On The Warc Blog: leadership and language

04 May 2010

LONDON/WASHINGTON: The importance of language and leadership to successful companies were among the subjects attracting attention on The Warc Blog in the last week.

Gill Ereaut, the founder of Linguistic Landscapes, suggested that the implicit “unspoken culture” of a company underpins everything it does and maintains its "view of the world" as people join and leave.

"The internal discourse or narrative of an organisation is invisible scaffolding holding the culture up and keeping it in shape," said Ereaut.

"Saying is not the opposite of doing. Saying is doing. Saying is constructive; it builds and sustains things – social structures, power relationships, 'truths'."

To take one example, a corporation utilising a "war" metaphor to describe its interaction with consumers may find this unhelpful both in establishing a real bond with shoppers and in developing its operations.

More specifically, the use of language can have a major impact on certain business processes, such as innovation or collecting consumer insights, which do not fit in with existing frameworks.

"It's not a question of letting expert talk or jargon cross into consumer-facing materials," Ereaut said.

"It's leakage of more subtle, embedded assumptions that matters, often about customers and the way you see your relationship with them."

As previously reported, Millward Brown Optimor, the research firm, released its 2010 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands last week, a list that was headed by Google and IBM.

In a post on The Warc Blog, Peter Walshe, global account director for Millward Brown, wrote that having a strong, focused leader is essential for the long-term success of a brand.

He cited the examples of Howard Schultz at Starbucks, Steve Jobs at Apple and Bernard Arnault at LVMH as being the well known "faces" of their respective firms.

The founder of a company can also bequeath a clear statement of intent, like Sam Palmisano's notion of a "Smarter Planet" for IBM and ICICI's Chanda Khochar revolutionary approach to banking in India.

"The common factor is continued investment in the brand to enrich it with a clearly expressed unique vision," said Walshe.

"That belief from the top is then translated throughout the company, its employees, suppliers, investors and ultimately gives the end customer a reason to return."

In light of the BrandZ rankings, Waqar Riaz, a strategist at Rapp London, discussed the evolution of the Chinese online search market with regard to Baidu and Google.

Baidu was seen as having a highly impressive "brand momentum" by Millward Brown, as well as recording a substantial increase in its overall value in 2009.

While the two search engines have almost exactly the same appearance, are based on similar algorithms and essentially provide the same results, none of these factors necessarily make a difference.

"The idea is that it's not the technological difference behind Baidu's success story, but the bonding it has with its users," Riaz said.

"If Baidu has to retain its number one position in China and beyond, then it's not Google it should be worried about, but what the people of China need and expect from the search engine of the future."

Data sourced from Warc