Monthly Archives: May 2011




It was with utmost confidence that I presented my branding proposal.  After all, I had spent many a late, balmy night studying the situation, examining the issues, looking for a solution. I knew my solution was right.


And so, it seems, did my audience.


This was one of the most successful luxury fashion goods retailers in Hong Kong.  A family run business, owned and managed by an American who had settled in Okinawa after the war and moved to Hong Kong where he met his Chinese wife.  They had two children, both involved in the business, each with one foot in the rational West and the other in the mystical East.


“Brilliant.  Let’s move ahead.”


The next day I was in my office, pleased at my success in cracking this difficult puzzle. And that is exactly what strategy is.  A puzzle.  You deconstruct and re-construct, piece by piece.  And you know you’ve solved it when the pieces fit together well.


The phone rang.

David, the son, was on the phone.


I was not prepared for what I heard next.

“Don’t go ahead yet.  My mother wants to consult with a Feng Shui specialist.”

Feng Shui. You know, the guys who measure Ying and Yang.


My protestations fell on sympathetic but ultimately deaf ears.


A week later I got the good news …. and the bad news.  The Feng Shui man loved my ideas.  But, he hadinsisted, it was for the year of the Ox.  And this was 1984, a Rat year.


The project did not move ahead.


I have relayed this story many times.  But over the years the story has evolved.  From disbelief at how Feng Shui could determine marketing.  To how vital internal alignment is.


Successful branding starts from the inside out.  And if you can not align your organization, there is no way that any branding effort, no matter how brilliant it is, will succeed.


Because everything communicates.

Everything an organization says and does.

Everything it does not say and does not do.

EVERYTHING communicates.


Think of a bank.

Banks spend millions on advertising.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, that the bank does influences your perception of that bank as much as the attitude and behaviour of the bank teller who served you last.  If the bank teller is not aligned, then all is wasted.



Every social organization relies on alignment.

A good marriage is a well aligned marriage.

A soccer team scores goals when its players are aligned.

A bank does well when its employees are aligned.

A restaurant when the kitchen is aligned with the waiters.

And a country does well when its population is aligned behind a clearly communicated vision.


The American knew better than I did.

He knew better than to resist his wife’s request that my proposal should be scrutinized by a Feng Shui specialist.  Because he knew that if his wife was not aligned, my branding efforts would come to nothing.


We learn our lessons.  Sometimes from Marketing Professors.  Sometimes from Feng Shui specialists.




The internet has been around, in some form, since the late sixties.

But it only started to have its impact on our lives since the mid-nineties.

And most of us, as marketers, are only learning how to deal with it today.


There is something much, much older than the internet.

The art of conversation.

An art centered entirely around the individual.

Thesis. Antithesis. And through dialogue, synthesis.


The world that most of us grew up in was a world centered squarely on the mass.

Mass communication.

Mass retailing.

Mass consumption.


In this world, the individual was reduced to a number.

A part of a consumer demographic.  A target group.  Conversation was replaced by broadcast. The thesis was the marketing message, measured by CPM.  The antithesis, a simple “buy/don’t buy” decision, with the only synthesis coming through post advertising research and brand health monitors.


The world is changing.


Mass broadcast is being replaced by individual conversation.

Mass retailing by highly personalized shopping experiences.

Mass research by real time thesis, antithesis and synthesis.


Welcome to the conversation economy.

Welcome back to the future.


The rebirth of the conversation economy has been stimulated by technology.

But it’s not about technology. The art of conversation that we practice on the internet is carrying over into the way we live our real lives. And this has implications for every aspect of the way that businesses are run today.


It’s s confusing world. Only because it’s not the world we grew up in.  We need to explore it well.  And the way to do it is through the art of conversation. Through thesis, antithesis and synthesis.