People with a high degree of resilience will not be brought down. They don't see themselves as victims, but rise above themselves in difficult situations. Resilient systems are characterized by flexibility, adaptability and the ability to improvise. Resilience is therefore not just a thick skin that shields us from everything, but the ability to embrace change and adapt to new situations.
Courage to experiment
During the corona pandemic, our society and politics have reacted surprisingly flexibly to the new situation, and acted accordingly. The previously untouchable “black zero” was abandoned, remote work was suddenly possible in companies where it had previously been unthinkable, digital meetings and classrooms have become everyday practice. And individuals, too, show an astonishing amount of creativity and ability to improvise during the "new normal": neighbourhood support, hospitality vouchers, online events and large-scale hackathons. Using trial and error, we all have become learners again – we all have outgrown ourselves.
The virus has weakened the economy, but strengthened the society’s immune system, according to Felix Beer at the Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment in Berlin. “The same way an immune system needs exposure to bacteria and viruses to develop, social systems need disruptions to mature and develop.” The futurologist recommends using the resilience built during the pandemic in order to make society and the economy more robust in the long term. Because in the future, too, we will have to come to terms with unpredicted crises.
Welcome to the VUCA world
We live in a VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Originally coined by the US army, the term describes the situation the military was confronted with after the fall of the Soviet Union. Rather than a clear front line, splinter groups and decentralised terror posed a new threat towards which tried and tested strategies failed. Today, VUCA stands for uncertain conditions for companies and the economy. In global competition, new players lurk behind every corner, competitive advantages are short-lived, boundaries between industries are blurring, and value creation processes are changing rapidly.
Values for a new reality
It has been apparent for a few years that growth as we know it is reaching its limits. “High speed capitalism and the environmental destruction that comes with it is causing more damage than it creates value. This should be reason enough for a change of mind”, says philosopher Michael Gabriel as he pleads for a new moral realism¹. For a new reality, however, new visions for society and the economy as well as a new set of values are required. A move away from individual striving for profit and growth at any price, towards universal values such as sustainability, justice, health and community. Companies aspiring to be fit for the future should take the chance to actively influence the transformation.
Purpose beyond profit
Here, companies more than ever need to be aware of their purpose. Who are we, beyond our pursuit of profit, and how can we contribute to a better world? Brands with a strong and relevant motivation offer stability and orientation in times of uncertainty. 75 % of Germans expect brands to have a distinct attitude. In a global study from March 2020, 77% think that brands should be helpful to them during the crisis. This means that brand management must be revisited. Brands that to date were part of a corporate strategy geared towards growth and profit will now have the promotion of resilience as their central task: Internally, by providing purpose and strengthening community; externally, by engaging with society and actively shaping a sustainable world.
The art of learning
How can brand management strengthen organisations in an insecure VUCA world? Conditions are constantly changing, and it is of the essence to recognize changes early, evaluate them and react – on a daily basis. Up to now, though, brands were thought of as unchangeable, immovable, irrefutable. And today, the exact opposite would be desirable: mindful, versatile and adaptable.
Much like in Asian martial arts, brands should sense looming threats before the first blow, fluently absorb the accumulated energy and turn it into an advantage for themselves and the order at stake. The basic prerequisite: Companies and employees should consciously observe, learn with and from each other, adapt flexibly to situations and constantly put their thoughts and actions to the test. These skills correspond with current recommendations from teaching and further education: Communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking are the four decisive skills for mastering the world of the 21st century. Brand management that promotes and expands these qualities creates an adaptable organism with self-sustaining and strengthening powers.
Brand management in a VUCA world
In brand management, the first step is to question existing attitudes and convictions and self-analyse critically. What makes sense? What can go? Which values will be relevant in the future, and which ones are in danger? How can we contribute to a positive development, and what is our part in it?
A brand strategy’s objective is first and foremost self-reflection and the courage to face uncomfortable questions that may even destabilise the existing business model. The reward, however, is a strong brand purpose that provides orientation and opportunities, both internally and externally. As a result, real though leadership will sooner or later influence the market structure and enable long term business success.
Creativity means taking a fresh look at the world. This creates unusual connections, new ideas, and ultimately, innovation. Our existing economic system with its focus on optimized, ever consistent processes, however, does not encourage this way of thinking. The truly new and different can be very hard to accomplish.
Brand management based on a strong purpose and the right vision has objectives, but it does not prescribe the way to achieve them. Creativity and design methods that don’t work with a specific objective in mind show how to approach uncertainty and learn to work with complex systems. Anyone who was ever involved in such a development process draws confidence and strength from the good feeling of having mastered a problem and identified solutions. We lose our fear of tackling seemingly unsolvable tasks.
Collaboration frees us from fear and opens up new solutions. Complex realities are best met in the community: The group is stronger than the sum of its parts; it combines different skills and experiences. However, this is not, as is sometimes assumed, about the much-cited swarm intelligence, but about the dynamics of interaction between human individuals.
In the meantime, many companies have recognised that interdisciplinary project teams and agile work processes foster an understanding of the challenges to be mastered and thus contribute to a significant increase in the motivation of all involved. Everybody can contribute their skills, which creates a working atmosphere defined by equality and respect, in which different opinions are valued for the new impulses they provide. A brand that bears the cultural framework for interdisciplinary collaboration within itself and thus becomes an instrument of organisational development will not only promote a sense of community and cohesion, but define purpose in working together towards the future.
Communication is the foundation for collaboration and thus for the creation of value in business. Our modern information society places great importance on the processing of data and the application of specialist knowledge. Communication keeps knowledge available and helps to handle tasks and problems. It connects, creates transparency and widens horizons.
Applied in the right way, communication is a crucial factor in social development. It carries messages that unfold great impact both internally and externally. On the one hand, brand management uses communication to discuss the company’s purpose and to create a common vision of the future. On the other, customers as well as the public will be convinced by a consistent brand communication and by the sincerity of the brand purpose, and build trust in the company’s operational and sustainable fitness.
Back to the roots – Brand management as a strategic impulse generator
Resilient brand management is based on learning skills in order to detect changes and learn from them. Brand development as a strategic instrument works great in simulations, where the brand moves at the intersection of its origins and its future while using trend analyses and market research to keep the social context in mind. Based on the discussion on brand positioning, different options are explored which lead to the consequent adjustments of the business model. A company thus becomes flexible enough to react to different developments on the one hand, and strong enough to provide stability and orientation on the other. It is important to consider a combination of three central dimensions: Resilience is based on economic, ecological and social factors.
At the core of economic resilience is a new understanding of growth. Resilience is not quantitative, but rather qualitative growth. Good things thrive, while bad things shrink. Efficiency and innovation as driving factors of growth need to be reassessed. Companies can grow qualitatively by focusing on their core values and reorganise their portfolio accordingly. Rather than an expansive growth strategy at any price, a process of concentration takes place which, in turn, bears new potential for growth. Resilient growth means not being subject to compulsive growth, but to have freedom of growth, and to grow in balance with the world.
This implies that sustainable growth is always value oriented. And it is these values that are discussed in the brand strategy. They should not be understood as conventional economic perspectives such as the ability to innovate, customer orientation or market leadership. Rather, companies should aim for universal values which apply to all people at the same time and which are crucial for how consequently a positive change of society is being promoted. A clear purpose has the power to generate new business ideas and create growth for the good of all.
On an ecological level, resilience means first and foremost sustainability. The transformation of today’s society and economy into a more sustainable one is the greatest challenge of our time. Sustainability is a principle of managing resources which conserves the ability to regenerate in all systems involved and in which only those resources are consumed that can be restored. The impacts of overexploitation can be felt everywhere today, and they are advancing relentlessly. Future business models must therefore firmly embed sustainability in their companies and gear their entire product and service range as well as production and supply chains and thus the growth strategy as a whole towards sustainability.
A self-reflective brand will serve as a role model and source of inspiration for consumers and society. Companies should start to approach sustainability more courageously, because, after all, it is crucial for our survival on this planet. Corporate responsibility reports as an important supplement to annual business reports are one step, a sustainability index at the stock markets as an encouraging impulse to invest in sound business models is another. Pressure from consumers as well as the legislation is rising. Many startups have internalized the principle and made it a natural prerequisite for their business models. Strong brands have the task of creating awareness internally and externally, and of encouraging responsible action.
Employees are the focus of companies today: The job market demands more highly skilled professionals, and companies need to make an effort not to fall behind in the competition for the best applicants. This, at times, demands a lot from employees. They are to decide self-responsibly, react flexibly to new conditions, work with passion, cooperate across disciplines, excel within the team and be loyal towards their managers. All that in a working environment with clearly defined hierarchies, power struggles and ruthless careerists. How can real solidarity and a new work culture be established in this kind of environment?
Brand work, above all, is cultural work, and as such active organizational development. Brands need to be lived, not imposed. Future visions and company strategy need to inspire and follow a clear motivation. Employees who feel they work together towards a meaningful goal will be motivated and identify with the company. This solidarity is essential in uncertain times to keep skilled professionals from leaving when things get tough. Solidarity, however, must be shown on the company’s side, too, and be reflected in the management and organisation. Agile work processes, creative freedom, collaboration and interaction between equals finally need to replace old command and control structures. Then, solidarity will turn into loyalty and be felt not only by employees, but by all involved with the company.
Plea for a new kind of brand management
We are facing enormous social and economic challenges. Companies are called upon not to long for old times and carry on as usual, but to develop a new kind of consciousness. Applying the principle of resilience to brands is a new approach which leads brand management back to its original purpose of strategic leadership rather than withering away to a mere visual and communicative framework. The conceptional toolkit from which brand management draws for this purpose has expanded significantly during the last few years and allows for solutions tailored to the individual company. Strategic brand management models from the industrial age have finally done their duty.
Companies that recognise their true purpose after healthy self-reflection and focus their company culture as well as their business model on said purpose will not just survive, but have the chance to outgrow themselves and shape the future.
Would you like to exchange ideas with us on the subject or do you have a challenge? We are looking forward to your contact: call +49 611 . 238 50 10 or by eMail to kontakt(at)diefirma.de.
¹ Markus Gabriel: Moralischer Fortschritt in dunklen Zeiten.
© Soli statt Hamster / ASTA Uni Hannover
© Deutschland gegen Corona
© #WirVsVirus / 4Germany UG
© 2020 Nike, Inc.
© The New York Times
© Dove / Girlgaze Getty Images
© 2020 Patagonia, Inc., 01
© 2020 Patagonia, Inc., 02
© 2020 Patagonia, Inc., 03
© Too Good To Go / ASTA Uni Hannover
© Greenstorm EU
© 2020 GLS Gemeinschaftsbank eG
© NEW WORK SE
© 2020 Vitra International AG
© Ecosia GmbH