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The Secret Life of Brands: Google, McLaren and Ocado on strategy versus culture (Part one)

By Jessica Davis | Consultant Journalist

The Clearing


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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March 29, 2017 | 4 min read

We are a species that thrives on imagination. Having a dangerously deep conversation with friends or getting into a heated discussion on something we hadn’t previously considered of importance is vital for expanding our outlook and generating varied ideas. However, in the working world, we often shed these fantasies and get stuck into our job, discussing only top layer issues like margins, marketing strategies and creative campaigns.

Wild Cards

Google, McLaren and Ocado use Wild Cards to discuss strategy versus culture

Hitting targets is imperative in keeping a company afloat, but isn’t asking provocative questions what keeps our creative minds ticking and allows us enough perspective to make better business decisions?

Brand consultancy The Clearing decided to bring this reality to light when it hosted The Secret Life of Brands earlier this month, an event in which three brands played Wild Cards – a card game The Clearing developed with The School of Life to help brands define their space and encourage conversations about key issues that are critical but can be tricky to broach. The cards ask intimate questions like ‘Do your colleagues see your brand the same way as your customers?’ and ‘Which person at work is best at sabotaging your brand?’ – a disruptive technique which exposes a more human approach to decision making.

The Drum Network has followed Wild Card’s journey and will be sharing one question each month with the thought-provoking discussion that followed, to encourage brands to share their thoughts and reconnect with the importance of intimacy.

Question one – Strategy versus culture

Held at The School of Life, a panel consisting of John Allert (group brand director at McLaren), Kristian Brugts (group head of brand at Ocado) and David Benson (director of global media strategy and planning at Google) were asked five of 100 Wild Card questions to provoke conversations about their brand and encourage them to see it from new perspectives. The audience also got involved and asked questions, reflecting on their own choice of play.

“You can choose between having a great culture or a brilliant strategy – which do you opt for?”, was the first question presented to the panel. Surprisingly, everyone’s responses aligned:

“Everyone has a strategy until they’re punched in the face; a strategy is a wish list of what you hope will happen if everything works in the right way, but inevitably it’s not”, said David Benson. “The only thing that will help you adapt is culture. You would be surprised by how little strategy Google has. If you have a strategy driven business it doesn’t scale – it's a micro-managed pyramid of drones. Culture always beats strategy, strategy is an expected path.”

John Allert followed: “It’s foolhardy to think a great strategy will result in a fantastic culture. If you give people a great culture you can build a great strategy; it’s the culture that makes it all work. Strategy isn’t linear – if you don’t have a great culture, you can’t adapt.”

Mirroring this view, Kristian Brugts stated that strategy is worthless without a culture. “Strategy is fluid, you need people who can adapt with you – and that can only come from culture. It’s an attitude, an animal thing”, he claimed.

According to the panel, culture triumphs over having a killer strategy. But, is it impossible to implement a strategy without a great culture? How would your brand differ from Google, McLaren and Ocado?

Read what Google, McLaren and Ocado had to say on dedicated thinking time (part two).

The next question of the series will go live the week of 22 May.

Creative Google McLaren

Content by The Drum Network member:

The Clearing

The Clearing helps clients create clear defendable territory around their brands. We've been voted the UK's number 1 brand consultancy for two consecutive years by The Drum Network, and we're proud of our award-winning clients including McLaren, Lidl, HSBC, Ascot, Breast Cancer Now, Eurostar, One Feeds Two, Tom Kerridge and Fitness First.\

We recently created Wild Cards with The School of Life, a box of 100 killer questions to help you understand your brand better, launching it with a series of panels including Google, Ocado, Ascot and McLaren. Now we've turned 25 of the questions into a book, pairing 25 questions with 25 brand leaders from the world's most interesting businesses. One chapter, one question. One point of view to help you solve your biggest business challenges, with anecdotes and anarchic strategies from brands including Google, V&A, Comic Relief, Ascot and Gap. The result is 'Wild Thinking' - a book for people curious about ways to think differently about work. It's being published in May 2019 by Kogan Page.

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