Gallery owner Johann König on the digital transformation of the art sector, the significance of personal experiences and the allure of art for young target groups. An interview with Eva Simone Lihotzky.

EVA SIMONE LIHOTZKY: Mr König, you are regarded as one of Germany’s leading gallery owners. In recent months, you have designed and implemented a number of digital formats, such as an exhibition called The Artist Is Online together with Anika Meier. The international group exhibition could be seen offline at the KÖNIG GALERIE and online in Decentraland, a virtual world based on blockchain technology. What has been your experience with formats like these?

JOHANN KÖNIG: We are initiating many of these digital formats on www. misa.art with a view to being accessible and removing barriers and thresholds. For instance, in Decentraland – a virtual world based on blockchain technology – we held an online exhibition that ended with an online auction. However, we found that it was very difficult to access and that collectors were finding it difficult to buy an NFT – the underlying process was too complex (editor’s note: non-fungible tokens – NFTs for short – are counterfeit-proof certificates stored on a blockchain, effectively rendering digital artworks unique). As a result, we set up our own marketplace that allows people to pay with credit cards and bank transfers. This makes the market more accessible.

Do you think the art world will hold onto digital platforms like this in future or are they just a passing fad?

JK: No, they’re definitely here to stay. What’s also interesting is the technological possibilities that it opens up. That’s why we are planning to sell fractionalised artworks on www.misa.art as well – so people can buy part of an artwork instead of the whole thing. We believe that this will get far more people interested in art and lead to a greater identification with the market.

In another interview, you say that one of the main functions of the art world is to allow people to experience art more. In the business world, this would be termed ‘customer centricity’. What does the art sector need to do to be more customer- centric in its thinking?

JK: To answer this, I asked myself: “Why don’t people buy art? Or, to put it another way, what reasons are there for not buying art?” We then tried to identify and eliminate these objections one by one. In most cases, it’s because people don’t know the price or aren’t able to determine if the given price is reasonable – or sometimes it’s trivial things like not knowing how much it will cost to transport the artwork home. We resolved all of this with a software that brings all of these factors together

Immersive art experiences are an art form where the audience takes centre stage – just like Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol does with his works. What makes these artists’ work so special?

JK: First of all, I believe that art is always a holistic experience. And that you always need to feel it – not just see it. When you look at Refik Anadol’s art, it’s like being hypnotised: they are always moving and, thanks to AI, always new. That’s why it’s like a kind of meditative performance. He has succeeded in bringing aesthetics and concept together.

Do people who visit an immersive art exhibition have a different connection to art than they might have with traditional exhibitions?

JK: For me, it’s important for all KÖNIG GALERIE exhibitions to be immersive experiences – so we can use a space to let people experience something that they wouldn’t normally be able to. It’s only by offering your visitors an experience money can’t buy that you will make a lasting impression on them. At the same time, I believe that the experience factor in itself is becoming increasingly important. And that, in the age of social media, it’s very important to share the experiences with others, so that they in turn will feel compelled to experience them and will also be in a position to do so.

Do you think there will be more and more collaborations between commercial enterprises and artists in order to create exactly the kind of experiences we are talking about here?

JK: We are getting more and more commissions in this area in particular. This is because companies – or their brands – are not familiar with this kind of thing, don’t understand how the art market works and don’t know what relevant positions there are for specific target groups. We, on the other hand, have plenty of expertise and know what the right artistic position is for any given company. This is definitely an area that is not directly related to our gallery work where we are positioning ourselves to a greater and greater extent. We take a close look at the companies in question and determine what they stand for, what they want to achieve with the artistic collaboration and what target group they are aiming to reach. We also carry out a data-based analysis so that we can find the right position for the right company.

And then when you have your findings, you come together with the artists to create experiences that will make a lasting impression on the companies’ end consumers?

JK: It’s a mixture of things. It needs to be related to the brand and, in some cases, it needs to sell the brand – and of course it also aims to make something possible. But due to the fascination for art among a younger generation – or a wider group of people – we are also noticing that more and more companies are exploring the possibilities offered by art.

Why does art play such a great role among younger generations in particular?

JK: It’s because their own creativity plays a more important role. And because art and their own preferences and niche interests are a lot more accessible these days thanks to the internet and social media.

So you believe that, if companies differentiate themselves through various art collaborations, this could put them higher on the radar of younger generations?

JK: Absolutely! Thank you for talking to us, Mr König.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Vincent de Paul is the sole shareholder of one of the most successful mineral water companies in Germany, Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH. The order uses the company’s profits to finance social and charity projects. How compatible are Christian values and business-minded thinking? How do these values shape corporate culture? An interview with Superior General Sister Rosa Maria Dick and Adelholzener Managing Director Stefan Hoechter.

FLORIAN HALLER: Sustainability is one of the most important issues of our time – if not the most important. You might say that sustainability is part of Adelholzener’s DNA. Mr Hoechter, what is sustainable brand management in your view?

STEFAN HOECHTER: We have just completed the first Adelholzener Alpenquellen sustainability report and couldn’t help but notice how much people’s understanding of sustainability has changed. It used to be about how much energy the company needed or where savings could be made. Today, sustainability is defined in much broader terms. It not only includes ecological and economic responsibility but social responsibility too. Within these three areas, we identified our materiality matrix with the relevant areas of responsibility – such as climate protection and energy – and this forms the basis for our sustainability strategy.

How do you practise ecological sus-tainability in your brand management activities?

SH: Sustainability is something we take very seriously indeed. Even though our Active O2 water and parts of our Adelholzener range are distributed throughout Germany, the main focus of our sales is right here in Bavaria. This is also where our advertising is primarily concentrated and where we record our strongest growth. We have also come up with a very future-oriented packaging  – and have a reuse quota of over 80%, which is way above the rest of the sector.

Sustainability and good sales figures aren’t always 100% compatible. Or are they?

SH: It is possible to have sustainable business practices and still be economically viable. We are reinforcing this trend, for example by selling our products in reusable packaging in the region and highlighting this in our advertising. We generally set great store by gearing our brand management firmly towards consumers. Only companies that truly understand consumers and have a certain humility towards them will ultimately be able to develop and market products that are target group-specific and geared towards actual usage situations.

As shareholders, what role does the order play in determining the com-pany’s direction and shaping the corporate culture?

SH: When Sister Rosa Maria took over as Superior General in 2016, it soon became very clear that the values the order stands for are the same ones that are growing in importance at Adelholzener Alpenquellen. The order wanted us to implement these values proactively and in the company’s everyday activities. To begin with, it wasn’t clear whether they could be applied in the same way to a business entity. We embarked on a journey together, a journey with an unknown destination that involved lots of discussions and values workshops. In the end, we actually succeeded in reinterpreting the congregation’s five values for our company and also made them readily understandable for all our employees. We are currently in the process of anchoring these values even more firmly within the company by holding employee training courses. Regardless of the values, the fact that our shareholder is a religious order that invests the company’s profits – after making the operational investments needed to safeguard jobs in the long term – entirely in social projects, is social responsi-bility in its purest form.

Sister Rosa Maria, what made you want to anchor your order’s values in the company as well?

Sr. ROSA MARIA DICK: We formulated he five classic values of the Munich Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy back in 2006, adding a mission based on these values a year later. What prompted this was the fact that more and more Sisters had left active service within the company and were being replaced by lay employees. They did a good job, but we weren’t sure if they had sufficient moral guidance. We felt an obligation to provide this moral guidance and, with this in mind, defined our values clearly – in the form they currently take. In other words, what do I understand by mercy and compassion, or by the value ‘Serving – with one another – for one another’? What does that mean for us as an order, in the hospital run by the order – or at Adelholzener?

What relevance do Christian values have in the modern world?

Sr. RMD: The possibilities that are now being offered by science, technology and the digital revolution know virtually no bounds. And this is precisely why human and Christian values are so important in the modern world. I recently read ‘Digital Ethics’ by Professor Sarah Spiekermann, in which she writes about the importance of human values. These are particularly relevant now because there is a greater danger than ever of our being steamrolled by digital technology. And this technology can no longer be seen as a good thing if it replaces people rather than assisting them. However, there has been a slight change in how these values are experienced these days. This is why I have always believed that it’s important for people to be able to ‘experience’ our five values and feel them within themselves – and our values workshops are set up along these lines as well. For instance, we deal with the following question: what does a value like mercy or compassion mean to me in my personal and professional surroundings?

SH: Our code of values includes the following: “We create and nurture a culture of appreciation. We are cordial, benevolent, trusting and appreciative by conviction. Because this inspires and strengthens us. We respect and appreciate each person and what makes them different. To be able to appreciate other people, I first need to be able to appreciate myself. We maintain this culture of appreciation together so that we can grow, develop and be grateful and happy.” The point about appreciating yourself came from Sister Rosa Maria. If you don’t strengthen yourself, you won’t have the strength to help others. And if you’re feeling run down, you won’t have the energy to live your life. We feel that this values-based training enriches us as a company.

And how are these values put into practice in everyday company life?

Sr. RMD: In every values workshop, I point out once again that values are not something that can be prescribed and then taken “three times a day”. People need to be able to experience values themselves. I need to be familiar with values, understand them, question them and then accept them for myself. Only then can I apply them and pass them on to others.

SH: We are currently in the process of preparing guidelines in which these very values are anchored. My fellow managing directors and I are making every effort to apply these values in our organisation and to make them tangible at all times. Of course, we don’t always succeed. In some areas, this is still quite a challenge, but we have every confidence that we will be able to communicate the values here in the future too.

Sr. RMD: We employ almost 600 people at Adelholzener. Our values are a kind of guardrail when working with all these people in all kinds of situations. They are not a nice-to-have addition or a cherry on top, but are primarily there to help us structure and live our everyday lives. This includes making decisions, finding the right staff, encouraging them and also trying to resolve crises in a way that is in keeping with our values. For instance, if we have to part ways with an employee, how can this be done in a manner that reflects these values?

Quite a challenge for managers, I would imagine…

Sr. RMD: Values are not always all that easy to put into practice. Of course our employees look to their managers but they aren’t infallible either. Values-based work can sometimes mean admitting mistakes and apologising to their staff. Values like ‘appreciating life’, ‘serving – with one another – for one another’ and ‘creating and nurturing a culture of ap-preciation’ can also be conveyed through an apology.

Sister Rosa Maria, has there ever been a situation in which you were forced to choose between church values and economic viability?

Sr. RMD: There was one time we had a very strong season that led to sup-ply bottlenecks. Our management had no choice other than to ask employees to come in to work on Sundays as well. This represented a moral dilemma for me too because Sunday has been a protected day of rest for decades and I was being asked to make a decision on the spot. First of all, management defined what exactly was meant by Sunday work. In this case, it meant that about 75 employees would be working for ten or twelve Sundays at the most – they would work for ten days and have four days off. This was also family-friendly and would go on for no more than half a year. And we saw that it worked! Management could easily have said: “Wake up and get real! Can’t you see that we might go out of business if we can’t keep our customers supplied?” Instead, they were respectful of the Sisters, of Sunday as a day of rest and of our employees at all times. I recall thinking that our management were now better than we were at putting values-based work into practice.

Adelholzener’s profits are channel-led into the charities you support, for example providing additional staff for retirement homes and a new hospital with beds for homeless people, to name just two. Is that something that motivates the people working at the company?

SH: When talking to employees about value-based work, we used to hear questions like: “Okay, but how does that affect forklift drivers?” Even just knowing that the end result of their work is going to help other people motivates them. We sell mineral water, which is a great and healthy product. And, once we have made the necessary investments in our operations, the remaining profits will go to areas where we all know that they will benefit people who really need it. Everything we earn goes to ill or needy people. And that is a satisfying and rewarding feeling.

Would you say that companies with a religious order or church as their shareholder are often so successful because they are focused on a long-term corporate strategy rather than on quarterly figures?

SH: The point about the long-term strategy is certainly true. The congrega-tion takes a more long-term view of business than a stock company would, for example. But, interestingly enough, that doesn’t mean that there is less of a focus on profits. We can sense that the Sisters are involved and are keeping a close eye on our business. And yes, we are earning money – we want to, and we need to as well. But it’s different in our case. We know that the order congregation trusts us and this in turn creates an obligation on our part. I’d be devastated if this mutual trust and appreciation between the order congregation and our management team were to break down for some reason. The mutual appreciation is always there and it commits us to one another.

The order is not only Adelholzener’s sole shareholder but, through the advisory board, is also involved in all business decisions. Do you discuss everything together?

SH: There hasn’t been a single advertisement or product that wasn’t seen and approved by the Sisters before being released. Everything we do also needs to have the blessing of the Sisters and the advisory board.

Are there times when you have to put your foot down, Sister Rosa Maria?

Sr. RMD: Last year, we rejected an advertising slogan that didn’t sit right for us. But then we quickly came up with a new suggestion together that everyone was happy with.

Why have you been a little less reticent about talking about your charity projects in your more recent company communications?

SH: People today want to know everything about how a company creates its products, how it treats its employees and what its attitude towards sustainability is. At the same time, social media are becoming more and more important. Given these trends, we see no reason not to shine a spotlight on the good work we do. Such as letting people know that we are building a lift in a retirement and care home and will be covering all the costs so that resident fees won’t be affected in any way. I think these are the things that people really want to know about. We had also discussed the possibility of having slogans – for example, two of these translate roughly as “Drink for a good cause” or “The power to do good” – and there are a variety of approaches that can be used to communicate this.

These days, very few women join religious orders. What does that mean for your order – and what does it mean for the future of Adelholzener?

Sr. RMD: The order is getting smaller and may even cease to exist one day. But I have no doubt that our mission – to spread mercy and compassion – will remain. We will need this in the future. That is the reason for our values-based work, which I am sure will be continued by other people in some form or other. Our mission as an order is to create opportunities for ourselves and for lay employees to help people who are less fortunate than themselves. There are many young people who are looking for meaning in their lives and, yes, maybe we could be even a little more inventive and create new places for them to come together.

Thank you for talking to us.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

The coronavirus crisis caught retailers unawares – and there’s no going back to business as usual. So what does the future hold for retail? Florian Haller asked s.Oliver Group CEO Claus-Dietrich Lahrs how people’s purchasing behaviour changed during the pandemic, which strategy will allow s.Oliver to bring its customers back to its stationary stores and why department stores haven’t fallen behind the times.

FLORIAN HALLER: The COVID-19 crisis hit s.Oliver hard and led to a decline in sales. What has your experience been like?

CLAUS-DIETRICH LAHRS: It was an unnecessary crisis for the entire industry. During the lockdowns we constantly tried to make it clear to the authorities that it was a bad idea to shut down something that is so important to people – places where they can continue to interact with people, treat themselves and browse great clothes, and where the risk of infection is extremely low anyway. For us as a company, the coronavirus was a development that took us by surprise. 70% of our business was suddenly gone (the remaining 30% are online). We tried to stay in contact with our customers and share creative ideas with them, assuring them we were there for them and that our collections were still available. For example, we presented the latest collections in various stores using WhatsApp and video calls. But of course this can only make up for a fraction of the business we lost.

Were you able to find any positives from this phase?

CDL: We said that, despite the crisis, we still wanted to carry on developing our big projects, improving our speed, innovation, shop concepts and shop experience, both in our e-commerce as well as in physical retail. And above all, for our collections to be more closely aligned with the market and reflect the trends that we are observing. We want to accompany this process with digital development technology so we can reduce the time taken for everything that was previously only possible by physical means and often very time-consuming. I think we used this time wisely. One drawback, of course, was that we didn’t know when we would be able to open again. That’s why we were cautious about making predictions for the second half of 2021. Overall, we gave the company an enormous innovation boost that made it clear that, once the restrictions officially end, we will have a faster, more agile organisation that is more open to change than before the COVID crisis.

Has the coronavirus crisis changed how you see customers? Are they more at the fore now?

CDL: During the crisis, we gave a lot more thought to the kind of messages we wanted to send out to our customers without them having to actually come to our stores. On the one hand, we spent a lot of time working out how to use the e-shop to communicate with them. And on the other, we had to figure out how to produce digital content for products that were previously only presented at the POS – which is still our most important channel – and ways to make it so effective that it brings our customers back to our stores.

To be honest, as a customer in a store, I don’t often have the feeling that the focus is on me. Customer centricity doesn’t seem to have really established itself in stationary stores yet. How do you see it?

CDL: We have observed that customers these days don’t just drop by anymore. They are much better informed and arrive at our stores with more specific things in mind so we need to be better prepared for that.

What does that mean specifically?

CDL: We need to give a different kind of welcome to our customers and serve them better while they are in the store. That doesn’t just mean serving them in the sense of: here’s the product, there’s the changing room, off you go. It means keeping the dialogue going and the customer engaged. That never used to be necessary in our business. Our attitude used to be: we have a certain flow of customers from which we need to generate enough sales and make sure we are prepared by having enough goods in stock. Today it’s all about giving the people who do come to our stores the feeling that it was worth their while. And that’s why the store, unlike the online shop, needs to be a place where customers experience something special. It’s no longer just about displaying the goods in the right colours and sizes – something has to actually happen from the moment the customer enters the store to when they leave it.

So the store is to some extent losing its logistics function and gaining more of a brand function.

CDL: Yes, definitely.

How will I be able to experience that as a customer in the s.Oliver stores?

CDL: To name just one example, we will be opening a fantastic new store in Munich with a large mezzanine area in December. We decided to fill this space with art that represents who we are and where we come from. The whole craftsmanship aspect – the feel of the textile and the fabrics – is still very important to us. And as we want to convey that in an artistic way, we have commissioned Berlin artist Peter Lindenberg – and also given him plenty of freedom. In the past, stores were just places for transactions, but that can’t remain the case in the future. That’s why art is going to play a more important role for us – by organising exhibitions with this artist at regular intervals, we can make the Munich store much more than a place where transactions happen.

There has been a marked shift from physical to online sales. How will these two sales channels develop at s.Oliver in the future?

CDL: We are observing that a lot of customers who never used to shop online suddenly developed a taste for it during lockdown – and are now really into doing things online. But we can also see that there is something missing in online retail: the physical experience and being able to hold the products in your hands. Only then can you get a feel for what kind of a fabric it is, how it feels when you’re wearing it, what it feels like to the touch. Our online shop now has a very important function for us, because it’s where we present our largest range of products and more and more information on everything including fits. That ensures that the customers who come to our stores will be a lot better informed. But it’s a very sad state of affairs when people are not only working from home all day long but also ordering everything online on top of that. We are noticing that the return to stores, especially on Saturdays, has become incredibly important. In the past, we also had quite evenly distributed footfall during the week because people were working in the city centres and would often pop into our stores during their lunch break or after work. But everyone working from home soon put paid to that. That means we need to be a lot better prepared on Saturdays – and hopefully on Sundays one day too.

One term that keeps cropping up is OMO – online merges with offline. Is s.Oliver planning to integrate digital technologies into its sales strategy in the future?

CDL: We already have, with our app. If we can get our customers on the app first, then that will be the biggest revenue driver. But the app shouldn’t just be all about transactions either. For example, we are thinking about presenting smaller virtual fashion shows on it at the beginning of each month, when we have a new collection in stock, to show people that it’s worth coming back to our stores and taking a look around. These days, everyone is trying to gain a better understanding of which platforms their customers are spending time on, where they can reach them and where they can credibly appeal to them. We are still in the early stages of figuring out where and how we can play a part with the required authenticity. But I think that the traditional separation of physical and digital – both from a channel and an experience perspective – won’t be around for much longer.

Department stores are regarded as outdated models and currently having something of a hard time in Germany. How do you see their future developing?

CDL: Good department stores will still be very important in the future. If we look at what’s happening at department stores like KaDeWe in Berlin or Breuninger, there is a legitimate expectation that these stores will stick around. But they need to offer a good mix of brands, an in-store café and special moments during the year that are turned into a visible theme in the store. And of course tourism is a very important point here: department stores tend to do better in cities with plenty of tourism. In the future it is likely that there won’t be department stores in all of Germany’s cities – and run-of-the mill department stores in medium-sized cities will certainly struggle.

s.Oliver has been pursuing an international expansion strategy since 1998. Which markets are important for you and what potential do you see here for the future?

CDL: I think we would be wise to concentrate on the markets where our brands are already known. That is a basic requirement for continued commercial success. We certainly won’t become a global brand and won’t be setting out to conquer America and China either. But we are already well established in the Benelux countries, Croatia, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Our main focus will be on developing these markets – with our own online shop and our own stores with an even more impressive range of products.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. 

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. You can read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the eighth issue under the central theme “A Human-driven Future: How People Shape the Digital Tomorrow. Click here to access the e-paper.

How do you empower a premium brand for the post-COVID world? And what are the challenges that lie ahead with regard to changing consumer behaviour and preferences? De’Longhi Global CMO Fabrizio Campanella on the right combination of short-term activity and long-term aspects, the art of successful international campaign coordination and the power of emotions.

MATTHIAS BRÜLL: How did De’Longhi manage to navigate through 2020?

FABRIZIO CAMPANELLA: At the beginning it was very important to keep calm. Of course the COVID-19 pandemic required us to take action and change some of the ways we operate, but not to change everything. We always try to keep a long-term perspective, so we decided not to change certain things like our media or marketing investments. Yes, the short-term environment was very challenging, very unpredictable, but we thought both investments were important in the long term. That was our approach in 2020 and it still is in 2021 – to find the right combination of short-term activity and long-term outlook.

Has the fact that people were forced to stay at home had a positive impact on your business?

FC: For many of the categories we are in, the pandemic has had a positive impact because of people spending a lot more time at home. However, this merely accelerated trends that had already emerged prior to COVID. The coffee market was booming before; the coronavirus only accelerated that. We have benefited from the fact that many consumers are used to drinking certain types of coffee specialities that are probably more espresso-oriented when they are out of their homes – but that is not the coffee they drink in their own four walls. At home they might be okay with a simpler, more traditional way of preparing coffee. People not being able to enjoy the out-of-home coffee experience during lockdown is what accelerated the trend for the same kind of coffee at home.

You even increased your marketing investments in 2021. What are the main aspects of this and why?

FC: It’s true that we are increasing our media investment, especially in the second half of the year, but this is a longterm commitment. There are still a lot of countries where we don’t yet have top-of-mind awareness. Not in Germany, of course, but our products are still niche in other countries, so we need to build categories and a loyal consumer base. And it takes time to do that.

You have been working with a global ambassador since the summer. Why is Brad Pitt the right fit for your brand?

FC: If you look at Brad’s awareness, he is the number one across regions from the US to Asia and also across consumer segments. And we were looking for an ambassador who was also strong in terms of their values. I think Brad is a perfect fit for our brand DNA because, like us, he sets great store by quality. He is also very focused on design, which will also become even more important for us in the future.

The campaign with Brad Pitt is your first real global campaign. Why did you wait until 2021?

FC: I think the conditions are right now. We have strong products and the right level of investments and have expanded all markets above a certain threshold, which really allows us to bring them all together on the same communication platform.

Are the markets happy with the campaign and will you stick to that consistency in your communication?

FC: It was relatively easy once the markets were on board. They saw the opportunity with the global ambassador and understood that it wasn’t possible to run this thing independently and that to maximise your opportunity you had to have a coordinated approach. I prefer to talk about coordination rather than centralisation because there’s always a balance. There are things that need to be done and executed locally and decided locally, but in a coordinated framework. We decided to go live on 2 September. That was coordinated. The format of the launch events was somehow consistent, but local markets had the freedom to organise a specific format according to their market reality and business reality. So it’s always a combination of the two. And that’s why I think it’s also the path to take in the future.

Are retail supply chains having an impact for you? Is that posing a problem?

FC: The retail environment has been disrupted in the last few months. So of course there are big swings between one chain or another, online and offline. This was one of the most challenging factors for us: managing the business and adapting to the changing environment. There are some distribution channels that were very relevant in the past but are less relevant today. We have an online explosion in countries like the UK, where 90% of our business is now online. This is a fundamental change to our supply chain because it’s a completely different way of working.

De’Longhi’s brand positioning has been driven by a strong focus on design and technological leadership, the objective of matching people’s needs at home. So people-centricity seems to be a crucial driver of your business. How is that reflected in your organisation and daily work?

FC: Design is important for us, as is technological innovation. We are a company that is very focused on technical improvement, technical innovation and technical excellence in our products. But it is also important – and this is something I am personally pushing – to consider the emotional aspect, which is about consumer-centricity. Yes, consumers need better products from a technology standpoint, but they also need to have a good emotional experience. This is something that now features prominently in our conversations on the marketing side, and the evolution of the product portfolio will also go in that direction.

Is the physical point of sale still the place where you provide your consumer with the full brand experience or have most of them already switched to the digital experience?

FC: Of course the digital experience is becoming fundamental. But I also think that the physical touchpoints will remain important. They will change and the reason for their importance will change too. So these days it is probably less about distribution and more about the experience. But at the end of the day, if you really want to buy a fully automatic coffee or espresso machine for the first time, you need to taste the espresso. That is something you cannot do digitally. Just imagine countries like China: as a market, China is further ahead in terms of digital channels. Everything is digital in China, but if you need to convince the Chinese consumer to buy an espresso machine for the first time, I assume they will need to taste the espresso in the stores first. The whole experience aspect is something that will remain fundamental.

What is your strategy for providing your target audience with the best brand experience?

FC: There are probably three things that are key for me. One is consistency. Be consistent and true to yourself throughout the brand experience. Being relevant is also important – talking to your customers based on what they really need and focusing on the emotional benefits of your brand and your product. So if you’re consistent, if you’re relevant and if you’re warm, you will have all the elements in place to offer the best brand experience.

This article first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. You can read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the eighth issue under the central theme “A Human-driven Future: How People Shape the Digital Tomorrow. Click here to access the e-paper.

We want it all and we want it now! During the coronavirus pandemic, people have developed new expectations when it comes to how they want to work. Looking for self-fulfilment and purpose, young generations in particular want both a career and personal well-being. Wolf Ingomar Faecks calls this phenomenon the “Nowness Economy” and advises companies that want to attract top talents in the long term to take on board and implement five key principles.

Creating a Framework for Cooperative Self-Organisation

April 2021 could well be seen as a turning point: the month in which some four million Americans resigned from their jobs – a phenomenon known as ‘the great resignation’. And, according to a study by Microsoft, this could increase in coming months, including outside the USA. This is because an estimated 41% of the global workforce are considering leaving their employer. This approaching wave of resignations can be attributed largely to three reasons:

Firstly, many employees no longer have a connection with their employers. Interpersonal communication has suffered because interaction has dwindled or is now based entirely online, leading many employees to feel that they are not noticed or appreciated.

Secondly, the pandemic has reinforced the employees’ view that they can only learn new skills or take the next step up the career ladder by moving to a new company. They don’t see any (further) opportunities for upskilling or advancement in their own company as things currently stand.

Thirdly, after a year riddled with change, employees are looking for a new direction to take. Rather than simply returning to their old pre-pandemic life, they want to pick up on the positive aspects of recent months and use these as a basis for making lasting changes to their own lifestyle.

These positive attributes include greater flexibility when it comes to their own working times and workflows. Remote work has meant that it’s no longer necessary to spend time travelling to the workplace every day and made it easier to plan working days and strike a healthy balance between family and work obligations. This allows people to concentrate on the things that really matter in their lives.

All of this is giving rise to an intrinsically motivated Nowness Economy. Rather than ‘business as usual’, employees are seeking out life paths that lead to purpose and personal fulfilment. In their career decisions, they are no longer interested in security that comes at the expense of living a full life. This means that they are considerably less willing to sacrifice quality of life in the interests of furthering their career. Instead, they are looking for a way to combine professional growth with personal wellbeing. Employees want to benefit from their newfound freedoms in the here and now; and at the same time, they want to shape the future today while rejecting any compromises that involve being tethered to any one employer.

The way in which companies meet these expectations will determine who will stay, who will go and what new employees are brought on board. Employers should therefore make use of the positive aspects of recent months and learn from the challenges they have been faced with – this will allow them to remain an attractive proposition in the market for top talent, in the long term and under these same conditions.

To capitalise on the zeitgeist of the Nowness Economy in this context, organisations need to take into account five core aspects and implement them:

1. Maximum flexibility rather than old patterns

Rather than ordering the entire workforce back into the office and reverting to old patterns, companies should now establish – if they haven’t already done so – the necessary conditions for flexible working models. Thanks to modern workplace booking systems and agile process management, it is possible to observe fluctuations in how often employees come to the office. This takes into account the individual work-life balances of each employee, while also making it possible to adapt to potential peaks in office capacity. As a result, employees are permitted the necessary freedom, the option of deciding for themselves when they come to the office and when they work from home – or in other words, continuous alignment based on the new requirements of the Nowness Economy.

2. Connecting the physical and digital worlds rather than differentiating between them

These days, the concept of ‘the office’ and employees’ connection to a company go well beyond the office in the physical sense. Accordingly, a cornerstone of the Nowness Economy can be used by managers focusing on transparent communication. Here it is imperative that employees are not only equipped with digital tools but, above all, with a digital infrastructure that enables them to participate in internal and external company discussions wherever they happen to be working. This means that collaboration models also need to be possible via different constellations – regardless of where employees are physically based. Concepts should be developed accordingly, complete with tools and systems that facilitate hybrid situations rather than hampering them. This will boost the team spirit even beyond the physical space, ensuring that all employees are given a voice and that their needs are taken into account.

3. Employer centricity instead of optimised human resources

The talent landscape has shifted and employee expectations have changed. Managers need to take a close look at the individual needs of each group within their company. From initial onboarding to individual career development paths and new work concepts, they should create an environment in which every employee can and wants to deliver their best performance for the company. Essentially, it all comes down to implementing an integral employer experience within the company rather than focusing solely on optimising resource allocation on company-wide projects.

4. Freedom for self-realisation rather than restrictive guidelines

Two core elements of the Nowness Economy are the desire for self-realisation and the need for self-determination. To give due consideration to these aspects, employers need a new organisational outlook: individual employees should be free to choose their own work practices within a given framework. However, this calls for a new concept of leadership – one in which leaders set the general direction and create an environment in which employees organise themselves. In this way, rather than curbing employee motivation, they encourage an ongoing willingness to learn and many ways for employees to contribute.

5. Explicit culture work instead of implicit culture vacuum

Introducing greater freedom and hybrid working models will have a fundamental influence on the organisational culture of the future. It will give rise to a cultural conglomerate that is based less on spontaneity and more on plannability. To lend this the right level of authenticity – and, in turn, get employees interested – companies should work on formats for instigating active cultural change that create the necessary degree of interaction. Environments, possibilities and formats for bringing people together should be initiated for this purpose: this is to provide the effects of the Nowness Economy with the necessary space and to allow the accompanying new cultural identity to develop.

To sum up, the way organisations can meet the new requirements of the Nowness Economy can be determined using five key elements: flexibility, freedom, hybrid working forms, employee-centric organisational forms and active culture work. This is the only way to achieve ‘mass uniqueness’ as opposed to ‘mass standardisation’ – and to ensure that the working environment allows employees to pursue their own self-realisation goals.

It is probably safe to say that we will not be returning to a pre-pandemic state of affairs – or at least that we should not aspire to do so. This is because new employee needs will force organisations to move away from old standards and give employees a new freedom to act as they see fit. Away from rigid company guidelines like fixed working hours and office attendance and towards flexible working times and hybrid working concepts. Only in this way will employees be able to help define their working environment wherever they happen to be and in the context of their day-to-day lives – and also play their part in shaping the future today.

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. You can read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the eighth issue under the central theme “A Human-driven Future: How People Shape the Digital Tomorrow. Click here to access the e-paper.

Organisations have come to realise that, in an age where everything is available to everyone, customer centricity is key and experience has become the X factor. The focus is on technology, with artificially intelligent algorithms and new interfaces to meet the needs of the customer. But how can we ensure that we don’t “just digitise” and that people and their needs remain in the foreground? An analysis by customer centricity and artificial intelligence expert Nancy Rademaker.

In our current digital world, keeping the human at the centre of everything is a big challenge for most organisations. Living up to the ever-increasing expectations of the customer is not always easy to do and will require continuous investments and adaptations. Even though technology can act as a huge enabler to deliver the utmost convenience, transparency and personalisation, how can we make sure we don’t “just digitalise”, but keep the true human connection as a priority?

Emotional Data

AI Technology that can recognise our human emotions and tailor the response accordingly.

The Ambiguity of Human Connection

There are two sides to this problem and they are related to the ambiguity within the notion of ‘human connection’. One aspect that defines us is that we always long for a strong connection with our fellow humans. We literally want to get in touch with others. We want to have physical conversations. The pandemic has of course reinforced this in a dramatic way. I like to refer to this as the ‘connection of the FEW’, the dialogues we have (mostly between two people) in which empathy, emotions and non-verbal signals play a crucial role. Next to this, we also long for connection in a broader sense. As humans, we have an intrinsic need for a sense of belonging. In the past this used to be local – our family, friends and peers – but with technology playing a much bigger role, it has evolved to a more regional, national or even global setting. One in which we are constantly looking for communities we can connect to and where we can converse with like-minded people. The nature of this ‘connection of the MANY’ is much more remote and its dynamics are very different from the first meaning.

Technology Enabling Human Connection?

How to deal with these two faces of connection as a retailer? How can technology help – if it can help at all? If we look at the connections of the many, these have of course been massively enabled through the social media platforms that have been on the rise for the past decade. According to Hootsuite, internet users worldwide spend around 2.5 hours on these social media (by the way, the West is lagging behind here!), and this number is rising every single month. Technology has enabled us all to influence and be influenced 24/7. We share our adventures, our purchases and our personal emotions with whomever wants to read them. Our social ‘status’ is determined by the number of views, shares and likes. The big platforms got us ‘hooked’ on this sense of belonging and brands are using it to the max to create tribes of followers to increase their brand reputation.

But will we settle JUST for the connection of the many? Of course not. We want to interact with individuals, and we want to be treated as individuals as well. As customers, whether it be in B2C or B2B, we value highly personalised interactions. In fact, we EXPECT highly personalised interactions. We no longer settle for some generic recommendation; we want it to be tailored to our exact personal needs and preferences. For most companies, this turned out to be quite a challenge, and fortunately technology has come to the rescue. Once all the relevant data – the absurdly BIG data – are collected, smart algorithms powered by artificial intelligence can accurately predict what we as customers want (even if we may not consciously be aware of it ourselves!). Knowing what your customer’s favourite channel is truly matters. Delivering seamless experiences ACROSS channels will soon matter even more.

Now the question arises, is all this ENOUGH to deliver a great customer experience? Is it enough to make it easy for me to buy stuff or make reservations online? Is it enough if the recommendations consider all my personal data and behaviours? Isn’t the essence of our human ‘being’ that we are emotional beings? Could it be that technology can NOT personalise our experiences enough, because it is unable to take our current emotions into account as well?

The Next Frontier

This is where emotional AI comes in: AI technology that can recognise our human emotions and tailor the response accordingly. Leveraging our ‘emotional data’ will have increasing priority for many companies. Amazon, for instance, introduced the Halo, a new wearable device that constantly monitors your tone of voice to detect your emotional state. Amazon claims this is to track your health and wellness, but just imagine the wealth of data they acquire in this way.

But there are more elements than just our voice. Parallel Dots has developed technology to help detect sentiment or emotion in written text, which can be used to make written responses more accurate. Companies like Intraface and Affectiva can analyse facial expressions to detect people’s emotional reactions in real time, which can for instance help to determine how they react to specific scenes in movies or TV shows and where to put certain ads. The Affectiva technology is also being used in cars, with numerous applications to augment in-vehicle experiences. Just imagine the climate, scent, light or music in your car being adapted to your mood…

Many hurdles will have to be overcome for emotional data to be handled correctly. Not only are they more intangible and sensitive than our ‘regular’ personal data, but we will also need to consider cultural differences in expressing emotions, multiple reactions at once (e.g. with several passengers in a car), and external elements influencing people’s voices or face muscles. Until technology can solve the problem of human connection completely, especially in a one-on-one setting, we will remain in great need of human employees to take care of this. And to be truly honest, as a customer I am still very happy doing business with actual PEOPLE!

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

Feeling compelled to tailor future working environments to the needs of employees so they will enjoy coming into the office, the real estate sector is undergoing a fundamental shift. This is especially the case in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the strong shift towards mobile offices. Why and how exactly is this being achieved with the Bold Brand Building approach? And what part can agencies play?

Hot on the heels of ‘customer centricity’, ‘human centricity’ is the new buzzword of choice. And in keeping with a zeitgeist that is geared towards good karma, the extended target group includes, of course, employees too. This reasoning is likely to elicit nothing more than a weary smile from HR managers who have actively been engaged in employer branding for years. Long before human centricity came to the fore, New Work held sway and was already focusing on the workforce. However, one thing that has changed is the sheer intensity of the empathy postulated by companies. Long gone are the attempts to socialise employees into being part of a system that prioritises the corporate goal above everything else. There is little doubt that many employees already wanted things to slow down very early on. However, the social pressure to make this happen has been stepped up massively in recent years. The concept of piecework may already appear to younger generations ike a relic of an ancient capitalist system, or at least diametrically opposed to human-driven – and essentially absurd. This illustrates the paradigm shift to an increasingly deep awareness of the need for a suitable corporate culture.

So what can an agency do for companies here? What part can agencies play in helping to meet the requirements that are moving further and further up the hierarchy of needs – i.e. towards social needs, individual needs and self-actualisation? Newly founded agency Saint Elmo’s Brandspace has dedicated itself to solving this question for the real estate sector – a sector that is predestined for creating a corporate culture, particularly when it comes to commercial properties. With their specific expertise, architects, planners and real estate companies have, in a New Work context, already successfully developed state-of-the-art usage concepts for boosting the morale of their workforce – and have done so with boundless enthusiasm. However, most of the people-oriented elements focus mainly on their functional needs: better light, better climate, quiet places to retreat to and relax, booths for confidential communication, flexible spaces for creative team interactionand smart ways to switch between the office and working from home. These are all real improvements geared towards functional requirements.

But if the focus is on needs higher up in the pyramid, this means that people are also being given space to develop personally. Not for personal wellbeing but still very much within a work context. Or, to couch it in more modern terms: with a view to stimulating a better team performance. When it comes to creative ways for motivating individuals, the real estate sector can achieve so much more in combination with an agency specialising in brand management.

The coronavirus pandemic made it clear just how important it is for physical areas within companies to create experiences that in turn create a sense of identity. Identity serves the needs at the top of the pyramid – in other words, well beyond the purely functional. And identity creates identification and, in turn, a shared culture.

Agencies have always been involved in marketing properties. Usually with the standard programme: naming, corporate design, key visuals, brochure and website. This may have been efficient in a seller’s market and in an environment with a rather limited focus on people. In such cases, marketing is a great way to package it: the large swing in the foyer of management consultancies or the built-in ball pit in the lounge of an especially creative start-up as a real-life symbol of corporate culture – which may even have been adequate in specific cases but definitely caused a sensation for a short time.

However, to gear things resolutely towards the kind of human centricity that future employees will be expecting, you need more than marketing – you need the ultimate discipline in the field of communication: brand management. In practice, this means getting the agency involved early on in the development of a narrative so it is already in place once the usage concept begins. The property can then be geared largely towards that narrative. It helps that agencies, more than any other sector, are practised in identifying the insights of target groups – and have always been human-centric in their orientation here.

If the requirements for the offices of the future are derived from real insights and lead to usage concepts that are resolutely designed to be human-centric, agencies will have no problem coming up with communication ideas for marketing them at a later stage. Complete with a corporate design that reflects the exact narrative while remaining wholly authentic and communicating messages that correspond to what the product has to offer. And if the product in question is an exposed building that upgrades its surroundings, proper brand management is needed. This is sustainable – not just for the initial marketing work but something with real substance. After all, sustainability is the megatrend of the moment. Which all sounds pretty future-proof, don’t you think?

Do artists have to like people to make them the subject of their work? Does art have to have a message? And why do modern people in a digitalised world need culture to be optimistic about the future? These are the questions we put to internationally renowned sculptor Stephan Balkenhol when we visited him at his studio in the Nordstadt district of Kassel.

FLORIAN HALLER: Your figures often appear devoid of emotion. Why do you always give them the same stoical expression?

STEPHAN BALKENHOL: I prefer to give them an ambivalent expression rather than an extreme emotion such as laughing or crying. If I carved those expressions in wood, they would look frozen, but when I show an indifferent expression, it’s a lot more open. This leaves it to the audience to join the emotional dots, as it were. In this case, the expression is undeniably more alive.

Every time I look at one of your figures, I feel as though I can see right inside the person. But I can’t explain it…

SB: When giving a presentation on my work, one of my wife’s students once said they were like wooden mirrors. I feel they are a cross between a mirror and a projection surface. With a figure, you can ask yourself what kind of person it is, what they do, what they are thinking, where they come from and where they are going? Or you can imagine that you are this person. You and your feelings are mirrored in them. Both are possible.

If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re not exactly the extrovert entertainer type…

SB: No.

Do you like people?

SB: I have nothing against people, but I don’t always like having them around me. I also like being alone. In fact, when I’m working, I need to be alone – apart from my wife, who I don’t mind having around me all the time. But take my children for instance – as much as I love them, how much of them I can take really depends on what kind of a mood they are in that day, and what kind of mood I’m in. It’s impossible to like everyone but I’m not a misanthrope.

You once said that your work involves being in a constant dialogue with the sculpture. What do you mean by that exactly?

SB: I think I can express myself through my sculptures. It’s how I communicate with the world and, at the same time, how I explore the world.

KATHRIN BALKENHOL: If I can just chime in here: I feel that Stephan’s work allows him to understand himself better. Sometimes I have the feeling that something indeterminate is working within him and that he will only be able to understand it once he has carved his way to it.

So working on art has a therapeutic effect?

SB: Artistic work can be healing and beneficial – just like any other kind of work. Not primarily but secondarily. Of course, it does me good to work. And looking at a sculpture can also have therapeutic effects. I once had an experience in Rome where a large sculpture of mine called ‘Sempre più’ was on display in the Roman Forum. An Italian woman came up to me and said that her day had got off to a terrible start – because of a divorce or tax audit or something unpleasant like that, I can’t remember exactly – but that she felt a lot better now she was at the exhibition.

KB: Looking at art can open up the mind to new kinds of reflection and cognisance. I have no doubt that, deep inside, we all have fears, shame, guilt and other things we have no words or images for and that we give a wide berth to. Art can help to ward off dangers and dispel fears by visualising them. I see this is being more of a magical, ritual effect than a therapeutic one.

SB: Yes, but these existential questions are not illustrated in the sculptures directly but rather indirectly and metaphorically. That’s a fairly common misconception about art – some people set out right away to detect something or decipher a message. And, with my work, this often causes confusion. The Bojen-Mann (Buoy Man) on the Outer Alster in Hamburg, for example, doesn’t have any message to convey and rejects this expectation. We have been conditioned to believe that monuments in public spaces should automatically represent an important person. But when it’s just a man in a white shirt and black trousers, some people can take a while to realise that it could just as well be you or me.

Why do you work primarily with wood?

SB: Out of a personal affinity and because it affords me a kind of freedom. I can process wood myself and don’t need anyone else to help me. If I were to create a bronze casting, I would need two or three other people to help me at various stages. But with wood, I can do it all myself. I could even go into the woods, cut down a tree and make a sculpture out of it. As well as this, wood is relatively quick to process and there is no transformation process. While clay or plaster involve an element of transformation, with wood you have the result in front of you throughout the entire process.

What is the process involved in working on one of your sculptures?

SB: It’s all about communicating with the material. After all, I could cut into it once with a chainsaw and say: “Okay, it’s done.” The interesting thing is deciding when to stop. Some sculptures are more like sketches, half finished and relatively rough, while others are finer. This communication, deliberation, examining it from different angles – that’s what makes working on a sculpture exciting. There’s a joke about a sculptor and a lion, where a visitor asks the sculptor: “Is it difficult to carve a lion out of marble?” To which the sculptor replies: “It’s quite simple, really – all you have to do is carve away everything that doesn’t look like a lion.”

KB: Another point is that Stephan can only carve as fast as he thinks. With stone or clay, it’s different. He once made a bronze sculpture of Richard Wagner for Leipzig. The clay model for the cast was ready to be collected and we were due to get married two days later. So there was a lot to be done. And then Stephan went to the studio at five in the morning and gave the Wagner statue an entirely new face. Because clay modelling is so fast and each movement of your fingers produces a different facial expression. This additive technique leads to another decision- making process. Carving a sculpture from a block and removing all the extraneous elements is somehow a better fit for Stephan.

SB: When I’m carving and get the feeling that I can’t see where it’s going, I take a break. And once I know where it’s going again, I carry on. This is rather baffling for visitors to the studio, because I spend most of the time running around the sculpture with a cigarette in my mouth.

© Stephan Balkenhol / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Does it make a difference what type of wood you use?

SB: I know from experience what wood is most suitable for each purpose. The reliefs for Serviceplan, for instance, are made of poplar wood, because I know that the colour doesn’t change over time. With softwood, the resin would cause it to get darker over time and small cracks would form. But I generally use the wood that I happen to have or that I am being offered at the time. I have probably carved sculptures out of 20 different types of wood. It’s not all that important. After all, I’m not making a wooden sculpture to show how great wood is – I’m using the material as a means to an end.

Unlike stone, wood is an organic, living material. Is that a relevant factor for you?

SB: Yes, wood is a living material and is always working – and will continue to do so even in a hundred years’ time. I would also describe stone as a living material, but steel and plastic are rather lifeless.

The term ‘sculpture’ makes most people think of the masterpieces of antiquity. Is this period a source of inspiration for you?

SB: Yes, absolutely. I’ve always loved going to museums that have a collection of antique works. The Glyptothek in Munich, for instance, is fantastic.

I was really impressed by the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. Those giant statues have such power.

SB: Those ancient myths are great narratives. The beauty of these images is that there is always an element of intricacy and mystery – there is nothing direct or ‘in your face’ about them. And even though the stories are about divine beings, they always hold a mirror up to us humans.

On that note, is your own personal history reflected in your works?

SB: Certainly, there’s no way of avoiding that. I come from a very specific cultural setting in Central Europe, Germany, so it goes without saying that I’m going to be shaped by certain influences I grew up with. My parents were Catholic and I had to go to church every Sunday. I was often bored there but always found the holy statues fascinating. At some point, I realised that these figures were supposed to represent Saint Anthony, Saint Elizabeth and others, but in fact it was the sculptor from the 14th or 17th century who had immortalised himself and the time he lived in. When you look at figures like these, you get a sense of their time and a sense of the eternal as well. I’ve always found that exciting.

Do you have a favourite among your own works?

SB: It’s always the one I’m working on. Otherwise I couldn’t do anything else – my work would be done and I could shut up shop.

What is art?

SB: I haven’t the faintest idea (laughing)! The beauty of art is that it has no use – it doesn’t have to be useful. And the value is only contrived when it is there and reveals itself. At which point you realise that you can no longer do without it. But everyone has their own individual reasons for this and they need to find them out for themselves.

Does art have anything to do with the zeitgeist?

SB: No, I find that too short-sighted. The function of art is not to mirror some zeitgeist phenomena. Of course, art is influenced by certain elements – there’s no question about that. This is perfectly legitimate and, in any case, probably can’t be prevented either. But I don’t agree with the expectation that art has a duty to comment on these elements – let alone to make the world a better or more just place.

© Stephan Balkenhol / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Can a work of art be viewed in isolation, or does it always have to be seen in a human context?

SB: Art always has a human connection because it is made by people. And because people look at it and are influenced by it. It expands people’s horizon of knowledge and experience and that is part of the artwork.

What are your feelings on the art market? Artists always claim not to care but then when you’re talking to them, they soon mention that some other artist’s work had reached a higher price than theirs. If the market is so unimportant, then artists wouldn’t use it as a yardstick, would they?

SB: I am part of the art scene and, as I make my living from it, am thankful that the art market exists. Otherwise I couldn’t work the way I work. And it’s part for the course that the market hyperventilates every now and then. Jonathan Meese put it very nicely: “Being famous is all well and good but the most important thing for an artist is being able to work in their studio”. That is happiness indeed.

So art does have a therapeutic side after all…

SB: Happiness is always therapeutic.

What role can culture play in our modern-day society?

SB: Lots of things that used to give people safety and stability no longer exist or have lost all meaning. All we can do is hope that the state or policymakers manage everything in a way that allows us to lead a halfway decent life. I believe the function of culture is to preserve an immaterial level in society that creates another kind of security. By this I mean that the insecurity doesn’t come across as being threatening but rather as natural – conveying to people that they can be happy despite being aware of death and all the difficulties associated with life.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

It was back in 1992 when Herbert F. Barber came up with the term VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – but it also happens to be a near-perfect description of how things are right now. Although initially introduced by Barber as a concept for strategic company management, VUCA also reflects the problems currently facing managers – including outside of their respective organisations. Today, it describes the influences that global dependencies, political controversies, technologisation and changing consumer behaviour are having on companies and entire sections of society – and therefore keeping 21st-century managers on their toes.
However, hardly any of these influences has brought about such far-reaching changes as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been hanging over us since March 2020. It has led to events that many people had previously thought impossible: e-commerce penetration in the US grew from 16% to approximately 34% within the space of three months (by way of comparison, it took about ten years to increase from 5% to 16%); internal projects for which a timescale of around three years had initially been planned were launched over a single weekend; and entire industries were turned on their heads – restaurants, healthcare and traditional retail being cases in point. The coronavirus has led to longstanding certainties losing their currency and being replaced by a new normality – meaning that VUCA has taken on a whole new importance.

Digitalisation: the constant factor in the new normal

In the ensuing uncertainty, digitalisation is now a central instrument on the agenda of all company bosses as it allows them to respond more flexibly to these volatile influences and to introduce countermeasures. Although it had already been quite a challenge for many companies to take their company processes to the next (digital) level, the advent of the coronavirus now means that this has become a survival factor that will determine each company’s future. Whether it’s a question of expanding the online area to include offline sales, implementing projects entirely by digital means or managing teams via digital channels – digital services and platforms facilitate these initiatives in only a fraction of the originally intended time and are therefore a central component of company management. And one that is here to stay.

The challenges for managers involve overcoming the physical distance to individual colleagues brought about by the need to work from home and, in spite of largely decentralised teams, to create digital interactions with a view to implementing project processes and encouraging team spirit. As a result, the pandemic has increased the urgency of implementing digital solutions as this is the only way to counter the crisis adequately and to respond more swiftly to the impact that it is having. So it’s no wonder, then, that – according to a DMEXCO trend study – approximately 70% of managers based in the DACH region indicated that the pandemic will speed up their planned digital transformation projects to enable them to meet the new requirements.

Adaptability will determine future company success

Managers are currently being given a crash course not only in digitalisation, but also in change management and New Work. Here, one of the main critical success factors will be how individual managers practise ‘remote leadership’ in companies – this is because the agility and flexibility of the predominantly cross-functional and decentralised team members must be ensured continually. One fundamental aspect for companies is therefore how skilfully and quickly they can respond to crises and changes in their organisational environment and adapt their organisation accordingly.

VUCA 2.0 – an antidote for the current state of uncertainty

Driven by external influences, managers feel forced to explore new avenues and acquire new skills so they are in a position to face up to increasingly pressing questions. This is why it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the organisation’s common orientation and to be able to convey this successfully within the company and tackle the challenge together.

This is done by communicating a Vision, by Understanding the context, by presenting these with Clarity and implementing them with the necessary Agility – or, in short, with VUCA 2.0. This can be seen as the antidote to the VUCA term introduced by Herbert F. Barber. VUCA 2.0 gives managers guidelines that they need to apply in their operational management functions in order to keep on top of current and future challenges:

V ision:

More than ever before, managers need to be able to provide continual orientation in the context of changes and to put forward a vision that the organisation can gear itself towards. This not only requires the definition of a ‘guiding star’ but also the necessary degree of transparency that will allow each and every employee to devote themselves to the mission at hand. At the same time, it is important to create a common understanding of values and the organisation’s strategy so that managers are in a position to make relevant company decisions, thereby enabling their teams to take the same route.

U nderstanding:

As well as defining a common vision, a far-reaching understanding of structures and processes is important in order to be able to apply skills that exist within the company quickly and effectively. At the same time, an in-depth understanding of the company context must exist – this is necessary for adapting flexibly to dynamic requirements from customers, competitors and changes in the political climate. To this end, transparent communication and networking need to be established throughout the company so that any volatile influences can be nipped in the bud. Only in this way is it possible to respond flexibly to external changes, to minimise risks and encourage resilience.

C larity:

One way to deal with the complex internal and external organisational environment is with focused and clearly formulated company management. This will bring clarity to the existing fog of chaos, enabling effective countermeasures to be defined and implemented. As a result, processes can be structured more clearly, communication channels used more efficiently and company decisions conveyed quickly and resolutely so that, in spite of the existing complexity, they can be communicated transparently to employees and continually made visible.

A gility:

In order to remain viable for the future, companies need to be agile enough to adapt to external requirements and flexible enough to respond to a changing environment. This means that agility not only needs to be reflected in the company structures and processes – at the same time, it constitutes a leadership quality that is evident when managers demonstrate an agile mindset. This is why initiating a cultural shift and establishing flexible processes and cross-functional cooperation models is a central function for managers today. To do so, they must be able to communicate openly within the organisation and find suitable solutions for external changes quickly – without losing sight of the aforementioned ‘guiding star’.

Digitalisation is central to the success of VUCA 2.0

VUCA 2.0 offers managers an approach that can guide them in times of mounting uncertainty. However, this also means that suitable technologies need to be used, digital platforms set up and internal knowledge transfer geared in such a way that relevant information, data and transparency can be exchanged quickly and flexibly with regard to the changing situations. To this end, organisations should do away with siloed thinking, encourage integration and collaboration between different areas and establish mechanisms that motivate self-reflection. In addition, companies have to create an environment for ongoing learning and a values-based culture in order to provide employees with the tools they will need to deal with sudden, unforeseen events. This empowers individual teams and employees – through personal responsibility and reflection – to counter the combination of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is set to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Such an approach ultimately enables employees and managers alike to make use of the necessary information strategically and in the interests of the company – all with a view to optimising resource distribution and avoiding inefficiency.

VUCA 2.0 as a core skill of today’s organisations

Implementing the guidelines of VUCA 2.0 is ultimately a critical factor for managers when it comes to withstanding the challenges posed by the VUCA influences today and in the future – and emerging stronger than ever. By defining a vision, understanding their own organisation and ensuring clarity in their communication and agility in their actions, it is possible to take the edge off uncertainty and, in turn, to follow a common vision together. Changing management and employee conduct in line with VUCA 2.0 will well and truly bear fruit once it has been aligned with the right tools, platforms and technologies. However, intended change only occurs when its wheels are set in motion – and what better time for change than right now?

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.

How does one go about reinventing a traditional brand? How important is sustainability for successful brand management? Which skills does the CMO of tomorrow need and what kind of role will they play in companies in the future? Florian Haller and Susann Schramm, CMO McDonald’s Germany, met up for an interview to discuss the answers. 

Florian Haller: Two years ago, you ushered in a new era of brand management at McDonald’s. How does one go about reinventing a traditional brand?
Susan Schramm: I think the secret – and not just for McDonald’s – is not to allow a brand to become a “traditional brand” in the first place. You have to permanently breathe new life into it. At McDonald’s we’re constantly asking ourselves how we can do things better, how we can look at things in a different way. McDonald’s is a brand that manages to move with the times and keep an eye on its customers’ needs. In brand management, you have to really take a close look at the everyday lives of your target group. There can also be a certain element of tradition in the consistency of change and development.

It’s a well-known fact that digitalisation is the biggest driver of change. What role does it play in the rethinking of a fast-food brand?
Susan Schramm: At first sight, digitalisation doesn’t seem to really apply to a company like McDonald’s, because the act of eating is always analogue. But losing sight of the digitality in our lives would be a huge mistake for us as a brand. Our extensive digitalisation – with our ordering kiosks, app, CRM system and lots more besides – has fundamentally changed our service concept, our production options and our overall business model. Especially now, in the crisis, focusing on our digital further development is really paying off for us as a brand. We are seeing that the path we have chosen was the right one. This means that we now have completely different ways to communicate with our target groups and also offer them virtually contactless services.

What form does digitalisation take at McDonald’s?
Susan Schramm: Launching our app, which I can use here as an example, has benefited us greatly. Sure, there’s nothing revolutionary about an app in itself. But in next to no time we gained over 15 million registered users and therefore also the opportunity to learn something about our customers and target them effectively. And it means we now also have a tool that we can use to make perfectly tailored offers for specific target groups. As a company, keeping up with the times is very important, particularly for our target groups in their teens and 20s. The app gives us a form of communication that we can use to reach them in the digital environment that is such an integral part of their daily lives. And the “Mobile Order & Pay” feature that is integrated in the app is proving extremely useful during the current crisis.

Would you say that McDonald’s has developed from a mass brand into a personalised one?
Susan Schramm: We are definitely getting there. Now that we can appeal to our customers in an increasingly personalised way, our communication with them is completely different and we can build up a sense of familiarity and trust. The only way to find out who our customers were in the past was through research. In future we won’t only know who visits us, but will also be able to enter into a 1:1 dialogue with them and provide them with individualised offers.

Will the coronavirus crisis leave a permanent mark, or will things eventually get back to normal?
Susan Schramm: I don’t believe that there will be a “back to normal”. We have all learnt a lot from the crisis, I think, and it is precisely these findings that we will take with us into the future. What I could envisage is a shift towards more sustainable consumption, to a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation of things.

So will sustainability and purpose remain megatrends?
Susan Schramm: I have the feeling that these topics will become even more relevant. The pandemic has shown us that we humans are lot more vulnerable than we thought. Our entire generation didn’t ever imagine or expect such a crisis to happen to them. We are suddenly realising that a lot of things we took for granted are being questioned and can fall asunder quickly. So in that respect, I believe that sustainability and values will gain in significance – even though we are seeing a certain discrepancy between morals and consumption. And if a brand wants to be relevant in the long term, it has to face up to that. So as a company of course we have to look at what our customers want and what is actually being purchased and consumed.

McDonald’s isn’t a brand that most people would associate with sustainability. How do you want to change that?
Susan Schramm: By moving with the times and constantly developing, we can always ensure that the measures are visible and transparent.It all comes down to authenticity, i.e. the things that you can credibly represent. The McDonald’s of 2020 is a far cry from the McDonald’s of 30 years ago. A lot has been achieved: more sustainable packaging, a vegan burger, free-range eggs and lots more. We know that certain things cannot be changed from one day to the next, but that it takes time – for example in the case of supply chains that have to be built up. There are a lot of small steps that we are taking with a view to becoming better in the long term.

In an interview you once said that loudness wasn’t your thing. But in this day and age, how can you be heard without being loud?
Susan Schramm: A lot of brands can be loud – sometimes all they need for that is the right budget. But many loud brands are still not very convincing and aren’t necessarily successful either. And volume alone doesn’t enable you to get your message to stick in people’s minds, not by a long chalk. Relevance and authenticity are more important here. There are many great ideas that start out small and then often spread a lot more successfully than if you were to just shout them from the rooftops.

Speaking of which, how do you use social media as a brand?
Susan Schramm: We use a lot of social media channels to communicate with our customers, but it’s about keeping the dialogue going here too. Marketing messages don’t work in the same way on all platforms and in terms of channel-adequate messaging, we have experienced an enormous learning curve in the past few years. Just because something works on Instagram, that doesn’t mean it necessarily also has to work on TikTok. A lot of work and orchestration are required: what is the target group, on which channel, how should we target them and what messages are relevant?

But when it comes to social media, there is still the question of how you scale all of that. You need a widespread impact, after all…
Susan Schramm: That’s why I always say that social media and digitalisation are absolutely indispensable. But simply writing off TV, outdoor and print advertising is the wrong approach in my opinion. Conventional media still have a very strong impact and are moving more towards interaction with online and social media. You need to find the right media mix: which medium is the best for which purpose? I’m a firm believer that success all comes down to having the right mix.

Does a brand need one big idea, or does it make more sense to appeal to the different target groups on different platforms with lots of different ideas?
Susan Schramm: If I have an amazing idea that works on all platforms then that one idea is enough. But that’s rarely the case, which is why you usually need lots of ideas. You have to keep surprising people, while always keeping your eye on the current zeitgeist, trends, medium and target group. And also make sure that all of that is in harmony with the brand’s core. The trick is to ensure that the brand is recognisable at all touchpoints in the long term, without always being the same.

What do you see as the core of your role as CMO?
Susan Schramm: I have a very young team made up of lots of great people – and it is my job as CMO to motivate and inspire them and to create an environment in which employees are confident enough to develop things and also themselves. Ideally, I am the person who has the vision for the brand and says where we need to be heading. And then we develop the path to that goal together.

Is working with the younger generation different these days?
Susan Schramm: It used to be about accumulating knowledge and then passing it on to the next generation. But it has become more of a give and take. As an experienced CMO, you bring a certain calmness to a situation – you are able to analyse things and recognise opportunities and set out guidelines in certain areas. But there are also areas in which I learn an incredible amount from the young people I work with, for example when new channels gain in relevance among the young target group. That’s a lot of fun and always exciting.

Do you expect the CMO to have a more or a less important role in companies in the future?
Susan Schramm: I’m an optimist as far as that’s concerned. Basically, I think the CMO will gain in significance, although it does of course depend a little on the company structure. McDonald’s, for example, is very much a marketing-oriented company, and we as the marketing team are not only responsible for the brand but are also measured by sales and have a responsibility for them. We get the figures every morning at 8:00 am, and that’s when I can see how our products and offers are being received by the customers. That success is much more quantifiable than if I am “just” responsible for shaping the brand. And it means I have more of an influence on the company’s profits and direction.

One point is certainly also that digitalisation is breaking down barriers to market entry. That is levelling the playing field, which in turn is leading to marketing generally becoming more important.
Susan Schramm: It’s true that digitalisation is making it more important to develop your brand and clearly differentiate yourself from the competition. If you want to stand out, you have to engage with new channels and ways of interacting with the target groups. The greatest challenge here is creating instant recognition value and communicating it as individually as possible at the same time. A lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to develop a brand and keep it relevant and modern. So I believe that intelligent marketing will continue to make the difference here in the long run.

Does a CMO need to be a forward-thinker when it comes to innovation?
Susan Schramm: Ideally, the marketing team should bring creativity and a new way of thinking to the company. I think all companies would benefit from giving their CMOs the freedom to innovate – perhaps even the formal responsibility for innovations.

What will be the major brand management issues in the post-coronavirus world?
Susan Schramm: The main issue in our post-pandemic future will be what kind of an effect the crisis is having on consumers and consumer behaviour, and how brands can communicate accordingly. That’s not really something that anyone can predict yet. Security and trust are important factors here. It will be important to understand what your own brand stands for in this new context. Reconciling both those factors in the future will be quite a challenge.

What skills do brand managers need to bring to the table to achieve this?
Susan Schramm: That can only be achieved with a certain amount of empathy, a quality that is becoming more and more important. If I want to understand how people tick and how my communication is being received, then I can research everything and prove it with data. But I am still convinced that it won’t work without empathy. A CMO should also have the guts to be able to make certain decisions and think differently. It’s important to keep an open mind. And that includes not being too self-important. I think that this openness and the ability to listen to others are extremely important qualities for someone who works in marketing.

Thank you very much for the interesting interview.

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”.  The e-paper is available here.