NMBS 2014: Rita Clifton emphasises brand importance

Brand expert Rita Clifton, a former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, told the NMBS Conference 2014 that “not every industry gets how important branding is”.
The brand is most important and sustainable asset a business has, Clifton said. Whether it is big, small, national or international business, brand is important.

” So often I hear ‘our people are our best asset’. Well, unless there is a really clear idea of the brand and what those people do then your people are just a bunch of people doing stuff. And the other problem with people is this: People tend to die, or leave. Buildings fall down. Brand is what counts.”

Clifton shared a picture of the American multi-billionaire Warren Buffett and said that, as far as Buffett was concerned the three most important things he looks at in a company are: in third place a strong balance sheet, in second place a strong management team and in first place a strong brand brand.

“There is no better preparation for change than to build a good brand,” Clifton said. “So much information is available now – people can be put off you or your brand in so many different ways. Branding in the digital age means you have to be a bloody good business. Unless your own staff are clear about what you want to do they could be your worst asset or your best ambassadors. Well branded businesses outperform other businesses. Strong B2B brands outperform weaker B2B brands by 20%. Good branding creates sales, creates interest, creates efficiency, creates sales Investors are attracted to businesses with strong brands and that helps on the bottom line.

The three key characteristics to building a strong brand are clarity, coherence and leadership, Clifton told delegates. “Clarity: if you’re not clear then it’s not effective. Coherence: how does what you want to achieve show up in everything you do. No good trying to be smiley customer-facing if you have an axe-murdering internal culture. Leadership -it’s all about innovation and setting the agenda. That’s what gets you long term sustainable value.

“Look at the way Macdonalds turn its reputation around. It went from the poster boy for the anti- obesity movement 10 yrs ago by rebranding properly from inside to outside. They changed interiors, they changed the exteriors, they changed the menus.

“Apple started out by being a niche brand for creatives. Now it’s the largest brand in the world. It now sell extraordinary products about humanising technology. Rebranding geeks as geniuses – that’s genius in itself! What’s the main difference between Apple and Microsoft? When Steve Jobs died Apple’s shareprice went down. When Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO resigned its shareprice went up.

“Apple is the the best at having clarity, coherence and leadership.”

Other examples that Clifton used to show the benefit of good branding were:

  • Google – “growing from boy’s bedroom idea to global leading brand. They had total clarity of purpose to organise the world’s information in a way that makes it fun”

  • Samsung: “remember when Samsung was a really crap manufacturer, making crap products for other people? They changed their purpose and now have a bigger turnover than Sony

  • Dixons: “service based expertise packaged up in the right way – as KnowHow -has changed things for them

  • ASOS: “the company wants to be the leading destination for 20something women in fashion. Everything they do is about that. Nick Robertson CEO puts it as’ we just get on and do shit really quickly,”

    She asked: “Everybody: are you clear about what you stand for? Are you consistent in how that shows up in what you do, inside and outside Are you setting the agenda?”

    H+H UK BMJ conference coverage sponsor

  • About Fiona Russell-Horne

    Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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