How the power of branding can help Britain emerge from the pandemic

Strong leaders have used the power of branding to hold their teams together during lockdown, says Lesley Gulliver. She spoke to Greg Wright

Lesley Gulliver

YOUR brand is much more than just a shiny logo.

Just ask Lesley Gulliver, managing director of brand consultancy The Engine Room, who continued to secure work during the pandemic’s darkest hours.

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She believes the three cornerstones of a true brand are the “3Ps” - a sense of purpose, a set of principles that shape how a business is run, and the personality it projects.

But has remote working placed these principles in danger? If we only see each other over Zoom calls, how can we really sing from the same hymn sheet?

According to Ms Gulliver, the three Ps are often what attract people to work for a business in the first place.

The three Ps are usually reinforced in so many ways, from the social interactions we have, to the way we make decisions and even the surroundings we enjoy in the workplace.

So many of these elements – which ordinarily move us in the same direction – are missing when we’re apart, which makes it hard for individuals to keep a collective culture at the front of mind.

Hard, but not impossible, providing leaders are alert, according to Ms Gulliver.

She said: “If someone is asked to work from home for an extended period of time, will their loyalty to a company fade? Yes, maybe. If their home office becomes their permanent workplace, will they begin to seek different things from an employer? That’s likely too.

“These aren’t the only reasons why a ‘hybrid’ approach is crucial to the future of work. But this could be a turning point for company culture – not to mention a true test of a brand’s authenticity."

Ms Gulliver said: “People are suffering from screen fatigue at the moment. It’s tricky to develop culture when everybody is working remotely. It’s not just about having values on your website.

“The brand principle must reflect the real culture of the organisation. We develop a brand based on an understanding of that culture.

“My interest in brands stemmed from my interest in languages and copywriting.”

The Engine Room has a spring in its step as it celebrates its 20th birthday this year.

Based in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, The Engine Room has rebranded several high-profile UK organisations including The Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Research. Its client list includes the Design Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

“We continued to win business during lockdown, including a crop science organisation which increased its spending to support branding around its fertiliser which improves crop yields and growth,’’ Ms Gulliver said.

“We started working with a healthcare organisation that is a manufacturer of hand gels and sanitiser products. We’re also working with tech businesses who are benefiting from the boom in the tech sector.”

So what’s the secret for developing a truly memorable brand?

“It’s all about messaging that connects to the hearts and minds of the audience,’’ said Ms Gulliver. “We really get under the skin of an organisation. We worked with Panintelligence (the Leeds-based technology company) who were planning to rebrand as the lockdown started.

“Zandra Moore, the CEO, is a real visionary and decided it was right to continue with the rebranding.”

Any brand development must follow a period of deep analytical thinking.

“For example, with Panintelligence it was built around a belief that every day is an adventure and that you are creating code but still need to communicate with clarity,’’ said Ms Gulliver “Its over arching purpose is to make data amazing.”

It’s also vital that bosses still believe in conducting business with a human face, despite the divisions caused by the pandemic.

Ms Gulliver said: “Even when people are working remotely, it’s important to check how they are feeling on a regular basis.

“From a social perspective my heart goes out to 18 to 25 year olds who are keen to meet their friends in the office.

“Some people will feel the benefit from spending less time on the road.

“But it must be much harder for the younger generation. It’s not just harder to embed them in the culture of the company but also harder from a mental health perspective as well.”

“Being based in Mirfield has widened our potential talent pool,’’ she said. “We bought the current premises in 2017 and refurbished it with help from a Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership grant. We’ve got nine staff..We are getting applications from Manchester and Leeds and also from London and around the globe.”

“The next two years are about investing in people and business development and it’s vital we continue to grow as have done,’’ she added.

“We have had our best year in terms of profitability for many years. We’ve hired two more staff and we want to invest in those individuals. We want to ensure that we stay true to what we are good at.

“We will focus on markets that reflect the changing world, such as technology and healthcare.”

She believes a spirit of inquiry is essential to succeed in her sector.

“You need to work hard and be nice people,’’ she said. “You must question, then question, and question again. Never stand still.”

Lesley Gulliver, is managing director of Mirfield-based brand consultancy The Engine Room, as well as board director of Design Business Association and Design Associate for Design Council.

From the start of lockdown, Ms Gulliver, an advocate of flexible working, expressed concern that permanent working from home - while advantageous in many respects - could prove damaging for some employees.

With over 20 years in the design sector, she is a Brand Strategist working with organisations in the development of their brands, messaging and communications. As a Design Associate she has worked with over 40 businesses through the Design Council’s SME programme.

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