At the last Ad Club CMO breakfast, I learned from Puma’s Global Director of Brand and Marketing, Adam Petrick, three immutable laws of successful change. Unadulterated honesty saves years of time and millions of dollars. Being yourself is your only option. And you can be consistent without killing creativity – but only by following the first two laws.
Why’d we go?
The Ad Club’s invitation promised, “Join Adam Petrick as he shares the global growth strategy of this fashion-aware brand, including the introduction of Puma’s new brand ambassador, Rihanna.” That met my minimum viable criteria for an outstanding use of a Wednesday morning, and off we went.
Truth be told, I was expecting a very different presentation than what I heard that day. Joe and I sat down in a crowded room, and Adam took the stage – and immediately surprised me with what he opened with.
“We knew everybody knew us. Everybody liked us. But they didn’t know why. That’s when the cold sweat settled in.”
Take a look at June, 2012 – not good news.
Management decides to speed up and significantly expand the company’s transformation program, and in rapid succession, they announce the installation of a new senior management team. And they call out a glaring deficiency in brand clarity – having done global research to determine brand perception.
Not an easy position to be in when you’re the brand marketer that’s been with the company for 11 years, as Adam had.
Most marketers, whether on the agency or client side, know what it feels like when change is required in order to succeed. These moments go one of two ways. It can be incredibly inspiring and thrilling, taking us in an amazing new direction – or it can blow the juju right out of an entire business, permanently. All too often, the latter winds up happening, because the implementation of such a transformation leaves people behind instead of bringing them along.
3 things Puma did right, and why they’re winning
1.) You will save years of time and millions of dollars with unadulterated honesty. Period.
I’ve been ‘adulting’ for 10 years now – and during this time, I’ve been really lucky to work with about every ‘type’ of person that you can think of. CEO’s. Advertising agencies. Writers. Product managers. CIO’s. Lawyers. One thing everybody has in common is the fundamental instinct to save face. The issue with saving face is this – it meets your need to avoid embarrassment, but it doesn’t meet your team, your shareholders, or your company’s need to acknowledge a failure in order to be emotionally and logistically prepared to proceed.
Unadulterated honesty is a fundamental sign of inherent competence. It’s a requirement if you want to move forward and win. Why? Human nature is to resist change unless there is a compelling vision for the future and a blame-free acknowledgement of what went wrong.
So you screwed up? Call it. Now. (Usain Bolt clearly agrees.)
Any person, much less a leader, who speaks with clarity, vulnerability, honesty, and specificity about what went wrong, and the path to make it right, and how they’re actually doing it is a rare and special creature. Adam Petrick did it in front of STRANGERS, and spoke in detail about how they worked through an incredibly serious issue – without negativity, denial, or excuses. I’m so impressed by Adam and the Puma team.
This approach means maximum team function, because what matters in moments like these is moving forward – not examining the past in exhaustive detail.
“We realized we had to do something different. The cold sweat had settled in. Then we realized we HAD to be ok with getting it wrong – as long as we’re figuring out what we’re going to do differently so we get it right. Basically, ‘move on’.”
The key take-aways?
Acknowledge issues without blame. Give your team and organization an open invitation to getting it right, by acknowledging that it wasn’t perfect before. Unadulterated honesty and vulnerability will save a ton of time when you’re acknowledging the need for change. Instead of finding reasons things aren’t working, assigning blame or exhaustively investigating each misstep, take a cue from Puma – it’s ok to be afraid – it’s ok to be wrong – as long as your focus is squarely in the future.
2.) Be yourself. You don’t have another option.
In the process of moving on from a cold sweat, resulting from the uncomfortable knowledge that everyone on the planet likes Puma, but nobody really knows why, they landed on Forever Faster as the core of their new identity. Rihanna became their newest brand ambassador, as well as a creative director.
Developing a new identity in a brand with a long history isn’t easy – there’s an existing culture, there are people with attachment to the way things were, and implementing a new brand strategy is a truly massive investment – especially when the objective is to claim a position with clarity.
The secret to getting a meaningful return on such an investment is to make it come to life across the organization, in the daily reality and ethos of the teams that serve you. And the number one risk to accomplishing this is when you try to bring an identity to life that doesn’t actually represent who you are – it’s too exhausting to sustain.
I think they got it right – Forever Faster works.
Why? Because they spent their time focusing on answering the right questions.
What does Puma actually believe? Who are we, and who do we want to be? Can we live it, and do we want to live that way?
So what are the signs they nailed it? It’s easy to believe. It’s who they are. It represents what they were, and who they want to be. It paints a picture of the future that people want to be part of.
The financial results of their initiative and execution speak more clearly than I ever could.
Truth be told, what I think was really interesting wasn’t specifically what they landed on (although I do have to say I think they nailed it, considering their challenge) but three specific philosophies employed to bring the identity to life.
- ‘We’re not delivering babies. We’re making sneakers. Let’s have fun.’
- ‘We develop the soul of the message and we develop the company around that soul.’
- ‘There is a team of people here that want to succeed. Let’s give them room to buy into what we’re doing, and participate in bringing it to life.’
3.) You can be consistent without killing creativity – but NOT without following the first two laws.
Frankly, I think the word ‘consistency’ is one of those words that makes people feel like creativity went off and died under the porch.
That’s because people dive into ‘consistency’, for the wonderful benefits it promises, like wasting less time, getting things right the first time, making less mistakes, etc and so on ad-nauseum, without asking ONE question –
“Are we doing it consistently right, or are we so busy being consistent that we consistently feel drained?”
That’s why being yourself matters. The fact is, if you try to be something you’re not, you and your team will feel quietly exhausted. This will build up. You won’t be able to rapidly iterate within your market or try new things – because you’ll feel a strange but unshakeable sense of being stuck. That’s why what Puma did is going to work – they solved for the right problem.
“Cold sweat? Move on. Get it right. Try something new. Do it again.”
So here is a wildly practical example from Adam:
“Now this is a really dumb thing. I can’t believe I’m telling you this. It’s dumb. But I started walking around the office really fast so that I’m living the message ‘Forever Faster’ – not just saying it.”
Change is hard. But change can be great.
I know that it takes a lot of energy to make a change, stick with it, and do something old in a new and better way.
I think a lot of what happened that day at the AdClub Breakfast is applicable to everyone, because it’s about what it takes to make change succeed. Puma’s results are inarguable. To sum up lessons learned from Puma:
- “Cold sweat? Move on.”
- Things go wrong. That’s not what matters. What matters is acknowledging that it went wrong, and focusing all your energy on what’s next. Move on.
- “Soul power”
- You know you’ve gotten it right if it isn’t a stretch to believe. If it’s easy to believe, it’s easy to believe.
- “Try me.”
- Try new things. They won’t go perfectly. That’s ok – keep going.
To learn about more events like this, get in touch with the Boston AdClub.