2012: Looking forward … optimistically.

2012: Looking forward … optimistically.

Many myths have circulated about this coming year – most stemming from the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica (Mayans were a tribe in this civilisation) predicting cataclysmic events on December 21st. As at the start of any year, we are seeing many more predictions – some frivolous and some hopeful – but a lot are gloomy and serious – from economic woe to further environmental damage.

The gloom will effect society in general and hurt billions individually. The start of 21st Century is literally seeing change happen – via the 24/7 connected world on a screen in their pocket, on their lap, on their desk, on the move…on…always on. The changes could be as fundamental as the Industrial Revolution but are happening incredibly fast and being unprecedentedly viewed in real time. The economic woes have trumped the environmental danger in the immediate turn – as the effects are still to hit, while people’s wealth-led expectancy is being threatened daily.

The economic cycle will turn and will get better. For some economies that will happen in 2012 and for others in a year or two. There will be winners & losers in economies that emerge stronger as well as those that slump. In business terms, this is already apparent with the shifts from West to East, from big to small, from company to consumer, from mass to value.

Companies that act to recognise these shifts by experimenting with new business models, with an outside-in view of the company’s offers via innovation, honesty and awareness of the effect on their communities will survive and maybe even thrive. Those who cling on to outdated models – chasing shareholder profit programs, cutting for the sake of promises for quarterly meetings, fixating on competition before customers – will be left behind.

Brand can be a positive asset for all companies – it can be a central pillar of support to staff and customers, representing the emotional truth of a company’s offer – whether a service or product, whether local, National or International. The traits of a 21st Century brand demand a dialogue with customers, ensuring the offer is useful and open. Those companies that use their brand successfully to meet the challenges facing their customers will likely overcome the challenges they themselves face. These companies already understand the value of Conscious Commerce and will extend this further in 2012. These brands are positive and optimistic for the future. And for some massive multinationals and emerging markets, this will not only affect the economic challenges they will also begin to address the environmental and societal challenges positively.

Therefore on December 22nd, 2012 – a potentially massive “morning after the night before” – I’d love to look back and see the following successes… my personal brand led predictions I guess

  • Unilever’s Sustainable Living takes off – their goals are commendable
  • London 2012 Games are a huge success and the Legacy kicks in – living up to the brand promise…
  • BRIC growth continues and we see true global brands emerge from the emerging markets (Tata is a good start)
  • The UK’s biggest misfiring brand – the NHS – reasserts a central core value of care rather than one for performance

And of course that there is a morning on December 22nd….

NHS Reforms – a case for brand

NHS Reforms – a case for brand

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley reiterates today that the “buck stops with him” – fine. What he also must remember is that the brand starts with him too. The strongest brands start from the inside out and from the top. The NHS provides care – their whole essence revolves around the concept of “duty of care”. To their patients. To their communities. To their staff. Unfortunately, in these tough times, the NHS essence is being handed over to administrators and politicians who’s emit a “duty of cost” attitude.

I love the NHS – indeed I live because of the NHS. I love brands and live in branding. The NHS is in need of a brand and is indeed a brand in need, now more than ever. The NHS is a remarkable institution. The UK’s biggest employer. The largest single payer healthcare system in the world. An annual budget north of £100BN. In the 56 years since Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS, it has become the envy of the world’s healthcare providers with the regular slip ups during times of repression and Government changes.

Like now.

In times of crisis, the brave seize the opportunity for change. As Rahm Emanuel said to Senator Obama a few years back “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” One of those opportunities is to change the NHS brand. Or more precisely, the role of brand in the NHS.

Branding has moved on since the NHS last addressed big changes to its brand. In 1999, the NHS brand as we know it was created and a massive piece of identity work was successfully created. The brand guidelines are a smart piece of work, and still deliver the objectives set for them in the 20th Century. Take a look http://www.nhsidentity.nhs.uk/
Then brand guidelines were about control. Control is about policing all aspects of the NHS identity, communication and image so that they conform to the agreed look and feel. The most obvious shift is that brand is not simply about the identity or logo. It’s not about messages and campaigns either. Brand reflects the role of a service to its customers – to its patients/communities/staff. Controlling an identity is easier than earning a role and providing a “care” experience – but the expectation of care is already there. NHS care is ingrained in our national psyche – and the residual value is a positive one. However that value is more significantly affected by negative impact – by those who experience a disappointment or uncaring service – than by those who have their positive experience reinforced. In our interconnected world, these below expectation experiences are shared immediately with people’s social networks and media fuelled negativity pick up on it.

Andrew Lansley understands this – “Too often, we deny the experience of patients and their family members who have been at the sharp end of appalling treatment,” Mr Lansley will say today. “Where there is great care, we will celebrate it. But wherever there are pockets of poor performance, we will root it out.”

NHS experience by those you interact with – nurses, surgery receptionists, surgeons, Victorian hallways, the reassurance on the end of the NHS Direct phone, the exhausted junior doctor, the optician, the dentist et al.

Reinstituting “care” into the NHS Brand – into the NHS experience must start with these people who are the face of the NHS – not with a marketing department, an advertising agency or a civil service team. It will need to start small, in a beta test(s) – and seed the success out slowly, learn, tweak, share, celebrate. These are not expensive actions, but these actions are vital.

With that positive pebble, the ripples will spread quickly as NHS care is more important than NHS budgets or NHS headcount or NHS guidelines. The focus of the politicians and administrators is about cost still. Of course there is inefficiency in the NHS (remember Gerry Robinson’s program trying to fix the NHS http://tinyurl.com/6ewjk9b ) but that can divert from the case for brand. Health professionals want to provide the best care. Fact. Inefficiency frustrates them to an extent where management /administrators and their relationship with the doctors and nurses becomes the focus.

If the NHS brand is to reflect the care experience, all elements of the brand must support the role of the NHS in the lives of their communities, their patents and their staff. So is it time for the NHS brand to be owned by their communities, their patients and their staff rather than being outsourced to civil servants and their agencies?