-- Rolf Jensen, director of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies
What if . . . ? What if . . . branding -- the idea thereof -- wasn't limited to the products and services the company offers to its customers? What if
. . . we moved the whole idea of branding inside the company? I propose we do just that.
I have just released three books at once: "Brand You50," "Project50" and "Professional Service Firm50." All three are about one topic: branding. But branding as viewed anew, from "inside" the company.
My case: I think the new productivity tools -- such as Enterprise Resource Planning systems from the likes of SAP and PeopleSoft -- will in the next 10 years decimate white collar jobs as we've known them for the last 150 years. I think the impact of these tools will be as great on the 90% of jobs that are today "white collar" as that of the forklift on the distribution center and containerization on the docklands.
Babbit and Babbitry are dead, or at least, breathing their last. The colorless cipher residing on the 34th floor of the tower in Chicago or Los Angeles is doomed.
Rebirth? Those who would survive the fast-approaching white collar onslaught will demonstrate clear distinction at what they do. "Distinct or extinct" is our formulation.
Interestingly, there is a group of individuals who instinctively understands all this -- the denizens of the largely unstudied professional service operations. These professionals in ad agencies, consultancies, law offices and accountancies have long survived by doing Work Worth Paying For. Fact is, almost every white collar task, from insurance claims processing to training, is performed somewhere by a genuine professional service company that gets paid for its efforts, sometimes a very pretty penny.
Our model for tomorrow's work is simple: Brand You. (You and I . . . performing work of distinction. Or else.) Brand Organization. (Every department transformed into a no baloney Professional Service Company, performing scintillating work worth paying for -- 100% of the time. Or else.) Brand Work. (All work transformed into projects of surpassing merit . . . WOW Projects! as we label them. Or else.)
Could it be this simple? Yes. And, of course, no.
What's the big deal? The typical department member in human resources or IS or finance or even engineering, in the crosshairs of the coming white collar productivity bazooka, doesn't have a clue about the nature of life at Arthur Andersen. Doesn't "get" the intense project life where every project and project deliverable is scrutinized with an electron microscope by one's partners and clients alike.
To be sure, not all professional service shops get high marks. Some are fabulous. (My book on professional service firms is dedicated to McKinsey & Co.'s legendary Marvin Bower and the late David Ogilvy. Geniuses both.) Some are awful, while they last. And most are, truth be told, pretty dull -- even in ad world. Nonetheless, all do follow one course: the performance of white collar tasks called client-centric projects -- for pay.
My take on this: How potentially cool! How great this white collar revolution could be! That is: Brand You! Brand Organization! Brand Work! Projects that matter! Work with impact! Work worth paying for! Work you can brag about five or 10 years from now! It's how I've lived for 30 years. And, frankly, I love it. Now, however, it is a matter of survival.
I must admit that all this scares the hell out of most who attend my seminars. Especially those with a bit of gray at the temples. Those who "get it" chortle with anxious anticipation. Those who don't almost cower in their seats.
I read recently that 40% of white collar workers want to have their work evaluated in terms of market pricing. The other 60% would prefer a guarantee of their current salary plus 5% a year. I fear that the 60% are in jeopardy for their professional careers. Dare I say it again: doomed! (Distinct or extinct, remember.)
Brand Inside -- branded individuals, branded organizational units, branded work itself -- fosters Brand Outside.
In other words, it raises the odds dramatically the company's products and services will be scintillating and memorable. I.E.: brandable.
We are, per the epigraph to this column, no doubt in the Great Age of the Brand. "Distinct or extinct" holds for the firm as a whole as well as the individual. My long-time peeve: We ignore the tight connection between the internal state of the organization and its external product and service offerings. If the innards are dull and dreary and lifeless and bureaucratic, then it is axiomatic that the product or service offerings will be as well.
I am delighted to leave it to my peers in the world of marketing and product development to pronounce on the future of advertising, etc. As for me, I see the internal battles as decisive: The War for Talent. The struggle to surmount Dilbert's cynicism and convert 100% of work into Projects that Matter.
An Australian executive, Phil Daniels, attended a seminar of mine in Sydney. He shared his philosophy: "Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre success." What a prescription for these times! These are technicolor times. Passion rules! Bravado rules! And passion, technicolor and bravado will rule for the foreseeable future. After all, what is a brand other than passion made palpable.
Welcome to The Great Age of Brand Everything. Stomp out mediocre successes!
Tom Peters is the author of seven worldwide best sellers and recently introduced the first three of a new series of books on Reinventing Work. He divides his