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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviews the brands guru and business leader Rita Clifton CBE.
Rita is an acclaimed keynote speaker, author and expert advisor. Combined with her experience of being a CEO, Chair, board director and successful entrepreneur, Rita is able to inspire organisations of all kinds to find new ways to succeed in an uncertain world.
She’s a regular commentator across all media, including CNN, BBC, Sky and social channels, as well as a columnist for national newspapers and trade magazines.
Rita is also the author of best-selling books including ‘The Future of Brands’ and two editions of The Economist ‘Brands and Branding‘. She’s just completed a leadership book like no other ‘Love Your Imposter’.
In this fascinating episode, Rita discusses her viewpoints on issues including:
- The strategies required to survive, adapt and rebuild in the Post-Covid world
- Why the future depends on re-humanising companies
- What we can learn from the rise of the ‘saviour brand’
- Clarity, Coherence and Leadership
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:11): Hello this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the business world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders founded in 1999. Today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries, which are being followed by The New Abnormal. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:03): So today I’m really pleased to be joined by the absolutely fascinating and inspiring Rita Clifton CBE. Who’s a high profile business leader and a claimed brand and marketing guru. She’s a very, very high profile keynote speaker and chair, author, and expert advisor. That’s been described by the financial times as a brand guru and by campaign magazine as the doyenne of branding alongside the brand, leading the brand by the de Telegraph combined with her experience of being a CEO chair, board director, and successful entrepreneur, Rita is able to inspire organizations of all kinds to find new ways to succeed in an uncertain world. In terms of her background, she started her career in advertising and quickly progressed becoming vice chairman and strategy director at Saatchi & Saatchi during their most successful period. She then moved into brand strategy when she became the London CEO and then chairman of leading global brand consultancy Interbrand where she led a high diverse and talented team.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:08): She’s advised numerous leading businesses around the world, as well as startups and growth stage businesses of all shapes and sizes. Back in 2013, she co-founded and chaired the business and brand consultancy BrandCap, which now has offices in London, New York and Hong Kong, and which she successfully sold onto the populist group. She’s a regular commentator across all media, including CNN, BBC sky, and social channels, as well as being a columnist for national newspapers and trade magazines. She’s recently a mentor and judge on the CNBC award-winning business series, popup startup, which was produced in association with Alibaba. And then finally, she’s also the author of bestselling books, including ‘The Future of Brands’. I have it right in front of me and my shelf and two editions of The Economist book ‘Brands and Branding’. And I have both of those. She’s also just completed a leadership book, like no other ‘Love Your Imposter’, which is out in September, which captures her uniquely honest thoughts on what it takes to build your personal brand and become a business leader in the world today. So Rita, hello, and how are you?
Rita Clifton (03:12): Well, hello and thank you very much indeed for that fantastic introduction. I’m blushing already. And goodness me, how long have we all got on the, how are you question these days? I mean, Sean, I seem to remember the last time we spoke the world, shall we say looked a little different? I mean, clearly, you know, many people who are able to work from home and who’ve managed to adapt and keep jobs and so on. I mean, they’re in, you know, clearly a decent position at least, but you just keep on thinking about the Armageddon that’s going on outside. And, you know, I think we all feel we’ve gotta do something we’ve gotta really hold hands and do something about it. And that’s not necessarily what’s going on right now. So, you know, there’s a lot of energy, isn’t there, there’s a lot of energy to do things better. We talk about build that better. We don’t half have to do that. So there’s just a small matter of how so how’s that by way introduction.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:18):
Rita Clifton (05:06): So I guess we’re all seeing so many challenges about getting nations to work together, the struggles that governments are having in elections and the polarization in you know amongst populations and so on. I mean, literally the populous and then others. And, and I guess I really believe, and I have done for some time and it’s really intensified over the last few months of this extraordinary crisis. I’m not gonna say the word unprecedented. Cause as you know, I’ve become allergic to those words and, you know, unprecedented trouble times uncertain times that all, they all get me reaching for the delete button. Yeah. However, having, having said that, I think the thing that has really intensified is I believe there is a really extraordinary role and need for business and businesses of all kinds to step forward and really help, you know, societies communities at large and yes, the world at large to really do something across borders.
Rita Clifton (06:22): I mean, we are seeing so many challenges to rules based organizations, you know, the sort of attacks at the world health organization you know, United nations, world trade organizations, all these, all these, you know, rules based global organizations that had been constructed at great pain after you know, the wars, the world wars and so on. I mean, all of these are under unprecedented challenge there, we are said the word again, but
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (07:28): Hmm. And I think it’s really fascinating to also a piece taking that point on that you that you also write about that if you like, perhaps one could always describe it as being the, the polar opposite perhaps of a, a sort of ni client sort of angle and, you know, interviewed
Rita Clifton (08:34): I totally agree. And actually it was interesting. I was talking to an old colleague of mine who knows a previous business editor at the BBC. And they had commented when they joined the BBC as business editor. That actually the way that businesses perceived was often as a sort of borderline criminal activity.
Rita Clifton (09:35): And so we’re not gonna have the money to pay for schools and hospitals and all the things that we need to raise people’s standard of living and, you know, help people lead more productive lives. So we need businesses to be successful. And then my challenge always is how can businesses be better at being more successful? And clearly what they need to do day to day is having, you know, needs to have some positive benefit for the world, but also is part of that businesses need to be seen to be run by people by human beings who care about other human beings and care about the sort of things that normal human beings care about, you know, whether that’s family or it’s, you know, society more broadly, or making sure that, you know, people lead good lives. And there are many business leaders who feel that way.
Rita Clifton (10:27): And what I really like to happen is both in reality and perception is that business is stepping up and stepping forward to make some really positive differences. And of course, a big part of that is who those businesses are felt to be led by. But, you know, you mentioned Naomi Klein and obviously she’s written and spoken on many topics over the years, but I think the thing that I used to feel so sort of upset and disappointed about was somehow, you know, big business, particularly big brands, you know, became ugly monopolies and had too much power and so on. Whereas actually what I would argue is that, you know, when you have a, a decent market economy and I say the word decent, very deliberately here, the, the brands that created by businesses in those decent market economies are almost the ultimate democracies.
Rita Clifton (11:26): You know, if you don’t like, if you don’t like what a brand is doing, you voted out from your purchases. You know, you voted out of good will and power in a way that you can’t do so much with governments. And so many governments around the world that clearly haven’t got democracies in the first place. So I think that brands are strong forces for democracy. And frankly, if a business is doing lots of good things doing the right thing, looking after its people, paying people well, producing products and services that, that the broader public want, they deserve to succeed. And if they then become to, if they then become lazy or complacent or greedy or whatever, they will get voted out. And that’s what happens with free countries, with free markets and so on. And so therefore we need to operate those free markets in the right way, in a good way.
Rita Clifton (12:19): And clearly there’s a role for government in there. There’s a role for controls. There’s a role for regulation, but nevertheless, there’s a very important role to be played here by businesses to really improve the world at large and to connect across borders in a way that national governments struggle to do. And, you know, they can be, as I say, good brands can be a great force for bringing the world together, you know, celebrating finding common you know, common motivations needs and so on that’s family or warmth or joy or love or those sort of things. Yeah. I think are positive things to see in the world and we need to feel and see a lot more of that.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (13:05): Hmm. I, I find it really interesting that in your, your latest piece, that when you’re talking about exactly that you point to two brands or a brand and an organization, you say that many would feel to be again at AB absolute opposite ends of the spectrum. And yet you point to them both through the prism of good behavior. So you talk to, you know everyone’s if like favorite brand Patagonia, but you also highlight BP.
Rita Clifton (13:36): Yes. Yes I do. And I mean, Patagonia, I, you would’ve seen that Rose Marcario, who was the CEO of Patagonia, who was truly a special and extraordinary woman. I mean, what Patagonia have done in terms of, you know, looking after their own people, the planet, you know, really showing that business can be a force for good and the way that that rose has, has done that, and really symbolized a new kind of leadership has just exemplary. And we need a lot more of that. I would like to clone her Patagonia under different names. And so I’d really like to, to do that. BP is interesting because of course, you know so many of the sort of fossil fuel, you know, the legacy fossil fuel companies and big oil and so on and so forth, again, it’s easy to caricature some of those into Dr.
Rita Clifton (14:31): Evils, et cetera. But I do think there is a, there’s a new angle, a new energy and a new drive, which, you know, let’s be realistic, has been driven in part by investors and the public at large, because, you know, if businesses aren’t doing the right thing, they will get a hard time from governments from investors and for their broader stakeholders. And, you know, you struggle to recruit the most talented people, particularly young, talented people who want to be joining businesses with purpose and also with futures. And so therefore I do think that the new CEO at BP has taking some, you know, bold decisions about, you know, move to net zero. So all I’d like to do there is just to recognize that there are companies who have got, unpromising starting points and unpromising legacies. And I tend to be one of those people who I want to work with any organization that wants to do better.
Rita Clifton (15:33): I’d like to help them. And I would like you know, people to be given a chance to show that they can again, make a positive difference. And frankly, if we were all to stop, you know, if we were to pull the plug on every fossil fuel company oil company, and so on the world would grind to a halt, at least in the short term. And so therefore we need to make sure we are staging, of course, as quickly and as widely as possible, we are staging the transition to you know, a net zero society. And we have, you know, we have got climate change under control. So clearly we need to do that. And we also need companies that got the scale and the clout and the resources to do that and to move in that direction. And I do think that that is what is happening.
Rita Clifton (16:26): So, you know, our companies like people getting everything right, clearly not. And clearly there’s a lot more to be done, but I, they are on a, at least a positive future journey. And we need more companies to be gripping that. I mean, another company I’m a bigger borrow of, and I was just listening to the CEO of Unilever. Mm-Hmm
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:36): And then taking that point forward again really interesting in in the piece you, you wrote to say for the, for the Oxfordian magazine and that you know, one of the things you’ve been talking about I know for a long time is certainly this issue around a survive, adapt, rebuild ethos that you suggest as a particularly now perhaps ever more now as a strategic framework for, for building, as you’re saying that sort of positive future journey in a sort of post COVID environment. So perhaps, yeah. Just tell us about the survive, adapt and rebuild.
Rita Clifton (18:15): Indeed. I mean, I think that, you know, when I, you know reflect back on this just extraordinary time thinking back to the mad March days, you know, where we had lockdown in the UK, and of course we’re seeing it in so many other parts of the world, some faster than others as we know, but I mean, first of all, I remember, you know, having board meetings and board calls, you know, we were all suddenly zooming in a way that we, you know, six weeks before had we for heard of zoom. No, but suddenly, yeah, it was zooming into major parts of our lives, but, you know, there’s board meetings where we were all trying to, you know, react and help our organizations survive in the short term, you know, were you going to, yeah, yeah.
Rita Clifton (19:05): What about cash? You know did you have enough to shore you up over what was gonna be a very uncertain period? So there were clearly things to do to survive and whether or not it was taking, you know, government money or loans or furlough schemes, or getting support and funding from elsewhere. But we all had to make sure we were doing enough to survive. So at least people could then draw breath and think about actually, you know, if that was going to be financial survival. And also frankly, from a survival point of view, looking after your people, were you protecting them? If there were essential workers, how were you going to make sure that they were safe going into work and you know, doing what they had to do and also getting laptops, I mean, thousands of laptops out to your workers who were gonna have to yeah, yeah.
Rita Clifton (19:54): Work at home, all of these incredibly practical things just to carry on taking over. So that was the survival stage. And we’re all, you know fueled by adrenaline and then very quickly to move into adaptation because for some businesses, obviously some businesses you could keep on operating, whether that, you know, online businesses or you know, deliveries, grocery, retail, tech, all these businesses that needed more than ever, but for other businesses, particularly in terms of retail or personal services, et cetera, hospitality, businesses, what were they going to do? Well, some of them, as we know, found an interesting way of surviving, you know, by delivery rather than expecting people to come in by doing online cookery training and people doing online, personal training or exercise regimes, you know, Nike did some interesting stuff on online fitness programs when people couldn’t go into their stores.
Rita Clifton (20:49): So for a lot of businesses that had to really adapt, you know, hairdressers that did online structural videos or sent you out rescue kits, you know, did didn’t, we all need them. So there sort of survive in adaptation while we all got into a rhythm of doing things and thought about new ways of short term adaptation and really listening to customers and making sure that you’re looking after them. And now we’re all in more of a, sort of a rebuild stage. And there is the term, as we know, build back better, which obviously was designed for you know, national crises and mainly really attached we’re attached to infrastructure rebuilds and so on. But I think we’re looking much more broadly now where we’re all thinking, how can we build back our businesses better? How can we build back our societies better? And actually from a personal point of view, how can we build ourselves back better, you know, to be healthier, more productive and hopefully happier in the longer term. Mm. So I think these are all interesting stages and also clearly will have different approaches to that. But nevertheless, I think it’s quite a good checklist just to think about how we’re, how we’re adapting and how we’re gonna be moving forward.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:10): Mm. And I think really interesting had that also is absolutely in keeping with, you know next year’s world economic forums sort of a, a title for the whole thing, their annual sort of angle, you know, the great reset is, is they’re term it. I was watching a piece through the other day by cloud Schwab, the CEO, when he was talking about, I think exactly the ethos that you describe and, you know, puts in it slightly different way. He talks about diversity and equality and social justice being the clarity and call for the great reset. But I think that’s exactly what you’ve been talking about now for a long time as being a, a way forward. Also it’s very interesting point that I saw you making, again, I’m reading your words back to back to you, but the point you make about adaptation from the perspective of acceleration in terms of, you know, accelerated trends and you talk about, you know, something that perhaps we are used to seeing shifting on a customer behavior basis on a sort of three to five year time scale has effectively been going through in a matter of weeks.
Rita Clifton (23:16): Absolutely. I mean, if we look particularly things like you know, online services, online retail you know, digital take up of communication and so on. I mean, I made the joke about zoom and it, you know, I dunno about, but I feel well and truly zoomed out
Rita Clifton (24:22): And we need to think about the other human beings outside that call, too. This is good. And I think that the other thing is that we have all learned how much faster we can get stuff done, how much faster and more collaboratively we can work when we have to. And I’m hoping that this is a, you know, no one would’ve wished this to happen on the world for goodness’s sake. But I think that we have all learned how we can do things well and, you know, more productively together and in collaboration. I mean, frankly, we’re looking at this in, you know, in the scientific field at the moment. So many scientists around the world are working on vaccines and treatments for COVID and doing that in a way that is sort of unprecedented. I’m gonna put a swear. I’m gonna put an unprecedented swear box by the way, I think just next to me, whether I say that word again, if you just sort of, if you can just tell me off
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (25:22):
Rita Clifton (25:22): That’s good, but this is in a good way. I think I was,
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (25:26): Yes, there we are. So, so there be no, no use of these sort of unprecedented CLS and but I thought also something that very interesting that you point out is what you describe as being well, again, you’re saying that, you know, you’re saying it’s really important at times, like these, not to feel that we’re the recipient of some kind of, I, of some kind of divinely ordained future and the future is dependent upon people actually doing something about it to shape and reform it. Absolutely. So I thought that was really fascinating. And then just, just Jo one other point, and also sort of slightly connected to that, this issue organizations holding their nerve and continuing to invest despite the potentially looming recession, be either whatever the VL Nike swoosh
Rita Clifton (26:21): Exactly. Or the wobbly w yeah, I mean, I, I think, look on, on both of you, both of those you mentioned earlier, we are saying an acceleration of trends that, you know, normally take years and we have concentrated those into 12 weeks and that has clearly had a big, big impact, and indeed should have a big impact on future company strategy. I mean, you know, you need to look much, you need to look really critically at what your strategy is, so that having, having gone through this Torrid time, and we’re not out of it as we know yet, but it will be extraordinary if that didn’t impact your future strategy. So you need to give you future strategy, good old torture test, and even think about with all the changes that happened. What can we do with the brand that we’ve got, the reputation we’ve got all the good will, that you might have built up if you’ve been jolly good citizens over this period.
Rita Clifton (27:14): And I think that is potentially exciting, but in that future, you know, sometimes people go, well, of course, in the future, we need to look at what’s gonna happen in the future. What I would say is that, you know, if you don’t plan the future, you want, you get the one that shows up, you know, and it’s not as though there is, as I say, this divine ordained the future with a capital T and a capital F the future will consist of all the things that we are all doing in our daily lives, our working lives and also more broadly in the organizations that we’re in or we influence. And so therefore we can make happen what we want to happen. And I think that is, you know, obviously it’s a very big issue, but it’s also, it gives me a lot of, it gives me a lot of hope.
Rita Clifton (28:01): Cause I think we have both seen the worst of humanity, but also I think we have seen some of the best, you know, people who are doing things because they want to help their communities. I dunno about you, but you know, on WhatsApp group or the equivalent in many other countries, you know, connecting with your local community and helping people who might have been having to isolate themselves or shield themselves or whatever. And I’ve found, we’ve created social groups in way that we have rarely had a chance to when we’re all rushing around doing, doing our daily, doing our, our daily tasks. So I see some hope and I certainly see that we are all. And particularly if you are in a position of leading an org organization or running an organization or you know, influencing it, we can all help to create the sort of future that we want to see.
Rita Clifton (28:56): It is not sitting there waiting to, you know, to receive us in stone. So I think that’s really important for us all to think and to plan for. And I think that the other thing I’m holding your nerve, I mean, you know, clearly my background is brand strategy and over the years I’ve given lots, lots of talks and lectures on how, if you invest through recessions and we are seeing, you know, an a really deep recession and it’s a recession as we have not seen before, the parallel we haven’t seen before the, certainly the causes for it in living memory. So those businesses that keep on investing through recessions do come out better than competitors. The other side, this is true. And the data overall of those ways of recession will absolutely say that. So if you have got the cash, if you have got the ability, of course, you need to keep on re investing in your profile, your customer relationships, research, and development, innovation, et cetera.
Rita Clifton (30:03): Now, some, for some businesses and particularly those that have been so badly affected like hospitality personal services and so on. I mean, frankly, you might well not have any money. You are strapped for cash. You don’t have, you know, any resources to keep on investing. All I would say, though, is that investing doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money. It might well be for example, that you find a new way of your people helping communities. I mean, this is a time perhaps for those sort of businesses to build brand equity by, you know, adapting, adapting, manufacturing resources, so that it’s producing PPE. For example, as some companies have done or donating your social media sites to someone like the world health organization as Gucci, it did over crises for them. And the other thing of course is you don’t have lots of cash brand management is not just about what you are spending on communication. It’s also about everything you do, your behavior, you know, how you’re able to adapt your services, how you’re able to think imaginatively about using your brand, using your customer relationships for greater good, and to keep your business going again, building brand equity over this period, if you can’t do business in the same way. And I think as we see some businesses building gradually or recovering gradually from lockdowns and financial crisis, those businesses that have been good citizens, I do sincerely hope and believe that their customers will reward them for doing that.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (31:46): And yeah,
Rita Clifton (31:47): Yeah, yeah. That I hope will be a, a, a positive outcome. From again, these, these these really challenging and extraordinary times.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (32:01): Mm mm. And then on a a different subject cause I know that’s something that’s coming out later this year and it’s something that you spoke about last time I met you. But the book will be out in September, I believe so. Yeah. Tell us about love your imposter being your best self flaws and all. Mm,
Rita Clifton (32:22): Well, this obviously relates to what I believe and what, what we were discussing about making sure that business in particular seem to be more human. In fact, the leaders of any organization, whether political or business, or indeed even in the public nonprofit sector. We need people leading organizations to be seen as human as people who are interested in other human beings and what the world needs at large. Yeah, so I’m very keen that, you know, my, my background was in business and so therefore I want business to be seen as more human. And I think a big part of businesses being seen to be more human is to make sure we have, you know, a much better chemical balance amongst people who are running organizations and that’s not very subtle code, we’re saying we need a lot more women to be running organizations.
Rita Clifton (33:23): I mean, we just need to look at the, some of the fantastic examples that women leaders have shown, whether it’s the saintly Ja center den who say, you know, for goodness sake, you know, says things like you know, you can be nice and strong and there’s no contradiction here. I could not agree more. I could not applaud more. And she has obviously the living embodiment of that apart from the fact, you know, she’s had to with, with stand over the last year or since she came to power, you know, volcanoes, terrorist attacks, coronavirus, and she’s also happens to be holding a baby, you know, and he is decent. That’s incredible when she was able to hug people. She did. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you know, and what also saying, you know, angle a Merkel holding her nerve. Yeah, yeah. And a lot of female leaders in Scandinavia now, clearly women don’t have the monopoly on emotional intelligence.
Rita Clifton (34:20): And and I’m not saying that that is the only explanation. All I am saying though, is that I think we need to see a much more 50, 50 world there where there’s, there’s a greater balance of talents of skills and also just of tones and styles, let alone, you know, there to be role models at the top of organizations at the top of government, you know, governments to really act as examples for our societies. And, you know, I remember reading as a, a a gentleman who I’m a big fan of Don Elkington. I remember he was, oh, he was listing many examples of some of the countries that had women in charge. And he was saying, you know, I think we, we need the right to run by women. And I said, I totally, I, I, I agreed on with these examples, but I’ll settle for 50 50.
Rita Clifton (35:13): Cause at the moment is about 7%, 7% of the countries in the world are run by women. So we’ve got a bit of a way to go, but we need that kind of balance. Cause I think we, we have all seen. And you know, if we look at the correlation between those, those nations that seem to have made a bit of a dog’s dinner, frankly, of handling the crisis, versus those that seem to have done a better job, you know, the, the more sort of macho populist leaders do seem to have been, you know I’m, I’m afraid on the screwing it up side of the fence. So anyway we need, so we need more human beings to be seen, to be running organizations, you know, particularly in business. And also we need a much better balance of men and women. And I’ve written this book to help people who might not currently think that they can run something or that they should be leading something.
Rita Clifton (36:10): I’m hoping to share some of my experiences on saying, you can, you can do this. It’s normal to think that maybe it’s going to be hard or maybe it’s going to be difficult to do it or to worry whether or not you’ve got the right stuff to end up running organizations. And what I’m saying is that so many more people are capable of doing that then, you know, might currently think so. And frankly, if it, if you do feel sometimes like an imposter, if you do sometimes feel that you might not be able to do it, this is a normal human thing. And we need more normal human beings, decent human beings to be running organizations because it gives you more empathy, more ability to connect with other people. And again, this is a good thing. So, so that’s why I wrote the book. I wrote the book because, you know, I really do, I do believe we need more human businesses and we need a much better gender balance of women running organizations and whatever I can do and share to help that happen. I’d like to do that.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:15): Mm-Hmm wow. Bravo to that, to put it mildly. I mean, you mentioned John eing there when you were talking about that and obviously his latest book green swans is actually fantastic. Yeah. Now John obviously talks a lot about regenerative capitalism. I think it’s been interesting during you know, the great pause that there’s been quite a lot of talk in, in the media on a sort of international basis that potentially and worryingly to put it mildly. One of the, the sort of should say existential sort of issues that’s gonna be nailed by this is the environment and effectively all things green from the point of view of a lot of the bad actors, perhaps using this as an opportunity to start a creep away from decisions that have been made and offers that been made to, to act in a more green and environmentally and climate and ecologically friendly manner.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (38:13): How do you see this thing playing out now in terms of, you know, when, when we last spoke, you know, early this year? Well, obviously last year, things like extinction rebellion heard, you know, smashed onto the public stage, the issues around the climate crisis and ecological emergency greater Thunberg could be, you know, sort of, you know star or, you know, the global star of the year. Absolutely fantastic. And they’ve slightly sort of moved off the you know, if you say the, the front pages due to COVID being on the front page. So to get to the end of that really long question, where do you see all things going now that are effectively, if you say green related, are you hopeful or something else?
Rita Clifton (38:53): I have to be hopeful cuz otherwise, you know, we might all just go and sort of end it all. And if you have children or grandchildren or you want to have them and so on, I mean, you know, we, we, we want the world to survive rather rather be on these generations. Although actually it always, it always gets me going when people saying, you know, we need, we need to save the world. Of course we need to save the world. But actually, you know, one of the, one of the issues about saving the world is actually we’re saving the world to save people because frankly the world will survive. It’ll sort of cover us over and sort of, and delete us almost delete humanity if we managed to. Yeah, yeah. If we managed to really screw things up as we could be, but the world will carry on, it’ll just eat us up and absorb us and something else will come.
Rita Clifton (39:42): So we are saving the world to save ourselves and making sure we get that connection in people’s minds is obviously fundamentally important. And I think what’s interesting now and it is true with COVID and the sort of economic damage we are going to see as a result, you could take a very dark view of how, you know, frankly, some countries are gonna take decisions about, we don’t care what it’ll take. You know, we are going to rev up those factories. We’re going to, you know use fossil fuels because we can’t afford to, you know, invest in other things, you could take a very dark view of that. The only thing I would say is that, you know, young people, we see what happens. We’ve seen what happens with the black lives matter movement we can see. Yeah, yeah. What concerted passionate opinion and action can do.
Rita Clifton (40:37): And I think that, I mean, clearly in so many countries with dire sort of economic circumstances and so on all I would say is that there are hard physical, tangible bits of evidence for how climate change and the climate emergency and the environmental emergency, you know, let’s put biodiversity amongst that. We can see evidence of how that is affecting people’s day to day lives, whether it’s because they can’t breathe the air or whether it’s because their waterways are becoming polluted. I mean, you know, God forbid that we will see water wars happening in yeah, yeah, yeah. In the east of Africa and the middle east, I mean, these are, these are gassy things to contemplate. So all I would say is that if governments are trying to stay in power, they will have to do things that look after their people.
Rita Clifton (41:35): And clearly there’s an economic imperative, but there is also a keeping people alive imperative and so much is happening in, in, you know, in as the after effects of environmental degradation, that that will also cause social unrest and force governments to operate. But what I would say is though that coming into this, and this is why I believe so strongly in the opportunity and the ability for businesses of all kinds to act as savior brands, which is what are they going to do to help solve some of these problems. And those have to have social and environmental as well as economic benefits because otherwise we, you know, if you’re looking at the investment communities around the world, they want to minimize risk. They want to obviously maximize investment and they want to minimize risk. And if you look at some of the stuff that’s happening on climate and, and some of the outcomes that that is forcing and the sort of social Andres that, that could also bring, you know, that is well and truly on their radar. And so therefore there are many forces that make me believe that there is a, there’s a light side and, you know, there is a not sunny uplands then certainly, you know, there is a real opportunity here to get, get the world going in a positive direction. And the future is not written. It is in all of our hands to offer solutions. And I’m glad to see there are organizations like Unilever out there and many others and again, who are, you know setting out their store to do the right thing.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:14): Yeah, no, AB absolutely. As we begin to draw to close and it’s been absolutely great talking again, Rita just ask you again about one of the other sort of major points that you make in that you’ve made in your recent keynotes and also in the recent piece at Oxford. And that was again, using your words to, to read them back to you effectively about sort of, you know, branding in the digital age, you’re saying, so people talking about branding in the digital age as if it’s a sort of sexy YouTube video and social media stunt thing, but here’s a killer insight, you know, you’ve gotta be a really good business in the first place. What happens on the inside gets to the outside and now you talk a lot about sort of transparency and reputation there. So perhaps just sort of unpack that as they say
Rita Clifton (44:00): Yes. I mean, I, I think what’s very interesting when people talk about reputation. There are certain organizations that prefer to talk about reputation rather than brand, and there are many historic reasons for that. I mean, this happens particularly in the public sector or the nonprofit sector. And so on. I wanna talk about reputation. All I’d say is that you don’t own your reputation. It’s an outcome, it’s an outcome in people’s minds and perceptions and so on about you. And the thing, you know, the thing about reputation, as I say, you don’t own it. And reputation is reality with a lag effect. So here’s the reality, which is that you do own your brand, you do own your brand, you can manage your brand and you can also control your brand in a way that you think is going to do the right thing.
Rita Clifton (44:53): And that’s how you organize the reality. And as you know, the way I look at branding is not as the stick on bit and the communications bit and the sexy YouTube video bits or the social media stunts or the conversations, or indeed actually even interesting content. Interesting though, that might be the way that you do branding and that you use branding properly is by organizing the way that you do business in everything you do. How do you look after your people? How do you recruit the right people? How do you train them in a way that makes them feel passionate and to care about what they do? How do you develop distinctive products and services? They’re gonna have this sort of a genuine utility and, you know, be loved by their customers. These are fundamental business things, and you need to, you know, your brand is your most important, sustainable asset.
Rita Clifton (45:42): You know, after your products have become obsolete after your buildings have, you know, fallen down. And frankly, after some of your people, sadly, you know, may have shuffled off their mortal call or the founders might have left or died or whatever, the thing that lives on. If you look after it properly is your brand. It is your most important asset, all your brands. If you are a, a company with many different brands, the principles are the same. And the, to think about in that case, if that’s the most important asset, how do we make sure that we use that as the core organizing idea for everything you, we do to carry on generating that kind of sustainable value, and to look after that asset in the long term, and you know, the thing about the brand asset, it helps you to organize your other assets better. What are your priorities in terms of investment? What are, you know, what kind of research and development innovation are you going to do that keeps on building your brand, your relationship with your customers, because that is the thing, the relationship with your customers, you know, the brand symbolizes that, how are you gonna make sure that you keep on generating, you know, great relationships, deep relationships with your customers in a way that makes them love you and tell other people they love you because that is cheap brand marketing.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (46:59): Hmm. Mm, mm. And so on, on that, then as final couple of questions, what about, and this goes back to one of the earlier points we were discussing and that you also alluded to in the, in the Oxford piece. And that is you know, again, as we are now standing on the threshold of, or perhaps already sliding down that slippery slope into the recession or depression or whatever it may be although not looking this in any way in a fatalistic manner, perhaps I a sort of realistic manner. So is there any particular part of the sort of, you know, brand manager and brand management sort of, you know, toolbox or spectrum that you would particularly be advising, you know, the supposed inverted com’s average brand
Rita Clifton (48:10): Well, what I really believe, and, you know, frankly, this is a, this is a almost sort of a, a Inco, I’m sorry, I’m going to say that again. It’s almost like an eternal truth. There are some longstanding principles here, and clearly we make these longstanding principles show up in very, very different ways in the accelerating world we live in and the digital world that we’re truly experiencing at its most intense right now. And those principles in my view can stand you in very good stead and elevate any average business to a strong brand, if you do it well, and indeed actually can reinvent any business to make sure that it’s getting more successful. And number one is clarity of who you are and what you stand for and what you are here to do, because if you don’t get that clear, you know, you won’t be able to articulate it to your, your own people, your customers, to society loud, and it won’t enable you to focus your business and really get the kind of, you know, resource and critical mass that you want.
Rita Clifton (49:17): So clarity what you stand for and how that is different from other people. And that’s about, again, your purpose your positioning and also your future strategy. You’ve gotta get that absolutely clear and be able to express it really clearly. And simply the second thing is coherence, because then you can make that show up. You can help to organize your business, however, small, or however large you go. If that’s what we’re about, let’s use that to prioritize our investment or frankly, to, you know, to show where we need to be saving money, as well as, you know, investing in in new areas and so on. And we need to make sure that if we are making, if we’re about something to do with helping people’s lives for goodness late, let’s make sure we do that. You know, so you’ve gotta make sure that the coherence is how you, how you enact that purpose, both inside and outside.
Rita Clifton (50:12): And I say deliberately inside, because there is no use pretending that you are a marvelous, smiley customer org organization on the outside. If you are an ax murdering culture on the inside, because you know, your people will sabotage you and give the game away in a way that you know, is so transparent these days, you just, I would go onto Glassdoor and see people being miserable in companies. And anything you promise on the outside, through expensive PR campaigns and marketing will get absolutely trashed on the inside. So you can’t hide. You can’t hide bad practice. So you gotta make sure that again, whatever you are about is coherent inside and outside. And the third characteristic is about leadership. And that leadership obviously means who runs the organization. If that’s you, you gotta make sure that you symbolize all the very best values of your organization.
Rita Clifton (51:03): So if you are a tech company for goodness sake show, you are interested in positive tech. You know, don’t look like a dinosaur, for example, you know, if you are going to be a customer service organization, if you appear on media show that you are, you, you know, that you are leading in the organization in a way that shows that you care about customers and society at large, you have got to be the best ambassador and symbol. If you are the leader, if you aren’t leading, you need to make, if you aren’t the leader personally, you’ve gotta make sure that, you know, your brand leadership shows up in terms of innovation, restlessness, you know, reinvention innovation. And frankly, we’ve gotta do that faster than ever. You’ve gotta make sure that you are looking at what’s happening, how your customers, your stakeholders are changing and make sure that you are adapting and reshaping reinventing if necessary your products and services to, to, you know, satisfy them in the future.
Rita Clifton (52:00): That is leadership. You know, sometimes people talk about leadership as though somehow it’s all about scale. Well, you and I both know what happens to scale when disasters happen and new entrances are able to, you know, if you remember Blackberry, you know, Blackberry, these were top five, top 10 brands at one point, and yet they didn’t show a real sensitivity to trends and developments and speed at which changes were happening. And rather than using their brand, they were too focused on the product. No, that today’s product. So, you know, you have got to, you know, even if you are a small business, if you think in these ways, clarity, coherence, and leadership, you can steal a match. And particularly in the digital age where, you know, love gets you a long way in a way that sometimes that, you know, scale doesn’t necessarily win.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:55): Mm whoa. What a fantastic answer.
Rita Clifton (53:29): Very much. Thank you so much. And it’s always a pleasure talking to you. It’s always interesting and it’s always a joy and we could all do with a lot more of that right now. So, so and I, I hope the people might read the book, enjoy the book and hopefully we’ll end up with a lot more human leaders in everything we do. So thanks for having me.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (53:51):
Rita Clifton (53:56):
Rita Clifton (54:53): He found the real story. The only example that that could be found about a group of Tongan school boys who were stuck on an island together for over a year. And what they discovered is actually they’d found a great way of working together. And sadly he who found that William Golden, who wrote Lord of the flies about this terrible experience of school boys who ended up killing some of their party and things like that is that Pearl William Golding was, you know, a, a rather depressive alcoholic. He was very unhappy person. So, so there we are, it’s a real tonic reading. Ruka Braund book is a real tonic because he’s got a positive view on human nature and how actually we just need to encourage humans to do their very best. And that is a something that feels very close to my heart, the belief in the human goodness, when you help them do that.
Rita Clifton (55:46): And just a quick plug also for Jonathan poet’s new book, by the way, hope in hell. And so I think another positive view, even though the subject is very serious, which has got 10 years to solve our climate emergency, there are all sorts of practical, you know, tips and, and strategies that Jonathan is laying out on how we can all get through this and use technology and use innovation and so on. So if you need a bit of cheering up in some very dark periods, despite the fact that these are dark periods these are a couple that certainly have have have helped me
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (56:23): Fantastic. And so anyone that is clearly focusing on hope and a way forward is yes. What a clearing call for us all.
Rita Clifton (56:30): Indeed. Indeed.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (56:32): Well, brilliant. Well Rita, thank you. Okay. So much. That was really, really great. Of course it was as always. So yes.
Rita Clifton (56:40): Thank you. And also love listening to your stuff. I’m very glad to see your books and your presence and profile everywhere. So I hope
Sean Pillot de Chenecey (56:51): One does. Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great. If you could subscribe to the podcast itself, you’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.
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Sean Pillot de Chenecey
Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.