Get off the brandwagon!

Get off the brandwagon!
What does it take for a business to have the confidence to move beyond talking about innovation and transformation and to get stuck in and actually pull it off?

What does it take for a business to have the confidence to move beyond talking about innovation and transformation and to get stuck in and actually pull it off?

We’ve entered a post-brand era, where enlightened business leaders have recognised the need to move on from the traditional concept of design and brand as an adjunct to marketing and communications. Those who are succeeding in turning around business fortunes are those who understand the broader concept of design thinking and are using it as a strategic business tool to drive transformation.

The difference between success and failure can often be boiled down to six vital ingredients –the ‘Ideal Growing Conditions’ – that need to exist in order to create an eco-system that will enable the transformation process (see below).

We’ve clearly entered the post-brand era where design has new meaning and cachet. This is just my personal perspective, however it’s gained from having worked closely for many years with organisations that have had the need, and the desire, to transform.

First, though let’s get the terminology right. There’s a problem with the word ‘brand’. There’s a growing cynicism around the word that’s holding us back. Everyone’s a brand expert these days and as a result, it’s developing a bad name for itself.

For us, brand equals reputation. Simply, a brand is what a brand does. This is by no means a new concept, but it is the key to accepting that brand is not merely a function or extension of marketing, and that companies can no longer communicate their way out of the challenges they face. You can’t just change the message, you have to change the business. Increasingly, this is an unavoidable reality for many businesses struggling to adapt in a rapidly changing world.

Once you understand this, you’ll be in a much better position to embark on rethinking your business strategy, and to redesign your offering in a way that’s totally configured around the end user.

We call this transformation by design. But it’s not design as you may know it. Design thinking is design in the broader sense of the word. It’s design as a strategic business tool that helps to choreograph more fundamental change inside an organisation.

Sure, a lot of people are talking about business transformation. It’s well explored in white papers, other articles in Idealog and Government policy, and it is accepted as a critical area needed for New Zealand to become more globally competitive.

So it’s front of mind, but in practice many are finding it’s not that easy to do. Invariably, they’re coming up against resistance and seemingly insurmountable barriers.

The reality is transformation doesn’t just occur. You need the ideal growing conditions. We believe you need the stars to align across six key areas. They’re not individual points but rather interdependent. Where we’ve seen transformation succeed with our clients, these conditions have existed and the process has been easier and more streamlined as a result. If you go ahead with some of them missing, the process will invariably be more difficult.

It’s mostly just common sense; all we’ve tried to do is codify it to help improve our own chances of success when working with a client on a significant change process.

If you recognise your organisation needs to transform, ask yourself: ‘Do I have the ideal growing conditions for the process to be successful?’

The Ideal Growing Conditions for Transformation

The burning platform
An imminent or impending crisis. Transformation only happens when there’s recognition that the status quo and current business strategy is no longer sustainable. Perversely it’s good to reach the point where you have no alternative but to enthusiastically embrace the need for change.

A new business strategy and/or model
Clarity and agreement around a new direction. What business are you in? What’s the future positioning – the niche you should own? How does it have to evolve? What’s the shared value that works for all stakeholders? It’s more difficult to answer these questions and set a new course without a visionary leader at the helm.

Visionary leadership
Someone with absolute clarity about where they want to go and the ability to communicate it in a way that inspires others. When you look at the success stories in New Zealand business, there’s invariably a visionary leader. It can be innate or learnt, but the vision on its own is useless unless you have followers. You need to be able to bring others with you.

The mavericks inside
The true believers, the passionate advocates for change inside an organisation – people without respect for the status quo. True visionary leaders will attract these like moths to a flame. They can sometimes be a challenge to manage but they are brave and energetic flag-carriers for the cause – people with the confidence to go down a new path.

Desire to re-invent the rules
There’s always a better way but sometimes you have to think differently to find it. Understanding the rules of the ‘old business’ and the rules of the category and being inspired to break them. Create new rules that better fit your business purpose. Basically, be prepared to take a leap into the unknown.

Preparedness to take a calculated risk

Assessing the risk and then being able to side-step the fear factor. Challenge traditional research findings, as they tend to take you to exactly the same place your competitors will go. Explore the unknown and find the latent need the consumer has not identified yet – ‘Launch to test’ using the consumer as a designer, co-creating with them and then refining, improving and perfecting.

Sven Baker (@ngatarua) is the chief executive officer of Designworks