Tag Archives: Apple

June 19, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

What does your company’s dress code do for your reputation?

richard branson

Summer is here – temperatures are rising, and so are the hemlines. As a proud product of Catholic School, I’ve always been a fan of “the uniform” – makes morning decision making easy and you never have to worry about looking appropriate. And the good Sisters at my all girls Catholic school swore that there was a link between our dress and our behavior – we were loud, unruly and “harder to manage.”

Which is exactly the point. While some traditional companies, particularly in industries like banking and professional services, still embrace formal dress, the most desirable places to work these days are no longer blue collar or white collar jobs – they are no collar jobs.  Apple. Google. Facebook. And they aren’t just technology companies – Virgin, Quicken Loans, and Starbucks.

Companies with a casual dress code are viewed as more innovative, more creative and generally “cooler.” And now, they may also begin to assert that their casual dress code is better for the environment. In a recent post about why he ditched the tie, Richard Branson notes that offices where everyone is suited up in a tie are generally kept cooler during the hottest summer months.

Dress codes are a reflection of values and culture. Companies who preserve traditional dress often embrace traditional hierarchy and process as well, while casual environments may offer less structure and a more entrepreneurial environment. Dress code has long been considered part of the narrative for winning the war for talent. But it can also be part of your reputation equation. The key is to consider and communicate about why your company embraces a casual dress code and the outcomes of that decision.

September 9, 2014 | dlauer | Tagged , , ,

Becoming a lifestyle brand, the Apple way

top-10-brands-on-socialcam-eef22540ddI’ve led corporate branding and narrative development for companies in every industry, from start-ups to the Fortune 100.  At one point in each and every audit, when asking executives who they most want to emulate or be aligned with, they all say the same thing: “I want to be Apple.”

It has happened so often that I have had to specifically re-engineer my question to include a caveat – Apple doesn’t count.  Nor does Nike or Starbucks.

These are the go-to brands that transcend their categories. Their very names have become known as widely-accepted verbs by everyone from Wall Street Analysts to Main Street Millennials.  These companies have created such strong emotional connections with their customers that they now serve to validate their identities and customers reciprocate by voluntarily tattooing their cars, computers and even bodies.  Because for their audiences, they are not corporations, they are a lifestyle.

Lifestyle brands do more than achieve cult-like status among their followers. They successfully break away from the commodity space.  They command a price and loyalty premium unavailable to competitors.

And the secret sauce? After researching and following so many of these brands, including those that have had success on a humbler stage, such as Harley-Davidson, Whole Foods and Ralph Lauren, it has become apparent that there is none.  No amount of imitation in the way these companies look, talk or act can transform an everyday organization into a lifestyle brand. However, several major themes have consistently emerged in the way these companies operate market and think about their businesses that are worth putting into practice:

Stand for something specific

Have a defined identity and corporate narrative that your employees can strive to exemplify and customers and investors can believe in.  Invest in the time and resources to really understand what your company stands for and where it is headed, as well as what drives your stakeholders to action.  Building authentic and ownable thought leadership platforms from that narrative can help get your story told by the influencers, but then you need to reinforce that mission consistently by creating the same experience in everything you do: in store and out, online and in person, on Main Street and on Wall Street.

Tell Stories

Everyone loves a good story. We connect and learn through them; they can help humanize even the most esoteric of topics. However, how you tell yours and who tells it means the difference between empty noise and building authentic relationships with key audiences.  Take Nike for instance:  its 1977 ad campaign was revolutionary for its time, many called it “risky,” even “crazy.” The first of its kind, it featured zero actual Nike products, and it was all centered around the art of storytelling and creating an emotional connection with its audience around hope for what they could accomplish – as athletes and as people, punctuated by the “Just Do It” tagline that has become an iconic, cultural mantra of motivation for everything from climbing Mount Everest to climbing the corporate ladder.

The key is to think about what people want to hear, what motivates them and shape your communications strategically around that.

Are you shuttling people from point A to point B or are you enabling a great travel experience? Are you selling technology that brings Wi-Fi to a stadium or are you making it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to stay connected no matter where they are?

Every corporate story starts with a mission. Find ways to get people excited about yours.

Nobody wins by following the crowd

Don’t be afraid to be unconventional – culturally or otherwise. Distinguish your company from competitors by encourage new standards and “best practices” by looking outside the industry – who does it well in general?  Where are all the thought leaders on topic X, Y or Z convening?  Thinking beyond the category can help employees focus on excelling in key areas like customer service and innovation no matter what gadget or offering they’re supporting. It will also help to reshape the way you think about and approach strategies fornew products, experiences and communications that build your reputation as a leader.

Stay true. If it deviates, don’t do it

Because all associations echo your brand and can have a significant impact on your corporate reputation, mandate a laser-focus on associating yourproducts, partnerships, services and offerings with thesocial and cultural aspirations of your targetaudiences. You can only do this by making understanding the wants and needs of your stakeholders a corporate priority.  Building new products, services and innovations around insights will provide a framework for all decision-making.

September 13, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

Socializing Investor Relations: Why You Should Be Doing It, and How You Can Get Started

Have you heard (or made) any of these statements lately?

The Street doesn’t get our story.

Why don’t we get credit for all of our strengths / accomplishments / ideas / successes / strategies?


We get the same questions, from the same few people, every quarter.

Our roadshow didn’t get us anywhere.

We are undervalued.

How can we differentiate ourselves from our peer group?

If the answer is yes, then you should be thinking about how to “socialize” your IR and financial communications programs. I could tick off all of the reasons why you haven’t done it yet, beginning with concerns about Regulation Fair Disclosure and some recent social mishaps resulting from some ill-conceived CEO commentary.

Those who think that social media is the land of brand promotion, and brand promotion only, should recall the cautionary tales of some other channels that were initially shunned by those tasked with financial communications – like live TV. Once the domain of the consumer brand and shunned by CEOs, live broadcast was too “uncontrolled,” too “scary” and too “dangerous.” Now, CEOs fight to be on CNBC to reach their investor audience. Sounds very similar to the current perception of social media. When used correctly, social media can be a powerful addition to your financial communications. And using it correctly means using it in complete regulatory compliance.

The conversation is going to happen, with or without you…all of the “social buzz” around Apple’s Q3 earnings miss was just one recent example.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few easy steps to get you socially active:

  • Listening & Insights: Social media can be a powerful “eavesdropping device” – tune in to hear what your individual shareholders are saying about you, and about your competitors. Twitter recently launched cashtags – clickable stock symbols which include $ + your stock ticker. The conversations are happening – and they can inform your messaging and keep you aware of what is being talked about.
  • Earnings 2.0: Your quarterly earnings cycle is one of the most important communications vehicles you have. Similar to a school report card, investors use this time to tell how a company is performing and what the future holds. Social media can serve as an additional layer of distribution to your investors by “live-tweeting” your earnings and providing links to your release, conference call webcast and investor presentation. Social media provides the platform to include and engage individual shareholders, as well as the larger, institutional investors. Some of the more progressive companies like Dell are even taking questions via Twitter to be answered on their calls, which can come from any shareholder, not just an analyst or major investor.
  • Start a Dialogue: One of the biggest challenges companies face is continuing the conversation with investors between quarters. Social media provides the platform for you to create an IR “channel” for easily sharing your Company news, releases, reports, presentations and company videos which can serve as the stimulus for true conversation, where you can get feedback in real time. So while pushing content and news is good, engaging in real dialogue is better. Social engagement – from responding to investor inquiries, reacting to online posts, or following the conversation – will give you the ability to respond or react to comments and questions online, gauge the sentiment of the financial community, and assist in building a broad, diversified base of holders by strengthening and building trust among your current and potential investors.
  • Lead the Conversation: Research repeatedly shows that a larger portion of your share price than you may think is attributed to intangibles, with quality of leadership, vision and strategy as major factors. Social media platforms like Twitter, Slideshare and YouTube provide forums where you can tell the “softer side” of your company’s story. And unlike a feature story in major media, you have 100 percent editorial authority over the content, the timing and the photos. Use social media to help people get to “know” your leadership team, understand your strategy, and follow your news and developments, because a social CEO is perceived as more relevant. Maintain a blog to share thoughts and comments about industry trends and financial news. Get your content out there, build your company’s reputation and become a voice for your industry.

Social media isn’t going to pass. The conversations are happening, with or without you. You can use it as a strategic tool to build trust, relevance and long term shareholder value. Or not. Competition for investment dollars is just that, competition. And the savviest companies will be using every tool at their disposal to attract your investors.

Get social. Or get left behind.

September 11, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Stepping into the Spotlight: How your CEO’s Reputation Translates into Shareholder Value

Change in leadership is inevitable. And all too often, it is associated with something negative: illness, a legal issue, shareholder discontent, or the Board’s lack of confidence in a leader. Often, as communicators, we are tasked with minimizing the disruption a leadership change causes. Just look when Tim Cook assumed leadership roles from Steve Jobs at Apple – investors reacted by pushing down company shares 5 percent, or nearly $20. It’s not always the case though. Sometimes, a change in leadership can add shareholder value and boost investor confidence.

But what are these stock moves really telling us?

That a company’s “intangible” assets – like a CEO’s reputation – have a major impact on its market value and impacts investors’ buying decisions. Just how valuable is it? One study put a $3 trillion dollar price tag on corporate reputation in S&P 500 companies alone. Just recently, when now ex-CEO of WellPoint, Angela Braly, stepped down, investors applauded and saw company shares gain 7.7 percent, worth almost $150 million in market value.

When I started in this business, there was a “rock star” CEO phenomenon that has fallen out of favor – and for good reason. But for many companies, the pendulum has swung too far the other way – CEOs, in a desire to appear humble, shy away from the spotlight and as a result are doing their shareholders a disservice.

CEO reputation translates into shareholder value. Could there be any greater reason to be proactive about cultivating and leveraging the profile of your CEO and leadership team?

June 19, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

Is “branding” really irrelevant?

I’ll admit that discussion of branding is not my forte…after all, I’ve spent the bulk of my career building, enhancing and protecting corporate reputations – which are more than just the brand. But I have to admit, this article about branding being irrelevant caught my eye. The premise is this – you should stop talking about your brand and focus on your products…that brands are the byproduct of great products, and can’t be “built” per se. The ultimate argument here is Apple – who went from being a challenger to being the leader by bringing transformative products to the market, leaving everyone else that’s been investing in their brand to catch up. For example, Blackberry lost its edge because it focused on the brand, not the product.

The implications of this simple concept to the discussion of reputation are a bit more complex…because reputation is about more than just your brand or your products – it is about your citizenship, your value to investors, the careers you build and the company you keep. But the premise is sound…great products fuel great reputations. The reputation winners on lists of all kinds – from the Most Admired Companies to the JD Power and Associates Awards are dominated by the Companies whose products and services we can’t live without.

Is branding really irrelevant? Might reputation take its place? Or is it simply all about bringing great products to market? What do you think?

October 12, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

If you want to be relevant, tell a great story

If you work in the public relations profession, you’ve probably heard a common lament among clients – “People aren’t getting our story.“

It may be one of the common denominators that make clients from diverse industries and across all practices of public relations alike. Whether launching a brand, working an issue in Washington, conducting an investor road show or managing a crisis, having a compelling story is a fundamental requirement.

In the public relations business, we’ve always been storytellers – whether you call it messaging, corporate/brand positioning or narrative – it’s all about the story. And the greatest, most iconic brands and companies do it really, really well – Nike, GE, Apple and Starbucks all understand that to remain relevant as you grow and change, having a story that resonates is key.

This piece on Starbucks features the philosophies of noted brand evangelist Stanley Hainsworth, and credits great storytelling for transforming a commodity product into a $4 splurge. He talks a lot about the art of storytelling, and gives us a glimpse into the approach he uses to create an emotional connection with stakeholders. As I read this piece, I was struck with the significant alignment between his priorities and the way we approach developing a client’s narrative at MWW Group…in particular, the emphasis on tailoring your story for different audiences – what we call the Total Stakeholder Approach.

The irony is that while this may be a fresh, new approach for the brand evangelist – it has been core to of great public relations programming and strategy from the beginning.

How do you know if your story needs revisiting and refreshing?

  • Any time there has been a significant change in your business – new leaders, new business strategy, new line of business. Chances are you need to rethink your narrative. A more thoughtful approach would have made a big difference for Netflix, and saved them lots of backpedaling.
  • Significant changes in your industry also call for a new story – because your old story simply won’t be relevant anymore.
  • Shift in strategy or emphasis on who, or what, is important.
  • If you are underperforming – in sales, in employee retention, in share price performance – that may be a sign that your story isn’t resonating.
  • If it feels stale, out of date or misaligned with your priorities – even if it isn’t impacting your stakeholders yet.

July 18, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

When it comes to leadership, is “Disruptive” the new black?

Remember when disruptive was a dirty word? As in:

“Dear Mrs. Jones,

Little Johnny is bright, articulate and eager to learn. However, his disruptive behavior is a major concern, and penalizes the other 24 children in our class. Please have Johnny write ‘I will not disrupt the class’ 100 times for homework. Hopefully, this will get his disruptiveness under control.”

Increasingly, I am seeing disruptiveness categorized as a positive attribute…companies want to be known as disruptive (often in the context of innovation); leaders are hailed as disruptive. GM’s Dan Akerson recently held disruption exercises with his leadership team.

It is a radical application of common sense to see that doing “more of the same” isn’t going to get America back to work, or pull our economy out of its malaise. As leaders in Washington debate the debt ceiling and policy initiatives to stimulate the economy – in boardrooms everywhere, people are embracing disruption. They are holding up examples like Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines and Chipotle as examples of the inherent value of disruptiveness, and striving to find their own version of disruption.

When it comes to leadership, “disruptive” is the new black. Like most leadership trends, the devil is in the details. True disruptiveness can reinvent, reinvigorate and restore relevance of a company or a brand. But using the disruptive label, without substance, runs the risk of simply adding to the graveyard of overused, meaningless corporate buzzwords like paradigm shift, collaborate and alignment.

Can we disrupt the nature of corporate speak and preserve the authenticity of being truly disruptive? Only time will tell.

June 9, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Reputation Begins At Home: Why Companies with “Top Reputations” Stay There, Despite Major Crises

MWW Group Building Blocks of Reputation

Using the MWW Group methodology and the critical elements of reputation,
organizations can build positive images methodically over time.

The Reputation Institute releases its Top 100 list for the Companies around the world with the best reputations. Google is No. 1 – despite the allegations of their heavy-handedness, litigation and other accusations of predatory behavior usually reserved for villains like the Big Bad Wolf. Also faring well were companies who have faced pretty significant reputational challenges this year, such as Sony & security, Johnson & Johnson’s steady stream of recalls, Nestle, a proverbial target for environmentalists and those opposed to infant formula and the mother of all crisis case studies – Toyota.

What does that mean?

First, when it comes to lists and rankings, perception lags reality – good or bad. It takes time for the lists to reflect recent events. It also suggests that there is merit to the schools of thought around goodwill banks, and my personal POV that how you respond to the crisis can have more significance than the crisis itself. But there are some other interesting learnings here:

1. Reputation begins at home. A key driver of Google’s performance on this reputation score was their workplace culture, governance and citizenship. Perhaps Google.org wasn’t a bust after all. To be considered for the list, companies had to rank high in their home market as a “table stakes” for consideration.

2. The Art of Storytelling – a quick breeze through the Top 10 suggests that the ability to tell a great story – to stand for something beyond just your products or services…whether it is innovation and design (Apple), family, fun and entertainment (Disney) or the Volkswagen lifestyle.

3. You’ve got to be relevant to consumers, even if you don’t sell directly to consumers – It is no surprise the big winners on this list are consumer brands, but it isn’t a requirement. Intel, No. 9 on the list, doesn’t sell anything to consumer directly. But they’ve done a great job making “Intel Inside” relevant to an audience far beyond the decision maker at Dell, for example.

The Reputation Institute also points out a key fact – the leaders on this list don’t treat Reputation as a brand imperative – they treat it as a business imperative – ingrained into their policies, business practices and operations.

June 1, 2011 | kfieweger | Tagged , , , , ,

Employees Discuss Your Brand All The Time…And Impact Your Reputation

Harris Interactive came out recently with its annual Reputation Quotient Survey and there are some interesting developments.

The top spot in 2010 went to Berkshire Hathaway but not so this year after the Sokol fiasco, which we’ve previously written about here in Return on Reputation. Now Berkshire Hathaway is down to No. 4 – not bad, all things considered, but still a precipitous drop from a previous, largely untarnished image. Who dropped off the top 10 list entirely? Coke and Microsoft…replaced by Disney and Apple. Google moved up two spots to rank No. 1.

What does all this mean for companies who care about their reputation? That it’s a fickle thing and as Warren Buffett famously said, takes an instant to evaporate. Not only that, but everyone has a say these days in what kind of company you are. Google came in first for its financial performance and workplace environment…proof positive that all stakeholders weigh in when it comes to reputation.

Investors and employees clearly gave Google a boost on the ladder in today’s 24/7 interconnected world, and that matters. Every company spends a lot of time thinking about how they communicate with Wall Street – conference calls, press releases, one-on-ones with big institutional investors. But probably not as much time focusing on the way they talk to employees and how they empower their employees to talk about the company, too. Smart companies have “ambassador” employees blogging and participating on Facebook, Twitter, etc., after implementing forward-looking social media policies that lay out the ground rules. Google it and you’ll see.

March 1, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Should Succession Planning Be A Communications Priority?

Succession Planning is a hot topic, with some of America’s Most Admired companies in the thick.

Speculation abounds about Warren Buffett’s successor, with general consensus being that Berkshire Hathaway can succeed in naming a potential new CEO, but that Buffett couldn’t be replaced. The communication about identification of successors, “should Buffett need one” are presumably about Buffett’s age…and perhaps a bit of a reaction to all of the emphasis on succession planning due to recent photos of a frail, thin Steve Jobs (who missed Apple’s annual meeting) entering a cancer clinic.

In contrast, it would seem that discussion of a successor at Apple might, unfortunately, be prudent, in the midst of Steve Jobs third medical leave in seven years. Yet Apple’s shareholders rejected a proposal requiring that Apple detail a succession plan. The company had opposed this proposal from the Laborers International – who has been advocating for succession planning and disclosure of such for the past few years and made similar proposals to Whole Foods and Bank of America.

There is no doubt that succession planning is a Board of Directors’ imperative…but should it be a communications priority? Do your stakeholders need to know about your succession plans, or simply need to know that you have plans in place? This is particularly sticky when your leader is iconic, like Buffett and Jobs.

My two cents: stakeholders need to know that you have a succession plan in place, like Frontier Communications’ innovative board member/potential successor mentor program. Unless that succession is imminent – whether a planned succession like Gates or Welch, or potentially accelerated by a health problem, or scandal, like HP, the specifics of your succession plans need not be disclosed. It undermines the authority of the leader in place, and diminishes his or her relevance.

In a perfect world, a succession is planned with an appropriate transition period…the successor is named, has his or her “tires kicked” by key constituencies, and works closely with the current CEO through a transition period. By the time that transition occurs, it becomes somewhat of a non-event. But we all know that this isn’t a perfect world.

What to do when succession is forced, unexpected or accelerated? This is the time for amped up communications programs to support the new leader…to build trust, engage key stakeholders and create a leadership platform and profile for your new leader. Make the time. Or you may be dealing with another succession sooner than you planned.