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Members Lounge

Past Meetings

January 20, 2009
The world according to Diane

On a bitterly cold January morning, as we awaited Barack Obama’s swearing-in and highly anticipated inaugural speech, Diane Francis warmed up the PMCQ with her view of the world and the changes ahead.

National Post columnist, Huffington Post blogger, renowned broadcaster and author of nine best-selling books, Diane Francis came to discuss marketing and branding in a complicated world. She reminded us that everyone has to be a marketer in life and that we are all a brand, a reputation… we are the services and goods we provide. Of course, one the world’s great new brands was just three hours away from becoming the 44th President of the United States.

If President Obama saves the world as everyone expects, we will be forever indebted to his “co-branding” with Oprah. According to Ms. Francis, Oprah made it all happen. “There is no American in the world with greater soft power than Oprah Winfrey, who has built an incredible brand worldwide… a brand that is honest, has integrity, is warm… and (has) a huge audience…” Makes you wonder why Ms. Winfrey didn’t run for president.

Obviously, great brands can achieve great things. They rise to the occasion when the occasion demands it. “The principal reason he became president… is because of the meltdown of the financial system worldwide. The Republicans could have run Jesus Christ… and they wouldn’t have won.” Now that’s bad branding.

Ms. Francis cites four ways the Republicans damaged their brand: The attempt to shrink government. The Iraq war. The Katrina fiasco. And $4 a gallon gas.

The world was ready for change and looking for the kind of hope that Mr. Obama offered. And some extraordinary signs came just days and even hours before the inauguration. Russia and the Ukraine signed a deal ending their conflict. Israel declared a ceasefire in Gaza. But while the usual global suspects await the new president, a new threat rises to the republic’s south — Mexico, where Ms. Francis predicts US troops will be battling the drug cartels within the next four years.

Canada, however, remains the “nice” neighbour who doesn’t cause any trouble. In fact, Ms. Francis would like to see the border between the US and Canada “redrawn” into an all-encompassing perimeter as we form a “customs union” complete with collaboration and cooperation on immigration, customs and excise, interdiction and so on.

When it comes to business trends, Ms. Francis contends that the real-time nature of information that’s available 24/7 means companies and individuals must know how to react in real-time. As a result, decision-making and disclosures are accelerated. And if that’s not stressful enough, technology has made it impossible to hide. “Everything is known to everybody very quickly, and that includes patent information, proprietary information, gossip… (it’s all) now easily discovered.” The blogs of whistleblowers and disgruntled employees can spring up just about anywhere online, creating huge problems for businesses, governments and individuals.

“You have transparency unlike ever before. You have real-time information which changes decision making. And you have the acceleration of events and information flow that also affect decision making and careers.”

The global village’s biggest business trend is “disintermediation” or “cutting out the middleman.” This refers to the “bricks versus clicks” landscape, a very real situation in retail (hello Amazon, Ebay) and certainly becoming a challenging scenario in healthcare, where patients do their own diagnosing and would like to write their own prescriptions. “Wherever the middle can be eliminated, it has been, it will be, and that’s not going to stop,” warns Ms. Francis. “The power now is completely in the hands of the consumer… Marketers are now seeding influential blog sites with product launch information. They don’t necessarily need a huge audience but they need the audience of the influencers…”

The power shift from the brand to the buyer is evident when you consider how easy it is to do your own research online. Shopping for a car, a TV, a Valentine’s gift or a treatment for your health problems is just a few clicks away. Too bad baby boomers are such slow adopters. Their health may depend on it, especially given the stress inducing financial crisis.

“I’m an optimist about the current financial situation because I have never seen the level of multilateral cooperation, the fact that every central banker, every finance minister, every prime minister, president and even dictator in the world is probably in touch with one another on an hourly basis trying to fix the financial problem and they have done a lot already to avert an even worse outcome. With that level of cooperation and the fact that we are all wired in one globe together, I have every reason to believe that we are going to come out of this on the other end, but I think it will take two years of muddling around for the worst to be over with.”