Thursday, July 07, 2011

Fit for a king.


What you are about to read will probably revolutionize branding. You see, I’ve invented a new organizational role that will finally, once and for all, cement brands as constitutions for corporate behaviour, and integrate marketing communications with, um, cross-functional synergy and, ah… community engagement. Or search engine optimization. Something like that. Anyway, here’s where I got the idea:

For the past week, the dashing Prince William and his bride, the Duchess of Cambridge, have been touring this fair dominion, shaking hands, complimenting people on their fascinators, and engaging in feats of derring-do. Let me tell you, going bald apparently doesn’t amount to much of a social liability when you can land a helicopter on water. And as with all royal visits to our home and native land, this one has generated the usual ritual debate over the relevance of the monarchy. I’m not, myself, a monarchist per se, but I’m still kind of glad to have the Windsors on the payroll, and these winsome kids made me ask myself why. The answer, I concluded, was that the role of a constitutional monarchy – the kind we all agree to accept rather than the kind that’s imposed on us by men with guns – is to personify its nation’s defining values. Free of politics, free of the messy, pandering process of getting elected, free of the practical exigencies of getting things done, the ideal monarch’s only job is to conspicuously be what’s best about a people. So far, at least, that’s what everybody has decided Will and Kate are to be, and so far, at least, that’s what they are.

That’s what I think brands need. Royalty. That’s my big idea. For sure, some of the best brands already have their dukes and duchesses, people who are incidentally CEOs but are mostly spiritual leaders. But a lot of CEOs just aren’t up to the job, are they. Some of them are too distracted by the demands of shareholders, or franchisees, or head offices or some other high-leverage stakeholder who isn’t a customer. And some of them are journeymen, people who come to the job with personal agendas and timetables and never really unpack their carpetbags. Distracted people aren’t the sort you want setting a moral example for your corporation. Neither are transient, self-interested ones. Both tend to produce workforces who learn the same pathologies. Neither tends to produce a particularly valuable or coherent brand. That’s where monarchy kicks in. While the King of RiM may not have exactly the ring to it that we’re looking for, I think you can still see how it would be an improvement. Even a Baroness would help Bell, and a Marquis, we can all agree, is the very least Air Canada deserves.

It’s one of my favourite tubs to thump that branding and leadership are inseparable quantities in the modern corporation. Every good leader knows that accountability is the foundation of the job. But I think too many forget that as important as it is to be accountable to your constituencies, you also have to be accountable to the idea that gave life to your enterprise. Sometimes above all. In corporate life, at least, the line between a democracy and an unruly mob isn’t held by management. It’s held by inspiration.

And, occasionally, I guess, an axe.

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