The Joys of Burberry, Part Two – Brand-Corporate: the authenticity of a business that communicates like its brand

about two minutes into the above video Angela Ahrendts, the outgoing CEO of Burberry, delivers a marketing masterclass:

“we needed to keep the story authentic. we needed to keep it pure. we knew we were going to target different audiences. we knew that the mediums would be different. we knew it would be so much more global than maybe things has been in the past, but the story had to be the same. so we said everything we’re gonna do is target this Millennial customer, and if we do that we’re going to have to speak in their language, and their language was rapidly becoming digital. so we studied this customer and then adjusted each of our strategies in order to be relevant and authentic to this audience that we were catering to. because I think everything you do going forward, you can’t do anything the traditional way. it has to be so visual, and we hit on this word ‘energy’ early on and said we want everything we do to have energy.”

it’s a very elegantly conceived and expressed set of convictions: things Burberry knew, clarity of audience targeting, the implications of engaging that audience on their own terms, and a set of beliefs that challenge convention and set a strategic behavioural direction for the brand. ask yourself how many of the brands you do or have worked on have that clarity of focus?

I wrote about the joys of Burberry’s marketing back in July. I described my admiration for their flip of the online / physical retail approach, the digital-first strategy and the pleasure in watching kisses fly across the world; and I described the prolific investment of time and energy into content.

what’s so interesting and awesome about this content strategy however, is the extent to which it’s spread into Burberry’s corporate culture … they have an entire section on their YouTube channel devoted to corporate videos. from financial results to exec travelogues, taking in a discussion of the group’s acquisition of its stores and related assets in China on the way. the video content is an authentic, consistent voice not of the brand, but of the business.

there is much to admire. this is a business with the story it wants to tell and conversation it wants to have firmly in its own hands. it’s not solely dependent on it’s relationship with reporters and journalists to share its news, agenda, and take on the world. the story as they see it is there for anyone to watch, not hidden in a column in the financial section or the ‘recent press releases’ page of the corporate website.

but more than any of this its a glorious demonstration of the business behaving in comms the same way as would the brand. this is important. and its rare. I can think of only a few businesses that try and succeed in doing so. mine certainly doesn’t … although I’d rather like it to. because more than anything else it’s a phenomenally effective way for a company to communicate to the constituency who are hopefully its most ardent advocates – it’s own employees.

of course there is an obvious danger; the assertion that such a ‘brand-corporate’ strategy is nothing more than a smart and elegant attempt to over-control the message. that a business journalist can’t question a YouTube video. that a shareholder can’t challenge a per-recorded statement. or that style will mask substance. to which there is only one simple response … just behave on brand: in the knowledge that consistency, transparency and authenticity will out.

and you don’t get more transparent than a YouTube video of Burberry’s Chairman Sir John Peace talking with an outgoing and incoming CEO about the news that Ahrendts will step down as Chief Executive Officer by mid-2014, with Bailey (on whom I have a purely marketing crush) assuming the role of Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer.

of course its well-packaged, and of course its practiced and of course well-finished.

but so is a great fashion brand.

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