Last evening and in a somewhat ironic swist of fate, I popped down to my local Woolies, picked up cooked chicken for the kids and whisked the wife away to a talk with CEO of Pick n Pay, Nick Badminton. Okay, so maybe the connection wasn’t that strong, but I did feel a little guilty when I realised halfway through his talk that back home, my kids were munching through a Woolies chicken while I was pretending to be interested in the goings on at Retail Superbrand, Pick n Pay.
The title of the talk that had actually attracted my attention was, “The Emotional Power of a Brand”. I have been interested in BRANDS for sometime now, and I especially try to understand brands from the human elements. So this talk seemed to make perfect sense to me. What I got however, was more of an economic lecture, plus a bit of free advertising for Mr. Badminton’s beloved company. The longer the talk went on, the more I realised that we weren’t really going to be discussing how people make and break a brand. How individual’s need to find personal and authentic power before they can become a “brand ambassador”, or how unpacking the DNA of the brand, helps people learn to trust it or not. Instead, we listened to all the great things Pick n Pay were doing to retain it’s market share.
So I quickly shifted my attention away from what was being said, to how it was being said. There’s always a clue to a person’s character in how they speak, more than what they say. Nick Badminton stepped up last night and was contained. Probably because they’re about to release annual figures, and anything he said could come back to bite him. But so what! I’ve seen President Obama more relaxed at a Press briefing on War, than Badminton was in speaking of his own company’s brand. Here are the things that really got me wondering.
- Why did he read most of what he had “prepared?” If you’re passionate about your brand and someone asks you to come share that with a group. Surely you could let it flow from the tongue naturally.
- If you’re going to show a slide on Sustainability Efforts, then make sure you have your facts on Sustainability. When asked about this, Mr. Badminton was caught stuttering his way through a couple of things the company was doing that sounded more like the stuff you and I would do at home, like use less electricity, recycle our plastic, and stop waste. He had nothing else really!
- What makes a great leader? Was asked of him. His response was also very sketchy and left us wandering in the dark between Jack Welch and Whitey Basson.
Okay, so I know this sounded like a tirade, but I really was disappointed. I wanted more. But I guess a free talk, free beer and an evening out with the wife was more than I could have expected anyway. So what really were the positives? Firstly, it can’t be easy being Nick Badminton. Of course there are all the jokes about your name, like the one about the dog called Minton who ate the Shuttlecock!! Get it? It’ll come to you, give it a chance. Then there is the stark reality of Pick n Pay still being a family business. Big decisions like changing the brand image really couldn’t have been easy. And yet they got it right. What I also liked was that there seems to be a real investment into people. When you link your name to a brand promise like “Inspired by you” you better make sure your people can live up to that.
I remember listening to Robert Townshead the visionary leader of Avis in the 1960’s who introduced the “We Try Harder” campaign. He said it was simple. If the people were not going to do it, they’d be dead! That’s a brand promise that has lived strong for 45 years. We’ve all seen how Standard Bank had to give up on their “Inspired Motivated and Involved” promise. Now they’re just “Moving Forward”. Not really about people anymore I guess. So, well done Pick n Pay. Good luck Mr. Badminton. I would personally love to come and work for a company where people are more important than things. Please invest heavily in your staff. Empower them to show all consumers inspirational service. And never give up those family values.
Oh, and just one last positive. With 3 kids, my wife and I don’t get out that much, and last night was a treat. I noticed that she’s still got her stuff! Her brand is as sexy as it’s always been. I can’t wait for the next talk. And let’s not forget the free beer!!