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A brand is born, lives and dies. Naturally. The way it exists, the way it operates decides its longevity and impact. We are involved in building the brand in whatever we do every moment. Here am not attempting to correlate, but see the similarity between a brand and a human body, anatomically. Here are some aspects of the brand that you will see are present exactly the way the human biological system. It’s not a strong alibi but an approach to help enhance our understanding of all that goes into making the brand.

Reputation: We see historically reputation as one of the sole purpose of branding. There is nothing wrong in it, but may be the way we look at it can be modified. Reputation managers for any brand, or yourself for your personal brand is not entirely responsible for the success or failure of it. Reputation statement is like a cognitive shape that you will endow upon your endeavor, and quite likely it will be an ambitious one. After spending more than a decade in communication I have witnessed where great brands struggle. The state of ‘repute’ is an ongoing practice and not a goal, a conduct by the brand that engages all its stakeholders incessantly. The recall of the reputation contributes to the making of a truly inspiring brand. It is contextual, it changes person to person, situation to situation. No single prescription as you and your brand is unique. Reputation is the kind of flesh that gives shape to your brand, for everyone to remember for a longer time and choose or not choose to be with your pursuit. No matter how great your vision is, one single error done consciously or being ignorant, affects the entire brand journey. Famous brands are not all well planned, but there is a sincerity in the pattern that they lived. Every thread, contributed to make the best fabric that sets the tone, the mood, the experience, and that drives the audience to believe in it.

In an organizational context and more so if it is a complex composition, it makes more sense to drive reputation building not through traditional ways, but fast forming up a ‘reputation council’ that has equal representations from all stakeholders involved. A shoe designer will surely manufacture basis global anthropological considerations about human feet and its sizes. But the success for the brand comes only when it matches the trend, the current of audience expectations. May be the colour, or the positioning of the products, identifying the right user base and so on, will be aspects that will contribute positively. You will rarely see a sportsperson promoting a nice leather office shoe brand. Yes, you guessed right, it’s important to stay relevant, every moment in the process of reputation building.

Being Aware: Even before you attempt at building the brand either for an organization, a product or even for yourself, it helps if you are aware of the operational realities for the brand entity, both that exists and those that may come in the journey. Awareness is like the spine that connects the base with the vault, the lowest level principles of operation to the vision that you would have set. Everyone in an organization can talk about the business performance, but no one can have the entirety to present. Its seer collaboration and an eagerness to gather and work upon insights that you may come across in the branding process. Being aware also determines your standpoint, its strengths and weaknesses. Even when you sell a soap, it’s equally important to understand the demographics, the cultural context and things alike. Being aware is being empowered!

Connect to exist:

A brand is like a human. It will attempt to connect with its audience more to survive and succeed. The very nature of branding is connecting with all its stakeholders, something like a nervous system in human body. Needless to say what nerves do to help us live and stand strong no matter how big is the crowd. Quite evidently if you audit the famous brands of the world, the only thing that you notice is all of them are connected to their selected audiences. You will not see a jewelry add in a men’s magazine, or a tie on a women’s website, nor even any luxury car promotional in a children communication. Pick and choose the right audience and engage them till the point they not only believe and buy your product but become loyal advocates for others. When you connect with the audience, it also means a ‘dialogue’; you listen as much as you speak and keep the talk on as long as it benefits both. Make people feel that they are heard, and the rest happens faster. People who are in service will be getting enough announcements and mails from the senior leadership of their organization. But how many time’s in an average employee’s tenure he/ she would have realized that the suggestion/ feedback sent by him/ her is worked upon. Or even the employee is heard in the scheme of things. A great brand is a great conversation too. An annual engagement survey or a portal that takes employee feedback will make us reach only at the problem, not derive the ways to remove them by design of the organization. Can there be platforms that help the leadership and employees both feel involved meaningfully? Can there be any alternative not to do so?

Messaging: ‘I am here, because I have to…’ every brand has a message. It serves like the blood that flows through the veins and nerves and makes every organ equally functional and aligned to something beautiful called as ‘life’. In branding we often carve the best messages, at least those that sound like music to our ears. Rarely do we envisage the way the message connects with the remaining organs of the brand. A brand message is healthy and worthy to support the branding journey only when it has adequate measures of its constituents. Some of them that make the message are honesty, connectivity, source of power for the reputation we intend, sincerity of attempt and so on.

Channels and Communication Platforms: These serve like the organs that function for the well-being of the brand entity. They need to be healthy, understand what other parts and aspects in the communication scheme require to function well. We cannot choose or reject a channel basis a cultural bias, but innovate it to align with the objective of making impactful communication possible.

In branding do it the right way, and the right way is only one that you can establish positively. In a decade long stint my only learning is a brand stands for ‘TRUST’. Either it’s there or its not, there isn’t a middle way. Understanding each of the aspects and keenly observing the natural pattern your brand offers helps keep it healthy and long-lived. Every brand that way is a story, an experience that the audience remembers, only if it inspires.

You are the brand


Campaign effectiveness and communication strategy for the brand you

Yes, you inspire! Sometimes the simplest yet honest attempt to brand your campaign can work a magic that your communication intends. What are you trying to sell? Who is the audience? And how will you make them buy your product or service? Muddled with these ideas? Here is how many of our successful iconoclastic personal brands do it. These are simple steps you can start with. You are here to win it all. Remember you are the brand.

Define the goal for your personal brand

When did you last write about yourself, your own journey, your personal dream? Start scribbling about your desired goal. What will you be doing a decade from now? How will you be doing it? What will people and your audience know you for? Your current job may not be the answer, your passion may be. Define a more tangible goal for your personal branding. Add all glamour while defining it. Time will serve as a litmus test to remove all redundancy and make your effort an inspiring story. Personal branding is both the goal and the journey you will cover to reach it. Like all good schools of thought there need to be the highest levels of sincerity and discipline in all your endeavors to reach the goal. Ensure your goal should be the one that no one would have experienced ever before. Remember Mark Antony who never got shadowed by Caesar’s persona, his own individuality continues to be historic and appealing as ever. Yes there you are. While defining your personal brand identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and these should guide you well. It’s equally important as well to know the time you have to reach your destination. Be more realistic and appreciate your existence, live your purpose. This is the key to a great personal brand.

Who is your audience?

Like all product managers identify whom to sell and analyze their audience base, it’s essential to identify your own audience in personal branding too. Find the audience demographics, their cultural implications, trends that they are surrounded with and other details that you can accumulate. For some of the leaders whom I have helped in their personal branding, this is one of the most difficult tasks. There is a crowd and indeed a huge one in this world scattered for several reasons. The more diverse the audience is, the more complex it becomes to address them and keep them hooked to you. Remember in your personal branding effort, the audience size has to be ever increasing as well as not losing those you started with, because the initial ones will serve as loyal brand ambassadors and contribute more to your cause. You and your audience have to come together for a cause that does common good, and become one that helps you achieve make it an inspiring movement. Build trust over a period of time through action and not words, make your case as much credible as possible. No matter how honest and loyal the audience appears to be, all it takes for them to disperse is either a mistake at your end or a new persona they would start following. Define the audience and remember they are your buyer. Any audience is quite reasonable and will believe in your story only if it’s honest.

Draw a strategy to reach your audience?

Like any product manager, you will need to prepare your own personal brand strategy. A personal brand strategy is like the blueprint that will guide your actions. However, this blueprint has to be prepared basis various parameters like your strengths, weaknesses, your past, your choices, and composition as a personality. This is your own personal brand strategy, you will not be asked to share in public, so be extremely honest and logical. List down the five W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) and one H (How) that will help you reach your brand goal. The ‘how’ is the strategy. Once done, list it in a chronology basis the logic you think that fits the best. Also, often what we miss out is also a list of ‘don’ts’, it’s ideal we have it in place to cut down the vulnerability that you think may affect. Over a period of time the strategy need to be relooked, reshaped and retouched to stay relevant.

Carve the message; it’s going to be the soul of your brand

The crux of any personal branding effort has always been the message that makes it memorable. A message need not be the sentence or the topic you talk about to your audience but the experience they get from your presence. Authors like George Bernard Shaw, DH Lawrence, James Joyce, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and all in the genres of those that made society the very canvas where they painted the fabric they believed in has enriched literature. Similarly, in your personal branding endeavor ensure you identify early the very message that your being, your existence desires to communicate. The message is the communication of your intention. Mahatma Gandhi lived for truth and non-violence, Salvador Dali depicts creative passion, Steve Jobs stood for innovation, Dalai Lama for peace, Barack Obama conveys the voice of the crowd and so on. Your message is the very thread that when woven in a pattern makes the fabric worth wearing for the audience. Find and live the most memorable message and your consistency and passion will draw the audience to believe more.

Keep the interest alive – stay focussed

Consistency and appeal are two most significant principles to follow when you decide to hook your audience to your brand. Some personal brands go to the level of having a signature pose, greeting or even a sign-off. Steve Jobs for example you will always see in his later year appearances was in signature black turtle neck with jeans and sneakers. But the appearance alone doesn’t keep the interest alive unless you appeal through the message, way you deliver, and how you make the audience feel with your presence. Ensure your audience gets to know something relevant, fresh and stuff that will help them, not you. Play to them judiciously. As you keep growing your personal brand, you will experience the audience keeps an eye on your every move. Honesty thus helps at each step. As you progress, it’s more likely there will be others who may divert your audience group to their own brands. The only key is not to focus on competition, but stay focussed on yourself, your own brand goal and grow it more, bigger and bigger.

Measure like a tailor, engineer like a weaver

Early in my career I got to work on websites and applications, where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) taught me the very basic of knowing the success of these IT platforms and get insights and trends that would help decide the way forward. The same logic applies to personal branding too. Keep measuring yourself. If you are on a social platform, then by your klout score and audience/ connection demographics, if you are measuring among people in the real world then through followers and loyal ambassadors who will spread your message. It helps as measurement tell you when, where and how to do the correction. When it comes to making changes in implementing your personal branding strategy, ensure you adhere to ‘Quality by Design’ (QbD). Ensure you have quality as an incorporated principle. All successful product and service brands do it today. It helps save time, and bring down the rate of fault generation during the process. You can’t waste time either yours or your audience’s. Attend to every single change that you see can impact your personal brand. Ensure no noise or clutter is ever experiences in the message that you intend to communicate.

Technology is not an end; it’s just another great medium

Technology evolves every second, and so do we, our habits and ways of consuming information and life overall. Of course you will need a grasp on the technical know-how of communicating these evolving platforms. You have a basic rule now in place that you need to be where the audience is, before turning the table and make them loyalists. Digital and social media in recent times have an incredible penetration and success rate when it comes to communicating any personal brand. From politicians to businessmen, actors to activists all in recent years have leveraged these channels to make the message reach. The greatest attribute for technology today is, its speed and reach which multiples your intent of communicating the message. Ensure you are on all meaningful digital and social platforms. Not one shoe fits all, so every time you have to implement a value generating strategy as well as a customized set of such channels that can be employed.

Technology and innovation are for doing common good. However, your own physical presence, reach among the crowd, personal touch with the audience has far more enriching returns. All global leaders are seen among people, on the ground, shaking hands, conversing more, and standing for all people related occasions. Be there personally.

Engage more with the audience

With great power comes great responsibility” like it was told in Spiderman – the movie. When your personal branding gains momentum, ensure you take accountability of all communications and all your positioning activities. Being responsible in personal branding or branding in general refers to being respectful to all diversities of thought that exist as well as demonstrate continuously that you care for the cause and the audience community no matter how small or big they are. When the news spread about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F Kennedy (New York’s Senator who was in Indianapolis then) had his memorable presence and speech among the black people (who had just lost their voice, their very own leader), while the local police warned him of a possible outrage. See the speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoKzCff8Zbs A leader, a powerful personal brand does not need to dare but habitually and quite naturally finds it comfortable to get into the crowd, join hands with the audience and come forward to touch every single member present in the audience. You can be one too.

Chisel your brand if necessary; discover

When you started you were like the huge and untouched rock in unknown land, when you finish, it will be the most memorable and well sculptured brand experience. All that happens in between those two states is the journey you will have to take, and it’s always worth it. While carving your personal brand ensure you are becoming more mature, and your point of view becomes more macro and you are no more perturbed by information that reach you, but give it a shape for delivering right feeling. Chisel yourself whenever needed to remain relevant, else time by default shapes you as a toy. The greatest joy for you as a personal brand will be the very moment you see you are discovering your own personal brand. Like success is a journey, personal branding too is a continuous process. You can’t unwind it at any stage. Find and establish your brand.

Do not benchmark; you are unique

I remember beginning of my career I had my gods to follow, leaders to hear from more, even wanted to dress like some of them at times. However, with time I realized, it’s important to stay yourself. It is human to follow all that attracts us, but not surrender blindly to someone’s brand. No matter how strongly you are inspired by a personal brand, but never lose your own self. You are as unique as anyone else you would want to be. It’s tough often and you will in the initial stages of branding yourself find it hard to remain who you are. Benchmarking is an old school thought devoid of the idea that certain personalities are the culmination of circumstances, conviction and the center of an organized action over a period of time. Of course you are unique and that’s USP in selling well. The most successful personal brands like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr. Barack Obama, Dalai Lama, and John F Kennedy never competed with anyone, at least to build their brands. It’s a beautiful journey between your present and the goal you have set. It’s time you fall in love with your own being and there’s nothing wrong in it. You need to be an ever inspiring persona.

Remember there is a reason why you are here! Discover it.

What words can do?


Remember the best speeches of mankind; from the famous Mark Antony’s post Casear’s death address to the countrymen or even Martin King Luther Jr’s “I have a dream”, they were not mechanical pieces scripted with wit and words but a soulful discourse that was intended well and had a targeted audience. The more famous and infamous, both sects of duels have provided enough earth for germinating the ideas to inspire. If any war could have only ended forever that has begun from words and ideas that contradicted, it would have meant more sense to mankind. I personally could read very few of them and attempted to correlate each one, how well they have magnified the reason for the speech. Each word that was spoken and unspoken contributed to the world we live in immensely.

Our language is not grammatical but more human in its approach. And its usage has been tailored across centuries by leaders, statesmen, philosophers, poets and saints and even more for not only conveying a certain meaning but attempting to get a desired impact. Yes, words trigger action – a noun that would generate more verbs around it to make the dialogue a revolution.

It’s an orchestra: Remember, while addressing your audience whether in a close room, in your family, or even in society all that you communicate quite visibly is a state of mind and a possibility people will believe in. Situations will vary from person to person and time to time; the same piece of interaction may seem absolutely meaningless when spoken in a wrong group. So what do we do to get the impact we intend. Yes, we need to orchestrate a lot more than just responding to the stimuli. Understand, the demographics well. Understand whom are you talking to, what language will be the best suited, and what words will make a positive impact. Propaganda from Nazi times till date through politicians of all known nations has not done enough good than the words spoken by our saints and poets and philosophers in true meaning. Believe in your spirit that you will present in the orchestra, in the dialogue. It’s not ‘blood for blood’, ‘apple for apple’ but words for more action. As a leader you will like or not but have to address your audience and some point of time; arouse their emotions, inform their minds and gratify their souls with your ‘words’. You ‘words’ will not just reflect a ‘utopia’ and possibilities but an action plan, show the path to reach the collective goal. In communication it becomes quite critical to know the ‘end’ and the ‘means’ to reach it. You have a signature way of doing it; it can’t be a replica of anyone whether you know or not, like or love. It’s you orchestra when you communicate. Talk words that make the audience believe in you spirit not just appreciate. Your speech has the power to hypnotize, use it well. Like music that you love most, in a communication orchestra there are certain phrases, words that you will need to repeat again and again till it become a powerful message in itself. Agree, to its best you should also support by action that your self aspires for. Like Joseph Conrad puts it “He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.” In the orchestra you are attempting, ensure that the sound is heard.

The Conjuring: Words in any of our language have the power to create the desired charisma. Lord Buddha’s teachings were succinct and sacred threads of weaving the soul’s fabric that lasts for so many centuries. Nietzsche’s soul filling words, Shakespearean monologues, Osho’s discourses and so many more examples hint at just one single thing; the rhythm of the thought, the power to mesmerize. You need not be an author or a poet, but indeed you are a human that looks forward to lead its own race with something very meaningful that will satisfy your spirit for doing it. When you conjure through speech or writing ensure the thought your audience is just poured in gains momentum, and builds more upon it. Words are the only existing intangible entities that if used well can create wonders. Your current standpoint has a trail of words that have sequenced your journey in a certain way. There were certain words in your own history that had made you decide on certain things in a certain way. The conjuring also bases on our language and its component that refer continuously about symbols of our own faith. Miracles in personal space do happen when you use verbs in your speech with more power than your everyday routine while addressing the gathering. Great leaders we know spoke so well not every day, but on every occasions with the passion and understanding of what their words can do to their audience.

Nouns are like music, verbs are like dance: of course remember the first stories your parents would have told you, would have both. Nouns create familiarity in speech, they signify a spirit either positive or negative. Example, take up a noun and try to fit into any situation, the result will never be itself but qualifying words that revolve around the subject. When you talk of an actor or a superhero, it’s entangled with afterthoughts of qualifiers like charisma, glamour, publicity and more. Whereas the word glamour for example doesn’t mean the actor. In messages that you coin in your speech or interactions ensure you use nouns people will be familiar with and has the power to make them think more, as well as stronger verbs that will attract their reasoning through continuous inner questioning or seer acceptance depending on your persona. The statesmen or a political leader will use more verb and less noun to reflect that they are a man or woman of action. Whereas a poet will use adjectives more to qualify the idea and a saint will use nouns like an order that has to be followed. You are the touchstone, and you have the treasure too.

Prescribe to yourself like a doctor: Words can’t be just flowing in without a reason. Ask yourself the best interactions you had ever; what were the words spoken by you and who were the person before you? What makes them memorable? Like a doctor identify symptoms of communications both that helped the interaction and that didn’t. Judging these reasons of impact will help define a prescription that will enrich your communication. Have a list of words that suit you well and go with your personality, use them more. You can’t copy unreasonably someone to be a scarecrow. Your words have the powerful magic that they can create. A little polish of your voice and better understanding of the meaning of each single word helps for years to come.

History is the only witness that knows words have welcomed wars, joined hearts unknown, cared for the impoverished, and created consensus for agenda that helps the community. Before we end this piece will leave you with one more word that makes phenomenal impact; ‘Silence’. Great civilizations and personalities knew the power of silence and used it to the best. When you attempt to be quiet as a worldly being, your mind gets triggered with countless thought whose core is just a word you know. Silence in fact is a thought of the unknown. The other kind is of a brief silence between the words in the pause that at times is quite necessary. Learn where to take the pause. “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain. A pause signifies a world of meaning to the audience.

Take guard of the words that you use, the best can only happen if you attempt.


Three years back when I met the global head of Communications for a luxury car brand who was on a business trip to India, little did I know that the conversation will help me discover more about my personal brand. Yes it was a job interview. And the conversation started with the gentleman asking me “What’s your Story?” I was cruised for a second, with such a direct question piercing into my layered hope for the meeting. I was not prepared for such a question, because no one ever asked one. Thought I will start with my professional journey, else my alma mater. Thought will talk about the achievements. But in the spur of a moment, decided all of these are archaic and do not define my aspirations necessarily. And then I described:

Why my story? If I speak it will have more of me and myself filled with the ‘I’ showing off here and there creating an unwanted dissonance. Am here for a dialogue, one that will benefit and take us further. Rather will start with the experiments where I got real learning to define principles that will work, teams and projects that helped me learn, battles that were fought not with colleagues or competitors but with one’s own ignorance. The learning that has sharpened the share of my endeavor to make communications a better function, and evolve as an efficient contributor to achieve goals both personal and professional. How can it make the brand am working with a more admired one, the workplace more productive and connected, and personally of course one that enriches the experience. Let’s talk about my vision or mission statements, but a dream that am moving toward, to build a brand that touches life. And that’s where we need more focus on, not what businesses we are in, but the way we reach the society and build trust that will stand through. And all these of course with the use of communication tools that are customized for every single context, and benchmarking similar experiences available elsewhere…”

And then I spoke of the brand that the gentleman belongs to, not its history nor its financial performance, but its current standpoint and the one it can reach in coming times. And the story clicked well, I got the offer, though didn’t join it for some personal reasons. The gentleman has become a good friend thereafter and we still chat up whenever possible, share wishes, and look forward to work together some day.

The reason am talking of this case is largely to define what a story means in actual terms. Do you have a story already? What is it? How do you present? Why you think it will build your case or convince the audience? We are not building here a propaganda nor a political campaign. As human beings each one of us has a story to tell, and where we can make it meaningful is when the message of the story connects the other person.

The story is the brand ‘YOU’, all that you exist for and not your achievements or campus that you belonged to. All of it is past and no one is interested in these self-glorified meaningless information pieces. The audience for you, for your organization, for business look forward to see, hear and feel the future, and make honest attempts to realize them. Your audience will believe only in stories that seem convincing to them and if they identify well with the message. If it helps them to collaborate, connect that benefits them, and only then they trust you, they believe in. The greatest communicators in mankind are they who have realized the larger cause, stood with a greater conviction and have signaled their presence through examples they have set. Your actions are verbs that induce motion in building trust.

And here is what you can do while working on a great story for yourself. It takes a life time to build the brand ‘YOU’, so be patient in scripting it right. Define a goal for you, for your life. Define your strengths and weaknesses. When you start the journey ensure you repeat the weaker areas more often, without missing the coherence of thought and focus on the goal that you have defined. Talking about your strengths do not strengthen the job you have taken up, it conveys arrogance, not a human effort. Ensure each of your action, words, and attempts toward building the goal into a more tangible masthead that will pull you through even during tough times. When telling your story ensure it reflects human values, it doesn’t have negative words or thoughts, and helps people imagine fast the meaning you convey. The strength of your brand is not what you did alone, what you achieved, but how have you bettered the situation or a case and making the world a place worth living. And of course while conveying your message that triggers conversation. The greatest stories and epics are always a dialogue.

While building a personal brand we also need to understand that measuring it will impact in terms of tangible outcomes, and is one of the nearly impossible tasks. And the more we think about measuring it, the more we move away from the message. The beautiful the story is that you stand for, the greater is the possibility that you will win hearts and confidence to sail through.

What’s your message? Live it honestly. Live it with the conviction that you have for your dream…the story in any case will get build up. Take care of your dream while it shapes up and that’s what life is all about!


People connect with inspiring stories and those that symbolize their inherent self. 

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I was wondering why mannequins are made even in this age of digital technology. Do we need them to sell garments or ornaments at stores and accessories that tempt us to buy? Learnt after some research that they are created as human beings easily connect and see a possible replica of what would they look like with a certain cloth or jewelry or accessory. It is though widely said this form of communicating through an artificial replica gained momentum during the industrial revolution, somewhere at the start of the nineteenth century, some researchers even suggest it’s a much older practice that dates back to the late 14th century BC1. The purpose may be varied, the materials used may be vivid, but one thing remains common across these centuries that the human beings connect faster and deeper with symbolic representations of themselves. In an organization context it surely serves more meaning and a platform for possibilities to be explored in bringing more effectiveness.

An employee at workplace, a context that holds true to all cultures and geographies, is the very first exploration. Whether an amateur or a professional everyone connects with the ideal possibility that promises success in their endeavor. People would love to see more success stories, inspiring colleagues and not grotesque gumboots around, those that reflect similar contexts and circumstances that is easy to ideate for them. Organizations in last few decades have increasingly realized this and have worked toward it. And that didn’t have failed miserably. The top 10 Fortune 500 organizations, the reason they are fortunate is largely because of the amount of time and effort they have invested in their people in converting them as brand ambassadors. Walmart for example pays its workforce fairly as well as presents enough avenues within the organization to grow and reach the top levels. The brand remains quite vigilant and encourages measures that motivate its greatest power; it’s people. The communication strategy at Walmart doesn’t restrict people to speak to the outer world, rather believes in each employee’s potential to bring in more business, and good will. “The people behind a brand are its main ambassadors”.

Quite contrary to this is the case of Enron in recent times. In less than 15 years Enron became the seventh largest company in the US with presence in 40 countries. Its 21000 employees worked in a closed world devoid of global trends and in the worst make belief culture which didn’t do any good to anyone. The failure of a huge brand like Enron is purely based on people behavior; lies, unethical conduct and bootlegging all at one go.  There were no mannequins (inspiring stories) in this organization. The most beautiful culture is the one that has enough open minds around, and Enron was always far away. The management didn’t bother to celebrate small achievements of its workforce, 21000 people were not connected to each other and in principle no spirit was available that would bind them together.  “Most brand damage does not arise from product flaws or distribution problems. A lot of it comes from employees or managers who fail to live up to their role as ambassadors of the brand.” 2

Even the mannequin speaks to the consumers, and to the world on the possible change (positive) in one’s being when someone follows it or grabs it for the self. Each success story within the organization may be of an individual or a group does speak a lot, it speaks about the presence of the platform where each individual can perform and get applauded, where each idea that contributes is celebrated in chorus. Communicators do believe achievements big or small need to be positioned within the organization as such symbolic representations that inspire. The frequency of such symbols of achievement does serve as an inspiration, however, it also refers that the very context of business has a connected way of operations, a fabric that has threads of trust and collaboration. Inspiration is electrifying only when there is a better connectivity both inside and for the outer world.

 Companies have in the last decade invested in making the workforce more social. This has immensely helped cascade organizational changes faster as well manage and tune employee expectations. Each employee gets converted into a brand ambassador only when is able to answer – “What’s your STORY?” At brands like Walmart, Toyota, P&G, Google, etc. people are the greatest assets and each one of them are continuously motivated to inspire. Leaders at an organizational level need to position employees’ trust by presenting such stories that inspire, and the availability of platforms where many more can still be knitted.

With big organizations, challenges are even bigger. The canvas is just huge to put the strokes in the right direction with the right impact. Internal communicators have a bigger challenge not in the historical way of cascading organizational messages but identifying mannequins (success stories) at all levels and serve it to the context where more attention is needed. An organization is a living being, with people as its life force, governed by certain rhythm and pattern. The more inspiring the connected lines of action are in this pattern, the easier it becomes to achieve the goals. With uncertainty mounting up in recent years employees tend to be more disconnected. Internal communicators around the world today have just one single challenge to bind the workforce and guide them to the most rightful direction. The challenge is today the growing interdependency among lines of businesses and sub-systems that need people in more number to collaborate. This collaboration is among employees, customers and the various other stakeholders of the organization. Internal communication vehicles within the organization need to be agile enough to identify the gaps and not cementing but bridging it strategies to simplify complexities of behemoth systems.

Some organizations use social media to bridge this gap. Especially IT and services organizations have increasingly employed social platforms where the dialogue takes place. However, the challenge is with manufacturing set-ups that have their own internal challenge of recouping with unanticipated scenarios of uncertainty. Distribution of power, communicating it further down and assuring the workforce that their contribution is quite important to the organization need to be one of the guiding principles for communicators. Jack Welch pursued something similar while communicating the business performance, customer needs and market trends to employees at GE. This has helped setting aspirational goals for employees and enhanced performance. Employees see a direct linkage between their performance and the customer’s need. The GE way is globally appreciated for its way of putting the Customer First approach. Internal communicators need to bridge this not so very easy gap with a continuous effort. The tools are as important as the content that we the communicator arranges for, as has to be relevant.

The mannequins of success stories and achievements are inspirations that bring change, the communicator need to capture such occurrences in the organizational pattern and further continue the spirit. The mannequin in its literary derivations also refers igniting passion. Communicating this passion is only possible when you understand the demography of your surrounding and then make the design of the operation around customers and not employees. Professionals in this emerging area of change communication arrange for the conversation to happen among the stakeholders, without compromising on the swiftness to act.  

 

1Source: http://mannequinmadness.wordpress.com/the-history-of-mannequin/

2Brand Failures: Matt Haig


Few weeks back when I was watching “A walk in my shoes” hardly I expected that the meaning the movie deciphers would be amazing.  Multiple everyday characters that usually love to live in their own worlds and walk in their own shoes, circumstances that hardly give scope to open up and listen to what others have to say, and an opportunity where a character lives the experiences of someone else; these make in brief the very theme of the movie. As an ardent lover for such treatment, I tried soon contextualizing the very theme from a communication angle.  At business how do senior management walk in the shoes of someone on the shop floor? or even do our leaders bother to move beyond their own cocoons ever to get the pulse of the people they run with? The dissonance often leaves a scar that HR consultant firms pounce upon as opportunities to make business. Of course, we are talking all about how engaged our employees are.  But in the process Communication takes a pivotal role in deciding the success of engagement programmes that businesses in general and Human Resources in particular run globally.

Not many like to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and helplessly witness failure of all messages they coin and incongruity between their aspiration and the approaching reality. But organizations and professionals who do it, often deliver mature understanding and great success at work. In recent years, organizations have realized at least that their employees need to be engaged, but the sensitivity to address often lacks even with colossal conglomerates.
Historically, the top-leadership always expects the employees at all levels to be aware and in sync with the organization’s goals, priorities and objectives. But at the same most organizations have failed in realizing the aspirations of the employees who run the show. There are even organizations where the top-management even doesn’t intend to know such expectations as they feel wastage of time with reverse gear can affect the momentum of the business they run.  Let’s ask, how much do you know about your employees? Most of us will seem to be blank. For years, across sectors employers have focussed on age old practices like perks, annual bonuses, extra vacation time, or even preferential treatment as a substitute for employee needs. Still these practices don’t work. WHY? We still have double digit attrition in every segment of the economy. It seems dangling carrots like these don’t create sustained shift in engagement levels of employees and organizational productivity.

How many organizations even bother to listen to their employees?  As Brenda Ueland puts it: “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force…When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually grow within us and come to life”. This is indeed very true and witnesses of this very principle have seen great employer brands as responsible and engaging partners in the economy.

In one of the HBR issue of 2008, an expert wrote; “For too many senior executives’ at large companies become isolated in the corner office. Their professional lives involve a series of handlers – people who take their calls, screen their emails… etc. They live in gated communities, travel in first class, and stay at five-star hotels. They have worked hard for these privileges… However, executives often find themselves living and working in bubble. They lose touch with their front-line employees, customers, suppliers.”

We will not see HR models of engaging employees here; rather move into Communication practices that help achieve it. But before we even do that, let me remind there is no set of fixed communication practices applicable for any two companies to engage the employees to same level.  Communication strategies at any point of time need to be customized by the team from the company to achieve maximum benefit, consultancies and benchmarking mostly doesn’t help in engaging employees as they do not have an understanding of your culture. However, few practices and philosophies need to be mentioned here for inspiring more action at our end.

AOL, a multi-billion dollar media company located just outside Washington takes a proactive approach to controlling pregnancy-related healthcare costs by offering all employees and their families’ access to a comprehensive well-baby program. AOL’s WellBaby Program provides preconception, healthy pregnancy, and lactation programs that promote optimal health behaviours through awareness, education, counselling, and incentives. This program has helped AOL reduce or control its pregnancy-related health costs in a number of key areas. The involvement of communication tools for spreading the message and awareness regarding the program across locations and bands is commendable. Not traditional mailers and posters but imbibing it into the job offer, joining procedures for employees to periodic campaigns and spreading the word of mouth has helped this initiative click at AOL and achieve success. Soon the program’s return on investment (ROI) is realized from both direct and indirect costs-savings.

Alongside, many would not know the fact before the advent of social media; IBM became the first company ever to promote sharing of information for their employees using the internet, blogging, etc. Empowering employees to be brand advocates for the company takes courage and a great deal of trust.  From the guidelines, “In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Internet – at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees’ Internet access.  In 2005, the company made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate.” IBM says that when it wishes to communicate publicly as a company it has a well-established means to do so – through employee blogs and other forms of online discourse. These may seem to be ‘not that very important actions’ to some, but the impact it has created is enormous and the return for the company is promising. Employees today at IBM feel more engaged, involved and trusted by the organization.

At Sony’s Europe operation, taking employee engagement to the next level has meant adopting a more holistic approach to how the company deals with engagement activities at various levels of business. The result is a strategy that cuts to the heart of organisational and individual values and behaviours. Sony in Europe implemented a ‘joined-up approach’ for engaging employees.  Through communication, the company shared tips and tools for re-energizing their leaders, invited creative thoughts and ideas from employees for specific projects.  Some of the attempts made their way to appreciation and got rewarded. The role that communication plays is very critical in the sense it needs to be addressing the core issues of employees without compromising the overall principle of the business.

Some of the standing guidelines in this stream of thought can be listed here. Strengthen the value of employees, do discover (and act on) the prevalence of communication opportunities, focus on outcomes (not outputs!), Make consistency more develop influencing platforms for enablers along with measurement criteria for engagement efforts on a periodic basis.
 
Great brands believe in transforming their employees as brand ambassadors, and that’s how they have become successful. As George Bernard Shaw puts it; “The basic problem with communication is the illusion that it’s completed.” The concept itself refers to a continuous process of sharing information for mutual good. Both teams of Human Resources and Corporate Communications need to re-align to ensure the continuity of trust among employees. In the post-globalized world, Engagement is the most deciding criterion for attrition, so be cautious.

The Tale of Two Crises


How do we define ‘Crisis’? Something that we want to avoid all the time? The lexicon (from wikipedia) suggests a Crisis as any event that is, or expected to lead to, an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community or whole society. Crises are deemed to be negative changes in the security, economic, political, societal or environmental affairs, especially when they occur abruptly, with little or no warning. More loosely, it is a term meaning ‘a testing time’ or an ’emergency event’.  Crisis as such has three basic elements which stand as parameters of the testing time: a threat to organization, element of surprise and a very short decision time. And each of these elements involves Communication as a critical tool either to mitigate the criticality of the event or divert the consequences toward a more passive experience. Before we discuss the golden rules for Crisis Communication, it would be ideal to see two globally known cases that will give a glimpse into the trends and approaches they have been handled with. The first case is about Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol of 1982 and the second is the British Petroleum’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The medium of communication in last three decades have seen a sea change, but the urge and dexterity with which both the cases were handled is inspiring.

Deaths due to J&J’s Tylenol: 1982

Tylenol is a spectacular painkiller brand from Johnson & Johnson, which faced a crisis that turned out to be a global case study even after three decades.  As per 1980s market data, this globally acclaimed brand contributed to around 18% of Johnson & Johnson’s net earnings. Then what went wrong?

On the morning of 30th September, 1982, the CEO of McNeil (a subsidiary of J&J) received shocking news of seven people who died after consuming the drug blamed to be cyanide laced. This created a nation-wide panic and the company stood on the verge of losing the brand image in no time. Media from various small and big cities thronged with news, speculations and even fancy tales to draw attention. The circumstances that hit the brand can be imagined from the record 1411 telephone calls that Johnson & Johnson received in the first ten days after the incident occurred. How did such a mega brand manage to fight the crisis?

James Burke, the former CEO of the company who faced the adversity is often acclaimed even among communication circles for the way he handled the incident. It was this man’s timely response to the crisis that not only saved millions in the US, but also bringing back the trust and re-establishing the brand for the company and the drug. Burke set up a seven member team to fight the crisis in two distinct phases. The first phase focussed on how to save the customers and the second considering how to save the company and the drug. It’s an incredible strategy that the company took in the nick of time.

From a communication point what the company did is truly commendable. Here is a list of few actions pursued during the course. In the first phase focusing on the customers, the company through media communicated to customers and healthcare professionals without hesitation about discontinuing the brand. The production, supply and advertisements of the Tylenol brand were immediately stopped. A nation-wide recall of around 31 million bottles was undertaken. Established a 1800 hotlines to address customer, media and other queries. In those times let us also know that internet was not in use. In the second phase to save the company and the product, J&J reintroduced the capsules with triple-seal tamper-resistant packaging. The Company also offered to exchange all TYLENOL capsules that had already been purchased for TYLENOL tablets ensuring safety. Alongside the J&J Corporate Affairs team established relationship with Police, FBI and the food and drug administration to narrow down the loss. The marketing team announced for Price off coupons($2.5 off) for every pack of Tylenol. In subsequent months the company adopted a New Pricing Program which turned successful through the offer of a discount as high as 25%. All communication done during the crisis managed well in restoring the confidence. A testament to this is that the market share of TYLENOL which fell down from 37% to 7% after the crisis got restored back to 33% in a span of six months.

BPs Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico: 2010

On  April 20 – 2010, an explosion occurred at the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig working on a well for the oil company BP (British Petroleum)one mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, which led to the largest accidental oil spill in history. After a series of failed efforts to plug the leak, British Petroleum on July 15 after 86 days could finally ensure that oil was not gushing into the gulf. The well was then plugged with cement, but work proceeded on two relief wells soon that promise the greatest certainty of a permanent fix.

The enormity of the crisis is so huge that it shook the international oil business standards and questioned the safety measures taken by those companies involved globally. Nearly five million barrels of oil gushed from BP’s well in the Gulf of Mexico. According to estimates and records by the government, BP’s oil leak crossed and outstripped the estimated 3.3 million barrels spilled into the Bay of Campeche by the Mexican rig in 1979. From BP to the US Government and from media to people around the world had no clue as per what could be the scale of devastation.
The BP oil leak crisis raised questioned on not only safety measures taken up by international oil companies but also the government’s ignorance about measures that can tackle such spills as well as regulations that are not so stringent as such occurrences are few in human history. 

The consequences were far impacting lives across the gulf. The marine ecosystem was badly hit by the spill with thousands of species floating dead on the surface. BP’s CEO Tony Hayward during the crisis faced criticism from various circles and had to finally resign from the board. Around $20 Bn was claimed by victims of the spill which were settled by the company. The US President Barak Obama ordered an immediate halt to virtually all the current and new offshore oil drilling activity pending a comprehensive safety review. But as offshore drilling remains a primary source for the US energy needs the criticality involved in introduction of stricter regulations also seemed to be parked for the near future.

The various communications that involved in fighting this recent crisis also draws attention as were effective and efficient as well as stand as learning for every brand no matter what sector they belong to.  BP issued a letter to the world with the following introductory lines: “Since the tragic accident on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig first occurred, we have been committed to doing everything possible to stop the flow of oil at the seabed, collect the oil on the surface and keep it away from the shore…

… We will continue to keep everyone fully informed about the events as they unfold. For current information on the spill and response plan, please use the following websites:

To make spill-related claims: (800) 440-0858. www.bp.com/gulfofmexicoresponse, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com ” Alongside, BP ensured that its employees across the globe do not speak anything other than the official statement sent to them. Across all social media and web platforms BPs message about its seriousness in fighting the crisis was used in great frequency.  Within no time, BP decided to provide information regarding the crisis ranging from the intensity of the incident to measures for mitigation across a host of communication vehicles.

Lessons Learnt: The common thread that binds both the cases from a crisis communication perspective are: communicating with public during crisis, honest overview of the crisis to be communicated through various phases to ensure credibility, making public safety company’s number one priority and concern, leadership acted commendably during crisis, involvement of associates across all levels in the company regarding crisis management and judicious use of media vehicles including recent day trends and technologies, can all be very helpful.

Both the companies that we have talked here are global players in their own sectors and have a brand reputation of being mega brands. One of the awareness that need to be instigated across any organization is any Crisis doesn’t approach with a bell in its neck, its instantaneous and hence there is no room for preparation. But as responsible individuals and business players, it is advisable to have a crisis communication plan in practice and ensure channels beforehand that can be leveraged during such occurrences. Even though technologies and communication platforms are much superior during the BP crisis compared to the Tylenol episode, Johnson & Johnson serves as a more successful and admirable story of crisis communication. The intent with which J&J operated is commendable for the reason that corrective measures had a human touch involved.

In the new information environment, the proliferation of new media has strengthened the various approaches of crisis communication. People are on the internet and undoubtedly have access to the voluminous information base at any given point of time through the innumerable contributions made by citizen journalists from all over. Consider the influence of Near Instantaneous Media Cycle in recent years. In Jan 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 crash landed in the Hudson River. In that incident, emails, tweets, photos and videos of the incident began filtering through cyberspace 15 minutes before the main-stream media even reported it. Today we have search engines that track and display almost everything about an incident, even the history of the occasion, so it’s ideal to be cautious and honest while making statements disseminate.

As trends speak in the new information environment, Crisis Communication is beyond the control of any individual or organisation, and Crisis Communication managers must accept that nothing can be hidden forever as truth surfaces very fast. Crisis Communication must therefore be honest, open, fast, accurate, broadly communicated through multiple platforms and involving the internet as a medium par excellence considering its speed and reach. The prospect of recovery from any crisis remains dependent upon two key parameters; the intensity of damage done and the attitude to troubleshoot and address the damage.


In recent decades the epitome of building rewarding Communication networks has dwelt often on a single notch for building TRUST.  It’s equally important for any business or any entity to bring in the credibility factor first to initiate the essential dialogue to increase operational excellence. Building trust calls for higher levels of accountability and transparency as well. Trust acts as a driver for change and helps achieve a sustainable model for development and judicious utilization of resources without compromising the effectiveness of the messages. Messages here refer to encoded intentions of the entities involved in the dialogue.

Understanding the audience is paramount and hence the advocacy for the shift from traditional media to digital and social media is enlisted here. Before we move further to have a clinical dissection of both the media available we need to reorient ourselves with the fact that information is supreme and judicious use of it can work wonders and last for a longer period.

As a human behaviour we trust humans, peers, communities more than formal bodies and institutions as the connect is more subtle and direct with the former. Many organizations fail today to bridge this gap and hence the dissonance of directions we intend to follow. Consider this inference: The need to create communication campaigns that support business objectives, driven by clearly defined strategies, and enabled by tactics that deliver measurable outcomes is as true today as it used to be decades before. Communication campaigns are not measured by the number of blog posts, followers on twitter, TRPs for television channels, column-centimetres on print, but by the ability to influence decision.

Now in brief take a look at what have each of the mediums offer and why the weaknesses of the traditional have become opportunities for the new age media. Believe it or not with evolution we have witnessed the mantra: “with more choices, come more voices”. More voices mean here the arrival of consensus for actions we intend to practice.

Traditional Media

To understand and further promote conversation, traditional tools have been deployed for centuries now. To name a few, media relations, television, radio, print, reward programmes, Direct mailing practices and many more have yielded phenomenal success historically. But this was the reality only till globalization came into existence.  These are great mediums to work with, but when the plethora of everyday communication issues needs to be addressed, the same may seem inadequate. Remember the use of US Television channels during the Gulf war for not only informing the audiences, but for also helping retain the trust in the US Administration. Locally or globally, the usage has defined the purview of the traditional mediums of communication to be not a very critical player in shaping the decision that would carve the future of society. From politicians to business conglomerates, from activists to the popular Broadway performers, almost everyone has used the medium to the fullest without anticipating the need for building trust through measured messages.  The challenges faced today by communication scholars globally are not scientific or technological but more from an economic and social standpoint. The reason we enumerate for such change is again the advent of “Information Reach”.

Digital Age Tools

The famous Dutch man Ramon Stoppelenburg travelled around the world for absolutely free, without spending any money, from 2001 to 2003, thanks to his blog on Letmestayforaday.com. His website was his profile with which he created his own necessary network of online offered places to stay for the night. This made Stoppelenburg one of the first people online who used the online media on a social and effective manner.

This example is pretty straight to explain the wonders new age social media have ushered. Social media, mobile marketing, online advertisements, integrated search, online brand content, etc., have formally shaped the digital media of present day. And at the same time the arrival of global virtual groups has often experienced a ‘swift’ for largely being temporal and fragile in nature. Being fragile means not being concrete enough to impact a longer time-period. But the inference doesn’t hold enough strength as sustainable impact of the message is less important than the profitability from such communication, even at a shorter span. Social media for example operates on a principle that the world changes every moment and with it the actions and choices of humans. Thus it refers to the realization among members of the global community about the need for being more adaptable rather than being just continuing with age-old trends and messages.

The paradigmatic shift

The new age media is often accredited for having transcended time, space and culture. This unique factor makes it more adaptable even among culturally diversified communities. The move from the traditional to the new age digital media apparently bases on two principles:

Relationships move from the scope of creating awareness through consideration, trial, and loyalty to a higher advocacy rate. This reflects trust and the reflection also acts as a conscious ambassador for building credibility irrespective of cultural diversities and socio-economic issues that encompass the platform where everyday communication operates. In such a scenario, responses are to be considered as a trusting behaviour that indicate involvement, and involvement conveys attraction, intimacy, attachment, and affection. Overall a sailing ship for sovereign commitment for a greater cause and that forms the soul of building trust.

Remember in recent years various digital media have started believing in bridging the cultural gap and socio-economic barriers. Bridging this distance in a global virtual sphere alongside the evolution of trust through technology mediated relational communication is something to be looked for. Users, businesses, and other bodies that communicate should now look at alternative channels that would help bridge this gap. Building trust through effective communication is to be treated as the focus, no matter what medium we choose.

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