Moderator: Oliver Pickup, Editor-in-Chief, Crowe Global’s Art of Smart
How and why has the importance of branding evolved?
LDB: Branding has gone through a considerable evolution during the pandemic. Crowe Global rebranded three years ago because we knew we had to evolve the brand. The acceleration of digital transformation means that the brand is living and breathing, connected to our people, the environment, products, and services. It is constantly moving, and the coronavirus crisis has moved branding to center stage, as there is so much political and economic uncertainty. People are looking to trusted brands – aligned with their values and ethics – to guide them more than ever. Leaders must recognize that their brand is alive and needs to evolve to stay relevant. Trust can be quickly lost, though, and knee-jerk reactions are unadvisable. It’s essential to respond with authenticity, but first, listening is vital.
TG: Funnily enough, Crowe is the internal auditors at the BMA and helped us in several ways, including reviewing our response to COVID-19 as an employer. When I arrived at the BMA in July 2019, the organization had been through a tough time. And a few months later, our entire world was transformed by the pandemic. One of the things that attracted me to the BMA was its compelling mission statement: “We look after doctors so that they can look after you.” It’s clear, crisp, and simple. Throughout the pandemic, it guided us when working out how to respond to issues – whether speaking out about a lack of personal protective equipment for hospital staff, lockdowns ending, or schools reopening, or the vaccination of healthcare workers.
WC: The main thing right now is understanding where people are at, and it’s a huge issue. Organizations can announce their fantastic values on social media and have shiny banners, but employees and customers have larger concerns at the moment. I am a massive advocate of values, but there seems to be a mismatch between companies and employees. Thirty years ago, before mobile phones were ubiquitous, the idea of internal communications made more sense. Today there is no separation between internal and external communications because of our smartphones. Ultimately, people want to feel like they belong and brands risk disconnecting from the prevalent emotion within their organizations.
How can brands be built from the inside out?
LDB: I agree wholeheartedly that a large percentage of employees are not engaged with their company values. While mission statements help – and I love the BMA’s simplicity – they tend to be quite formal and dated. Brands evolve in microseconds, and companies are 3D rather than 1D now, so what use is a few words on a piece of paper? That is why leaders who are authentic and good communicators are essential and can anchor a brand. If leaders want to improve their understanding and generate trust, they must listen and develop soft skills.
TG: You can’t communicate with your staff enough, in my opinion – even if it’s to say: “I don’t know the answer right now, but we are working on it.” The pandemic has made me look silly regularly in terms of predicting what will happen next, but showing that fallibility and admitting I don’t know everything has been valuable. At the BMA, we represent 160,000 doctors and medical students, and during the lockdowns there was something democratizing about speaking together on video conferencing with the same-sized virtual squares. Our pulse-check surveys initially showed our staff providing an average satisfaction score of 8.1 for “I have all the equipment I need to do my job at home”, which is pretty good, but we wanted to do better. However, even if you provide staff with more equipment, it doesn’t help if you have your laptop on your knees in shared accommodation. Leaders need to check in regularly on their teams, especially now as we move to hybrid working – and if your WiFi fails, that shows you are facing similar frustrations.
WC: The pandemic has been an accelerant of people and businesses leveraging their personal brands. Organizations need to ensure their purpose aligns with leaders, and vice versa. It was interesting to see that the supposed A-list celebrities – actors and musicians – were not receiving as much attention as YouTube stars at the recent Met Gala in New York. That shows you the power of individual branding, so how can businesses take advantage of that?
What are the top tips when it comes to building a new strategy?
TG: I firmly believe that co-creation of all things has to be the way to deliver. The organization is nothing without its members. When I joined the BMA, I talked about the importance of co-creation in building strategy and stressed that it is so critical for membership organizations. As a result, we co-created a strategy with staff, members, and incorporated our stakeholders’ view, including the patient liaison group. Our strategy now has four strong pillars:
This strategy incorporates the individual, the collective, the outside, and then the BMA as an institution.
WC: What Tom’s describing is an excellent example of the type of thing that we explain to nearly every CEO and leadership team around a practical and effective way to get as many people as possible to understand the strategy. As a leader, this is achieved through dialogue with many stakeholders. Listen and learn, and help them shape a strategy that means something to them. If you take the time to discuss things like strategy, your teams will better understand what they are working towards. Again, from a psychological perspective, we are in an uncertain world, so leaders who can offer safety and support will earn the trust of their people.
LDB: My top tip is to use true experts. It is an uncertain time, and those in the c-suite are valuing marketing and branding professionals more than ever. Everyone had to switch to digital quickly because of the pandemic, and digital marketing is a data-driven science. Branding and marketing is not something you can “double hat” – a person in sales who is enthusiastic about doing a bit of marketing is not the answer. You need to invest in professionals, whether in-house or agency. Admittedly, it’s hard for smaller firms operating on limited budgets. Still, marketing professionals are worth it because things are moving so quickly and you need to keep pace to survive.