Aligning Conflicting Agendas

Aligning Conflicting Agendas

A New York design consultancy is rebranding a 500 year-old Swiss specialty brand for the global market after its purchase by a Tokyo-based multi-national. In addition to the Swiss and Japanese executives, the client employed a team of New York based marketing executives to oversee the transition. Research showed that the market opportunity was with young women, but the marketing team includes only one woman. The creative team had been through several design presentations, each greeted initially with enthusiasm, but derailed after subsequent feedback. The root cause was misaligned agendas, and until they were synchronized, failure would continue.

How can this situation be successfully resolved?

1. Think about the context

What's going on? Start with what you think contributes to the impasse:

Three distinct cultures are at work: a New York design and marketing culture; an historic family led Swiss brand; and a global Japanese company.

The purchase of the Swiss company by the Japanese multi-national is a life-changing event for the Swiss.

Leading the acquisition is a major career event for the Japanese executives.

The senior executives are all men, except one senior marketer, in New York. Preliminary research has shown that the marketing opportunity is with women.

2. Gather the facts; understand all points of view

Speak with each of the key individuals in person, not via email. With email you'll miss those important asides that people do naturally in conversation.

3. Involve the complete team in finding a solution

Begin your calls by saying that you realize the creative has not met expectations and that this call is to help you understand why. Do not defend the work.

Let them talk, then ask open-ended follow-up questions to elicit their unfiltered thoughts

Ask what each thinks are the key issues for the other team members.

4. Seek to align differing views

Moving a successful specialty brand to the mass market offers tremendous potential. That's what inspired the Japanese acquisition of the Swiss company and the hiring of New York marketers.

You can't align historically different cultures but you can help them rediscover their common goal: creating a mass-market brand.

5. Understand what the issues mean to each party

Those non-threating investigative phone calls uncovered the personal issues, the corporate perspective and insights to help move forward.

The Swiss family is emotionally invested in every aspect of their enterprise. The package design is their personal icon. It bears the family crest and, naturally, a very masculine look.

The Japanese executives see the mass-market opportunity clearly. They just want the returns as soon as possible.

The New York marketers know that young women will be the first group to try the product and are frustrated with the male executives', who don't act as though they trust their own research or the marketers' instinct.

6. Prototype designs make concepts real

Discussions of how to appeal to young women are several steps removed from the reality of that appeal. Market analysis, focus groups, taste tests, intercept studies and their subsequent research reports don't generate emotional reactions. But well-crafted prototypes bring a product to life and evoke real emotional responses. So the Swiss rebel because the new package is designed to evoke a positive response from young women not aging Swiss executives. The Japanese don't "get" the package either but acquiesce, hoping that somehow consensus will happen so the product will get to market. While the NY marketers see their opportunity to get it right for the market dwindling.

7. Tangibly demonstrate a solution

With the findings from their investigation in hand brand design team formed a plan:

- First, they enlisted the New York marketing leader because she supported the creative direction and had the most to loose in the short term.

- Then, they created a poster that connected the Swiss brand heritage to the prototype package that appealed to young women.

- And they conducted a series of video interviews with women sampling, and reacting to the poster and the prototype.

- Finally, they arranged a meeting in Geneva with all parties.

8. Apologize for your contribution to any problems; ask for help to move forward

Put the prototypes on display, organized from most to least appealing.

Start by saying, "As I was preparing for our meeting I realized that we hadn't shown how your brand could use its place in history, honor its Swiss heritage and celebrate your family's achievements. Please accept my apologies."

Remind them of their common goal: "You have a powerful brand that has maintained business through 500 years of turbulent European history. We want to share this remarkable achievement with the entire world."

9. Results

The videos illustrated the emotional appeal. The clips demonstrated that the young women all "got it." The Swiss understood the logic of the creative direction and were able to see how their brand history did resonate. The Japanese were happy to have achieved consensus required to move the effort forward. The New York marketers were thrilled. They finally had the package they needed to succeed.

Ted Leonhardt

Ted Leonhardt

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