower transaction costs, better coordination and higher motivation. Being sure what Sara Lee as a company is all about is a good start. Even if we imagine that only employees and retailers knows the corporate brand.
Secondly, lots and lots of the product brands that are marketed by corporations like Sara Lee come from somewhere, were started by someone, they carry ideas for change, values and meaningful messages that can be rediscovered and utilized. There is plenty of inspiration for development of both the specific products and the organization behind them to be discovered in these products.
One of the reasons I love to get out there (not only out to Australia, but out and about in general) is the questions I get. There is always some angle, some idea or someone’s everyday concerns that I haven’t thought of. And these meetings keep me on the toes. Looking forward to more challenges out there!