How does leadership feel to a stakeholder? The employee, the customer, the investor, the watchdog, the excluded? Remember that these people are no longer remote from leadership – the network delivers a new kind of "blind intimacy", wherein successes, failures, promises and betrayals are – now within minutes or hours rather than weeks or months – uncovered, shared and discussed. And acted upon, most importantly.
A failure of leadership is not experienced simply as a headline, a scandal. It's experienced by the stakeholder emotionally and physically. We feel a sinking of the heart, a hollowness. I call this entropy. We've been feeling entropy with increasing frequency. Just watch the news. Walk round and look at people. See the world as it is.
Great leadership, in contrast – with the surges in shared meaning it creates among stakeholders – actually builds not just purpose, but energy. It fuels the organisation, all those who cluster around it and those who come into contact.
Today's leadership challenge, before anything else, is to re-establish for commerce the shared platforms of meaning – among all stakeholder groups, not just customers – that will tell us where we're now heading. And why. And that will provide the fresh energy that fuels the confident, credible forward movement we long for.
Why is branding important here?
The world, in the meantime, is now so networked, so data-savvy, and increasingly cynical, that the failings of corporations and brands are a daily feature of the news.
We can change that. This paper is a manifesto, a form of compass, for a new way of thinking for business, a new way of leading for leaders, and a new, critical, role in the unfolding drama, for the discipline of branding.
We need – a crucial example of the new thinking – to accommodate a new and powerful challenge to leaders and the brands they represent – the global networked tribe.
As presented here, branding in The Age of Meaning is the mindset, the processes, the organisational commitment that drive this new shared energy and meaning, that authentic leaders must now create, through every touchpoint, to deliver and optimise a virtuous cycle of positive stakeholder experience and expectation.
The new challenge
This is like nothing that's ever been seen before.
Or is it? Think about Carphone Warehouse, John Lewis, Harley Davidson, Apple. These are not simply great brands. They are great organisations whose sense of shared meaning extends far out from their corporate headquarters. For them, brand is not mere messaging and imaging. It's doing. Their branding is woven into their beliefs, the way they behave. And the way they are led.