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The last thing you want is more stuff in your inbox. But it's sometimes good to read about new thoughts and ideas. Brand Matters aims to communicate a few ideas about Brand in the shortest possible time. It will come out occasionally, when we have something worthwhile to share. We hope you like it and find it useful. Let us know (either way).


The “Conscious Capitalism” movement appears to be gathering momentum and not before time.

Put simply, conscious capitalism is a belief that business is a force for good, when it is directed at creating value for ALL its stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers/partners, environment, community/society and, of course, investors.

The traditional view of business, famously espoused by the economist Milton Friedman, as being just about creating shareholder value, is too narrow to be sustainable. The results of this narrow thinking have recently been seen all too clearly in the global financial meltdown

According to the recent book (“Conscious Capitalism” by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia), there are four principles to running a conscious business:

  • having a higher purpose and core values
  • creating value for ALL stakeholders
  • conscious leadership
  • conscious culture and management

The authors quote compelling evidence that conscious businesses are significantly more successful in the long-term.

The danger of a movement like this is that it will be hijacked by the marketing industry and become a superficial branding label adopted by all but delivered by few. A recent article in the New York Times is an example of what I mean

I cringe as I read about how Madison Avenue interprets the “marketing opportunity” provided by Conscious Capitalism.

I notice that the fashion retailer H&M have recently introduced their “Conscious Collection”. They appear to be doing a lot towards sustainability in support of their marketing platform. But there is a danger that, as the term becomes mainstream, it is increasingly misunderstood and devalued.

By contrast, the real opportunity is to create strong, authentic “conscious brands” by asking some more fundamental questions about your business:

  • Why does this business exist, what is its higher purpose?
  • What does it contribute to the industry/society?
  • What would the world/the industry lose if it didn’t exist?
  • What value does each of our stakeholder groups get from the brand?
  • How committed are our leaders to the higher purpose and to stakeholder value creation?
  • What are the core values that support our purpose and how do we/can we live them daily?
  • What is the vision for our conscious business? What would success look like for all our stakeholders?
  • What does our current culture look like and how can we create the right culture to deliver our vision?
  • How can we actively engage all our stakeholders in the brand?

The concept of brands being built from the inside out has been with us for a while. Increasingly in today’s information rich world, what you are inside determines what you are outside.

The idea of purpose based brands with a broader and deeper sense of their constituency could move us even further towards a more authentic, better aligned and more sustainable level of branding

Conscious Capitalism



I recently read a novel about the First World War, in which the author reflected on the basic decency of the troops, who wondered why on earth they were fighting each other and he compared it to the intrigue and incompetence of their leaders.

I was struck by the thought that a number of organisations I have encountered recently have displayed similar characteristics.

I have a sense that in many organisations, the people at the grassroots, especially those who are customer facing, have a clear understanding of the meaning, purpose and values of their brand. The problem is often that they are frustrated in their delivery by the system above them and by a lack of clear, supportive, enabling leadership.

The NHS would appear to be a case in point. Many NHS workers one meets clearly regard caring for others as their core purpose in life. And yet the system is in crisis because of failings in leadership and management.

A number of organisations with whom I have worked recently have suffered from quite serious cultural dissonance. They are beset by issues of hierarchy, bureaucracy, control, silo mentality, information hoarding, confusion, blame, short term focus.

It is notable in most cases that the dissonance is at its worst at the top of the organisation.

There has been a recent values survey of the UK. The results at a national level reveal a shockingly negative view of the UK national culture. At a local level, the picture is much more positive.

I have two family members in education. They tell me frequently that there are many good, dedicated teachers who know what they need to do for the children in their charge. They just need the support of enabling, empowering, motivating Heads.

Many believe that brands are built through strong leadership. Often it is the leaders of an organisation who pontificate about the brand positioning and its future direction.

Perhaps we all need to spend more time listening to the workers.

Tennis image


If you haven’t read Timothy Gallwey’s book, “The inner game of tennis”, read it right now. The book is ages old but I’ve just re-read it and recalled how influential it remains.

The inner game

Gallwey’s central point is that “The opponent in your head is more formidable than the one the other side of the net.”

Most people, when they play tennis, or indeed pretty much any sport, will recognise that they have two “selves”.

“Self 1"is the critic, the judge that sits on your shoulder and tells you how bad you are.

Then there’s “Self 2”, the self that sometimes comes to the fore and lets you play like a demon. You’re “in the flow”. You could win Wimbledon. You play to your full natural ability.

If only Self 2 could be released more often.

Another way of putting this is in Gallwey’s equation: Performance = Potential - Interference

Gallwey’s coaching strategy is to distract Self 1, to deal with the interference – by getting the player to achieve much greater focus and awareness. In tennis, he uses a number of ways of getting people to really focus on the ball.

I can testify to the power of this approach, as I’ve personally coached people in tennis and golf, neither of which are my games, using the Gallwey approach, and have seen them making remarkable progress as their focus and awareness increased and Self 2 was allowed to take control.

So what’s all this got to do with branding?

I never cease to be impressed by those organisations that appear to play the branding game with ease and poise and confidence - Linklaters, McKinsey, Virgin, Accenture, Mercedes, IBM, Shell….

Meanwhile, many of their competitors have angst –ridden discussions about how to differentiate themselves in increasingly homogeneous markets. How much to invest in their brand communications. What to do next in the brand wars.

Is it that these brand role models have a riveting core brand idea, as the brand agencies would have us believe? Or is it that they simply play the game with more Self 2 and less Self 1? That they have more focus. That they relax into it and play more “in the flow”. In fact, that they play “The inner game of branding”.

Just imagine an organisation where everything lines up...

  • Everyone in the firm is clear about where the firm is going and their role in it
  • Every daily action is aligned to the firm’s goals
  • There’s no blame or judgement in the culture
  • People are praised, reinforced and encouraged in what they do
  • The place is relaxed, there’s time for humour, time for each other
  • The real values of the organisation are a reflection of the values of its staff
  • Everyone is able to articulate what’s special about the firm...

Sounds like branding heaven. But maybe this is the secret of great branding. Not so much about differentiation. More about focus, alignment, relaxation, confidence.

More about the inner game.