Archive for the ‘A Powerful Brand’ Category

A Very Royal Connection

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

25 million Americans will arise early this morning seduced by a few hours of British pageantry,  a young Californian girl and a British prince walking up the aisle. It is a moment where fact suspends fiction. Where a powerful brand leaps out of the television set and creates a deep visceral connection with its’ audience. Pure marketing nirvana.

Facebook’s Mousetrap

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Over a crackled, and clearly excruciatingly cheap phone line, “Hello, I am Anand, I am not trying to sell anything but one of your Facebook friends has suggested that I call you….” Just ridiculous. If this was an isolated incident, you’d ignore it but when it is the 17th call in two weeks, you ask yourself to what extent is one of the world’s 5 largest companies taking the defense of its’ customers data seriously. Judging by this weekend’s Sunday newspapers, full page advertorials, the company is keen to be seen on the right side of the data protection and ownership wave sweeping through Europe. Great but wouldn’t a more meaningful response rather symbolic gestures with public demonstrations of visible scammers snared in their mousetrap, reassure users that they are really serious and on their side?

©  James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

What Does A Family Office Do

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016



Spending time trying to define the differences between a “Private Office”, a “Private Investment Office”, a Single or Multi “Family Office”, is largely an exercise in futility. They are all labels that started with clarity but overtime have diffused into a host of different products, services and relationships serving the needs of HNW and UHNW individuals. There is no faculty. Today, there are hedge funds (SAC), private equity firms (Blue Pool Capital), investment firms (George Soros), lifestyle and concierge service firms, lawyers (DLA Piper), accountants (KPMG), search firms and a host of others morphing into one or more of these labels.

If you are establishing such an organisation today, seeking to utilise their services or do business with them, it is far more valuable to powerfully state, “we are an expert in …..” or ask “what exactly are you an expert in?” A great response, “We are the market-leading expert in accelerating the preservation of UHNW clients’ inter-generational wealth and the generation of income to support their lifestyle needs.” A lousy response, “we are an expert in financial and non-financial needs of UHNW clients including….(a laundry list of services)”

The listener wants to quickly know why THEY should give you the time of day. If you cannot peek their interest quickly, perhaps you are a commodity they can do without or you don’t value your own services highly? Which is it?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Who Transforms The Transformer

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Large advisory firms (Big Four and large management consulting practices) have cornered an expertise in transforming how large businesses deploy capital, manage human resources and IT, accelerate innovation and implement strategy. Yet many of those same “expert” firms are desperately in need of transformation.

How else do you explain the increasing tension between the commodity end of their work (outsourced shared service offerings) and the desire to grow the high-margin, high-value strategic advisory business? It is a fraying piece of string for those, who desire to play in both segments.

The complexity of the advisory businesses is such that an increasing proportion of front line employees time is being reserved for internal issues (tweaking matrix organisation structures, new value propositions, problem solving and fees), at the expense of the client. Yet there are very few people in those firms, who have the skills and volition to want to lead the change (“champion”).

Safety lies in the belief that your brand will get you the first meeting with the large client. Yet a cursory google search reveals very few Partners in these firms, who are demonstrably centres of expertise or objects of strong interest to C-level operatives and the wider global media. Inherently, the transformation business is a pricing battle dressed up in pseudo value-based fees.

Indeed, changing the operating beliefs that inform the behaviour of Partners and Directors in those firms is very hard. The outliers or mavericks in those firms are tolerated to the extent that they inject some colour into client relationships but they are very rarely embraced in the inner sanctum. So you end up with external market forces largely determining the future of these advisory firms.

A client wouldn’t take advice from Hilary Clinton on email etiquette or Donald Trump on diplomatic communication, why would they hire these folks? The only conclusion is that they feel safe in hiring lots of extra pairs of hands from a known brand so long as the price is right.

You’ll have a hard time convincing me that is right for the client and the advisory firm’s future.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Publishing Path

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Walk in a hotel and the best concierges will not only point you towards where to go, they will lead the way to your destination and in so doing provide immediate value, sometimes in surprising ways (what to see, where to eat, how to get into the must-see show).

What does your publishing tell others (ideal customers, shareholders, employees, business partners) about “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” and “how” you want them to act with your help?

Telling me what you think is moderately valuable, showing me how you would act with my money and best interests at heart is impressive. Having others doing the telling (testimonials, hosted events, forums and so on) is even more impactful.

Every bank, insurer, asset and investment manager and advisory firm is weekly or daily self-publishing (published research, newsletters, online presence). The overwhelming majority of the effort is having little or no impact on their key constituents’ behaviour. That is a fact. It is bland, it is regurgitated ideas packaged as “new” or statements of the blindingly obvious. The intent is not clear or it acts as a “stop sign”.

They persist “because everyone else is doing it”.

Stop for a moment and ask this:

1. What would my ideal customer base look like in 12 months?

2. What aspects of my publishing would not only attract them to our brand (results, credibility, expertise) but cause them to act (emotional connection) in a positive manner? That is a huge difference.

3. What offerings do we have or we can create that our publishing can point existing or prospective clients towards at different price points offering increasing value?

4. How do we best curate our publishing within an existing client or a new client relationship?

Publishing is like a sequence of sign posts with different dimensions.

1. Are they pointing towards your future or past business?
2. Are they moving the customer faster towards your offerings and their desired improvement?
3. Are they offering immediate value that builds trust and enhances your credibility?
4. Is the frequency and quality of the publishing consistent with where you want your business, relationships, customer base, finances and productivity to be in 12 months?

A nice smile or an arm pointing out where to go is helpful but if it doesn’t visibly get me to my desired destination.

Focus on results (increased credibility, lower acquisition costs, stronger brand, larger pipeline) and work backwards with your publishing as the “sign posts”.

Copyright James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Ambiguous Titles In An Unambiguous Business

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Do you work in a function that many of your colleagues, clients and business partners ask “Precisely, what does [fill in your function] do?”

I am reminded as much by separate but related conversations. “Strategic Advisory” functions in reinsurance brokers, who offer mostly tactical not strategic advice. “Operating Partners” in private equity firms, who are not seen as or rarely act as  “partners” in the traditional sense of the word. “Client Advisory” in a global art business, who are largely low-paid implementers, not seen as a peer of the client, and rarely provide advice.  The function’s title is a “catch all” sobriquet for a range of activities, which might differ by products/service offered, markets served, client groups and so on.

The only way to make any sense of these functional titles is to ask “Tell me in one or two sentences, how are your clients better off or personally better supported by your work?” Lo and behold, most people enter into a preamble about the multitude of tasks and activities they undertake, in the belief that the listener will be exponentially wiser. I point this out because it gets to the heart of why so many businesses in finance, insurance and professional services have become masters at making the simple complex from the moment they hand you a business card and rarely articulate their value impressively.

My observation is that in future we will see a dramatic increase in functional titles descriptive of the specific value and results that the client receives, not the activity performed or the empty sobriquet. The alternative is we see an increasing reversion to core functional titles (Marketing, Sales, Delivery, Operations etc.).

There is one obvious proviso. Individual titles within these functions that are for grandeur rather than impact will be scorned or treated with increasing cynicism. We are awash with “Chiefs” in many businesses (Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Customer Experience Officer, Chief Risk Officer), yet few in reality participate at the top table in setting the firm’s strategy. They collect the kindling for the wood fire but they do not get to choose the menu for the night’s dinner or decide how rare or well done the steaks shall be cooked.

Now let’s get back to the hard work of improving our client’s well-being.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.




Painting Investors Into The Picture

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

At a cocktail party earlier in the week at the London home of a major art buyer and industrialist, I asked where his passion for art started. Surrounded by some fabulous pieces of art hanging from the walls, I presumed I was going to hear how art had been a part of his life from an early age or when building his fortune and how he had acquired an “eye” for great art.

His response was was far more direct – a chance adventure around a neighbour’s home in St Tropez just 15 years ago (he is in his late 70’s) and the fact that art appreciates in value.

When you articulate your brand, do you spend hours trying to concoct a fanciful and complex story to about the perceived value or do you tell it as it is? Do your clients or customers come looking for a deep and meaningful story when their needs are often best met by a short and direct response?

My observation with many businesses looking to enter new markets is that they incorrectly presume that the “worth” of their brand and its’ differentiation, is wound up in an elaborate story about why they chose the market (geographic or product) and their “unique” methodology. Stories are only good if they are memorable. Motives don’t have to sophisticated or highly intellectual. The only story that matters is how the other party is better off or personally better supported (value and results).

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Six Myths of PR In China

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

When foreign firms think about promoting their products and services in China for many the default position is to draw unfavourable parallels with their home market and local competitors (lack of independent and balanced perspective in Chinese media, reluctance to apply critical rigour, abundance of positive spin).  Yet listen to Zhihua (Stephanie) Yan at Z.H. STUDIO, one of the members of my professional community and her recent experiences with mainland Chinese organisations and you soon grasp that many of these myths are just that “myths” with little or no substance.

  1. Majority of mainland Chinese firms today readily embrace independent third party commentaries (expert opinions).
  2. Greater number of Chinese organisations share the belief that balanced perspectives enrich a story.
  3. Greater propensity of mainland Chinese organisations to happily approve constructive criticism and editors and audiences willing to embrace diverse opinions.
  4. Are there exceptions, of course, there are mainland clients who still want to see media releases, interviews and published articles present a “more positive tone” (is that so different from US or Western European organisations?)
  5. PR investments must have clear business outcomes for mainland Chinese firms to approve expenditure. The “value” derived may be more intangible (improved image or stronger brand) than tangible (increased sales, faster talent recuitment, larger capital raising) but it must have a discernible impact on their key constituents’ behaviour.
  6. The credibility gap between “earned media” (published articles, interviews, op-ed pieces) and “paid media” in China has never been wider. Although the demand for the former still lags substantially behind the latter amongst local organisations.

Put it simply, there are three “stumbling blocks”  that currently inhibit wider adoption of typical PR approaches and the demand for external expertise amongst many mainland Chinese organisations:

  1. Mindset
  2. Capabilities
  3. Incentive

Here is two examples,

Case Study #1: A global media-savvy Business School professor requested that Stephanie proof-read, double-check and triple check quotes given to a reporter for a US news wire service in advance of providing his permission for publication.

Case Study #2: A senior executive in a Chinese organisation decided to pass on an exclusive interview with a correspondent  from a world-class, top-tier newspaper after 4-6 months of Stephanie “cultivating the opportunity” because an environment he was working in has “close to zero” risk tolerance and he saw no visible upside in speaking to the reporter. In such circumstances, retainer fees are a “must” for external PR experts wanting to survive in China today.

“Local” Growth Challenges for Marketing & Media Agencies

  1. Cultural: You have to “give to get”. The basic dynamics of PR providing newsworthy and relevant insight that is in the best interests of the writer, not the firm are still not widely understood by many local organisations.  (Increasing need for external expertise to align corporate leaders’ beliefs, attitudes and behaviour with the differing needs of local and international media when promoting their products and services)
  2. Labour Intensive: Many local organisations are unaware of the time invested in attracting major media outlets. (Increasing need for improved education, more relevant examples, more effective metaphors at the outset)
  3. Engaging External Expertise: Low awareness of the “value” derived from an external marketing agency facilitating media interviews. (Increasing need for more effective communication skills and persuasive language with clients pre-, during and at the disengagement stage)
  4. Self vs. External Promotion: Propensity amongst some local CEOs (large egos) to confuse a PR firm’s success generating demand for interviews from top media outlets with their own and their firm’s actual “object of interest” to global media. In other words why pay a marketing agency a fee if they are such a “star”? (Need to use more powerful metrics or formula to show perceived and actual level of interest, the improvement in the client’s condition and the client’s good deal)

These mis-alignment factors simply hinder the prospect of very healthy collaboration with local organisations and require greater time investment to fulfil some really credible, trust-worthy “earned media” results. For China-based media and marketing agencies it’s not something they “don’t want to do”, or even “don’t have the resources to achieve” rather there is an immediate requirement to figure out a better “alignment” with local clients’ market needs and their mutual self-interest.

When you think the grass is greener for local organisations and local agencies in China, as a “foreigner” you might be surprised about the significant advantages you start with.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

What Is In A Brand Name

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

I received in my inbox this morning from one of the media communities I am quite active in:

“About FCKING Time (AFT), a magazine focusing on sex, dating, relationships and travel and aimed at women in London, has launched. The monthly title will be produced by the About.Time Magazine team.”

Seriously, this is not a reflection on my choice of reading material. There is a valuable lesson for those of us creating new brands or refreshing tired ones.

If you consider what attracts your ideal clients to your business, the impact of your brand name and the way you chose to organise and convey your value, think about “CUPID:

1. Compelling content (articles and insights that cause the reader to say “I never thought of it that way before?”)

2. Unparalleled credibility (the people speaking, the suggestions offered and the results outlined are something I would have difficulty in challenging)

3. Powerful affinity (the intellectual perspective, the stories shared, the shared values)

4. Incredible value (tangible benefits personally and professionally)

5. Demonstrable impact (repeat business, referrals, growth of your community and so on)

An effective brand name is one that is short and memorable, which when applied consistently, frequently and intelligently in the mind of your ideal clients conveys the key attributes of your organisation and the impressive value you provide. Organisations spend kazillions on endless needs analysis that does little in moving the needle.

Pick three potential names, draw up a list of key constituents (customers, shareholders, employees, business partners and so on), ask their feedback and move confidently to a final decision. The objective here is both quality AND speed.

You may well choose  a brand name with a higher degree of subtlety and taste than the aforementioned magazine, however, don’t waste a lot of valuable time and money that could  more productively be deployed on your marketing, client acquisition and client delivery processes. After all “Goldman Sachs”, “Apple” and “Versace” have served those organisations just fine, long after their founders’ deaths.  

©    James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.