Do we need a Fifth Estate?

If Richard Reeves analysis of an individual-centric future proves to be correct (see post below), I believe we shall eventually move to a climate in which government exists to co-ordinate markets for public services, which are predominatly privately provided. If this is true, then the existing obsessional focus on free-market supply-side solutions -environmental trading, frantic house-building, on demand healthcare, and free financial markets - will need to be balanced with equally strong efforts of the demand-side. This process starts by actively shaping the values and desires of its customers to enable informed choices, but also extends far more widely - to rewarding habits which are profitable for society.  We can see this process accelerating already today with the government's obesity drive, which has been constuctively suported by industy and media alike.  This is collusive social conditioning.  Government as marketing. But how far does government actually have a mandate for this form of social leadership, I wonder?  And what new structures need to be in place to support it? And what sort of governance needs to be put in place? To be a trusted government should be easy.  But to be a trusted marketer may be a bridge too far?  This conflicted position - selling services which you do not deliver and for which you bear no accountability - may ultimately demand a different governance structure altogether. Are the media up to the task of marketing ombudsman? Or do we need a 5th or even 6th estate?


Government as Marketing

Is the role of prime minister set to become merely that of Marketing Director for Britain plc?  Is Tony Blair simply a salesman?  And does it matter? Richard Reeves in this week's New Statesman outlines a vision of individuals, procuring quality of life services from an enabling State whose principal role is to safeguard the intangible assets of Britain Inc.  Reeves writes on the rise of the individual: "The individual is steadily replacing the collective as the site of political action, analysis and conflict.  The point here is not that everyone is becoming more selfish, but that the self is beconing a more important unit of politics that the class or the group.  At the same time, the level of undstanding of what makes individuals tick has vastly overtaken theories of society.  And a greater understanding of individual processes will become more important to politicians, too.  Many of the changes they want to bring about -  better heath, more stable family life, greater productivity - rely upon individual action." If Reeves is right - and he surely is - then as we move from a providing or dictating state towards one which 'enables', then the disciplines of marketing will become critical to maintaining the value of public services.  The state must co-ordinate a wide variety of individual, often private service providers.  But in order to maintain the PERCEIVED quality of these services, it must become more and more adept at managing expectations. The future of government is public service marketing.  Are we ready for it?


Reputation Management or Relationship Management?

A Thought for the Day: Catching up on some neglected reading, we quote from Professor Gary Davies et al. in "Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness" (Routledge, 2002): Davies and co. build an academic 'reputation' paradigm based on 10 key tenets: 1. Multiple stakeholders need to be considered. 2. The main elements of reputation are linked. 3. Reputation is created through multiple interaction. 4. Reputations are valuable and have value. 5. Reputation can be managed. 6. Reputation and financial performance are linked. 7. Relative reputation (ranking) drives financial performance. 8. Reputation can be measured. 9. Reputation can be lost more easily than it can be created. 10. Reputation can best be studied using an interdisciplinary approach. It's difficult to disagree with any of these.  And we don't.  But an outside (i.e non brand-practitioner) observer would be entitled to ask...SO WHAT? Surely, reputation is a simple consequence of delivering on promises that stakeholders value. And yes, we'd also agree there. The truth is that managing reputations is mostly a question of managing stakeholders' real experiences, and often, paradoxically, that involves NOT focusing on reputation.  Reputation is a felicitous by-product of great experiences. Reputation is history.  Relationships are present. Reputation is an outcome.  Relationships are income. Reputation is brittle.  Relationships are malleable. Reputation is static. Relationships are dynamic. Any reputation management exercise must begin with the realisation that reputations do not exist in some grossly aggregated brand index or in some media league table, but within the heads of individual stakeholders who buy, sell, invest, support or even compete against your business.  Manage these relationships well, and honestly...and a strong (and sustainable) reputation will follow.  Give or take some great PR!



The Daily Mail reports that Chiquita is now breeding special flavoured bananas in an effort to bring the P&G logic of brand extension to the fruit and veg market. Brand 'Banana' has run out of juice. Now ex P&G director Fernando Aguirre plans to introduce 'connoisseur' varieties which will include strawberry flavour and be premium priced. Given the convenient protective packaging of the banana and its high energy value, it can only be a matter of time until they introduce a 'chicken korma banana' range. Chains of banana bars are planned to open up in California. Meanwhile the department of health has leaked plans for us to eat at least 20 pieces of fruit a day... Marketing Genius. Or not?


Corporate Marketing (2) The role of CSR...

In all the debate about the value of CSR one truth is too often ignored. The purported return on investment of CSR depends on stakeholders understanding and valuing its benefits... Consumers must value more ethical products; suppliers must value better treatment; investors must value brand sustainability; partners must value better engagement; communities must value local investment. We, as a society, must value more respectful, mutually sensitised relationships. This is about stakeholders placing a value on the personalised expression of corporate values. CSR is about building values-based relationships that sustain brands. Organisations that wish to build CSR into the fabric of a business organisation therefore face a very simple challenge - to exceed stakeholders' values expectations in dimensions that offer demonstrable value - to both sides. Where corporate and stakeholder values collude, value can be created - through the revenues and opportunities which flow from exceding motivational, behavioral and attitudinal expectations. Where they collide, value will be destroyed - through the frictional costs and risks of weak trust, loss of belief and low commitment. CSR will come to nothing if the actions that express these values are not actually valued in the stakeholder marketplace. Often this value will flow from revenues - charging a premium for peace of mind, or some higher order emotional benefit. But benefits of those deeper relationships will also come through more effective transactions - at lower environmental cost, lower time cost and lower financial cost. Let's be blunt here. If your staff are happy and fulfilled, you could maybe even pay them a little less - or certainly differently! In a very real sense then, CSR is a driver of corporate marketing - susceptible to the same rigour, research and planning disciplines of any other marketing effort. The essence of this Marketing is effective dialogue...making an offer, matching it to the needs of stakeholders, delivering - and then, most crucially, checking that you've delivered in order to reinforce and protect the value that has been created. Just as organisations build maps of their customers value experience, so they should map their stakeholders values experiences. Just as they research customers to identify unmet value demands, so they should research stakeholders to identify unmet values-needs. CSR is the attempt to build brand-consistent, mutually beneficial, values-based relationships.

Corporate Marketing (1) The role of the corporate brand.

An interesting observation from Prahalad and Ramaswamy's "The Future of Competition": 'Take Sony: With the multitudinous product choices available to consumers as well as the many financial choices open to investors, the company itself is emerging as a center of brand equity, an anchor for value in a sea of discontinuities. As companies orient themselves towards experiences, what is the real value anchor? We believe it is consistent quality of co-creation experience across multiple channels and multiple events in the experience environment. The experience is the brand - not firm-centric, one-way communication as in advertising, public relations and image manipulation. For brand management the focus on individual-specific experience implies a subjective notion of brand definition, one that the company cannot directly manage. Instead, firms must shift to managing experience environments, working with customers and consumer communities. Brand managers must now facilitate new experiences and create new points of interaction, letting consumers connect the dots as they choose.' ________________________________________________ It's impossible to improve on this far-sighted articulation of the new corporate reality, except to say that other stakeholders also have value-needs from a corporate brand, and also wish to co-create experiences at the corporate interface. Corporate brands now makes multiple offers to multiple stakeholder markets. Balancing these needs is the challenge of Corporate Marketing - which demands internal collaboration, as well as external...


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In this blog, we will respond to the events and trends around us, and engage in debate with our own stakeholders.