Aligning Conflicting Agendas

Dealing with multicultural issues always presents challenges. If the goal is the creation of a global brand, unresolved issues can threaten billions in potential revenue. Here’s how one creative team approached resolution.

A New York design consultancy is rebranding a 500-year-old Swiss specialty brand for the global market after its purchase by a Tokyo-based multinational. In addition to the Swiss and Japanese executives, the client has employed a team of New York-based marketing executives to oversee the transition.

Research has shown that the market opportunity was young women, but the marketing team includes only one woman. The creative team had been through several design presentations -- each greeted initially with enthusiasm, but derailed after subsequent feedback. The root cause: misaligned agendas -- and until they could be synchronized, failure would result.



How can this situation be successfully resolved?

1. Consider the context

What's going on? Start with what you believe contributes to the impasse.

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

The purchase of the Swiss company by the Japanese multinational is a life-changing event for the Swiss. The acquisition is a major career event for the Japanese executives. The senior executives are all men -- except one, in New York. Preliminary research shows that the marketing opportunity is with women.

2. Gather the facts and understand all points of view

Speak with each key individual in person, not via email. With email you miss important asides that occur in conversation.   

3. Involve the complete team in finding a solution

Begin your calls by stating that the creative has not met expectations and that the purpose of the call is to help you understand why. Do not defend the work.

Let them talk, then ask open-ended follow-up questions to elicit their unfiltered thoughts. Ask what each believes are the key issues for the other team members.

4. Seek to align differing views

Moving a successful specialty brand to the mass market offers tremendous potential. You can't align historically different cultures, but you can help them discover their common goal: a global brand.

5. Understand what the issues mean to each party

Non-threatening investigative phone calls revealed personal issues, the corporate perspective and insights to move forward.

The Swiss family is emotionally invested in every aspect of their enterprise. The package design is their personal icon and bears the family crest.

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

The New York marketers know that young women will be the first to try the product and are frustrated with the male executives, who don’t seem to trust their research or the marketers’ instinct.

6. Prototype designs make concepts real

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

7. Tangibly demonstrate a solution   

With the findings in hand, the brand design team formed a plan:

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

- They created a poster to connect the Swiss brand's heritage to the prototype package.

- They conducted video interviews with women sampling and reacting to the poster and prototype.

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

8. Apologize for any problems caused and ask for help moving forward

The prototypes were displayed, organized from most to least appealing.

Start with: “As I was preparing I realized that we hadn’t shown how your brand could honor its Swiss heritage while celebrating your family’s achievements. Please accept my apologies.”

Remind them of the common goal: “You have a powerful brand that has maintained business for 500 years. We want to share your remarkable achievement with the world.”

9. Results

The video interviews vividly demonstrated that the young women “got it.” The Swiss now understood the logic of the creative and that their brand history resonated. The Japanese were happy to have achieved consensus. The New York marketers were thrilled and finally had the package they needed to succeed.

Finally, understand the broad context and the individual issues. Make sure everyone understands that your agenda is their success. Seek and solve the largest objection. Show how that resolution aligns the other issues. Use feedback from neutral individuals to show how your solution will be received.

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