Engagement and formulae

Before leaving London I was talking to some brand consultants about engagement. Their puzzle was: how do we get employees to engage with a brand. How would you approach this they asked.

I guess I start from a position of feeling hugely sceptical about starting with a brand position and then attempting to engage employees. And this is where most branding types go wrong – they generate a frightfully clever idea of their own, sell it to management and then attempt to sell it to employees. As the Irishman is reputed to have said, “If I wanted to go to Dublin, I wouldn’t start from here.”

We talked about some specific brands, including a big financial institution which has done a very pricey rebrand and where, it appears, the staff don’t get it. Despite millions spent on advertising. I didn’t say this in the meeting – wish now that I had – but basically, I think the staff have every reason not to engage with the advertising. And I am more and more impatient with the notion that staff should change to fit some ideal of the brand that they’ve probably had little to do with inventing.

I’ve also found myself becoming obstinate, resisting conversations about changing other people. In this meeting, I kept trying to move the subject from the culture “out there” to look at the little culture we were creating in this meeting. And these guys kept politely declining; I think they thought I was being evasive. That would be one thing we had in common.

I also felt they were looking for some convincing story of my miracle cure for these problems out there. And although I do have some ideas – about using Open Space Technology for one thing – I just don’t want to slide back into this problem-solution conversation.

So this meeting didn’t go very well, and I’m feeling frustrated. You know, I think it’s quite hard to articulate and stand up for a less formulaic, more emergent way of approaching brands. Because there is this constant pressure to come up with easy answers, and to avoid paradox and at all costs keep out of the discomfort of not knowing.

2 thoughts on “Engagement and formulae

  1. David Wilcox

    Johnny – this sounds very similar to discussions I have with clients – and consultants – about how to engage residents in regeneration programmes. There’s often an unspoken theme of life’s too short, people are apathetic, let’s just get on and do and sell. The real issues are power and control, and fear of letting go – even if the residents/staff are essential to the success of the project. Naturally enough, bringing that conversation into the room is pretty challenging to the attitudes and roles of all concerned. It helps to know the same stuff happens all over…. though I don’t know how best to handle it either.

  2. Chris Pearse

    Sounds like it went very well indeed – you maintained an authentic position in the face of

    external pressure and internal frustration. And inspire others to do the same.

    Big stuff.


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