Does Your Brand Care?

If there's one thing we have learned in recent times, it's that we live in a fragile world. In the midst of the pandemic, brand expert Isabel Verstraete researched companies that seemed to deal better with the crisis and discovered a pattern behind their success.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Isabel.

Hello Kevin, hi.

Welcome to the studio.

I've invited you because you did write a book: Does Your Brand Care?

It's a very nice book. The graphics are very cool, I think. But that's not why you're here.

Does Your Brand Care, what is that about?

Well, let's say that the generic insight behind the Care Principles is the turbulent times in which we have landed.

And in this turbulency we see, through research, that there's a huge opportunity for companies to take care of something or someone. And that's why it's called The Care Principles.

But of course there's more to it than just taking care of something or someone. There's also four shifts in attitude, in the way companies do business, that are into the model.

From a business perspective: why should I care?

Well, because we have to face it: we are living in very challenging times. And these challenges are not only related to the pandemic.

A lot of people are struggling, both physical issues, mental issues. Economic issues. And companies should really focus, now, on what matters. Before they are looking towards the selling. They have to build up a long-life relationship with their clients. And not just focus on the short term and try to only earn money. And not really be bothered with the relationship they build up with their clients. So it's important if you want to have a different relationship with your clients. But also with your employees, because the Care Principles really starts, first of all, on the inside of your company. Within...

With your own employees.

And what's the reason you say: it starts with your employees? Because they can bring out the message better if they are cared for, themselves?

It starts internally because, throughout decades, marketing has always been occupied with the outside of the company. Marketing was, in general, always occupied towards clients, to prospects. Marketing has always been used to build the image of the company. And that image was mainly focussed on the outside.

Why is it important, now, to build trust, to build a better relationship with your employees?

First is: because the race for talent and the challenge to get the most talented people in the industry will become more and more important. And there's a huge gap between what people who work for a company think about the company - in general, there's of course exceptions - and the brand of a company. And in the past that wasn't such an issue because there was a lot of talent and it was easy to get skilled people. But from now on, certainly for certain professions, it will be very important. The way you act and the way you behave with your own staff.

It's not about window dressing anymore. It's about who you really are and about authenticity.


In the book, there are a lot of examples of how companies show they care. Maybe for our viewers it's interesting to share one or two examples, so they get a better feeling of what you mean with caring.

Sure. So, generically speaking, you care for something or somebody can really be very small, very adapted to your organisation and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money.

There's, for instance, in the book, an example of a very small engineering firm. And they have developed a unique email policy. Because they work a lot with engineers and these engineers, they really have to concentrate. Because if they make mistakes in their calculations, it could really cost lives. So their unique email policy is very, very simple. They just open their emails at the start of the day and at the end of the day. And this gives a lot of room for these engineers to work in a really focussed way.

And this company, it's a very small company in Bruges, they won a welfare award with this unique email policy. So taking care of your own people can be really, really simple and really easy. So it doesn't have to be like a mind-blowing revolutionary system. It can be very small and very easy.

Another example, of course, also described in the book, is the example of Patagonia. Who has always been a protagonist for sustainability. And they did, for instance, a whole campaign in the States for people to go and vote for the climate change. But they not only urged people to go to the streets and protest against climate change. They also closed down their own shops so their own staff, their own people, could go and vote and march for the climate.

So, it's two very different examples.

And what I really say in the book and that is really important: the way you care and the way you show you care is entirely up to you. It's really something that has to fit with the DNA of your company. And it's something that really starts with the management. With the CEO and the management team. It's really something that goes from the top to the bottom.

In the book you're talking about four shifts you see in doing business. Can you explain a little bit about that?

Sure. So the word care is not only about caring for something or someone. The word care also stands for these four shifts.

The C stands for Collaboration. It's really important...

And actually I have a benchmark now. I will explain it in a little bit.

Internally, better collaborating between different departments is something that still has a lot of room for improvement. But of course you can also better collaborate with people outside of your company. For instance with your competitors. Or for instance to better collaborate with your suppliers. So the C really stands for collaboration and there's a lot to gain from that.

The A stands for Agility. I think the last year has proven, to everybody, that we all need to become more agile. More flexible. Adapting ourselves to this really fast-changing world.

The R stands for Reliability. Becoming a trustworthy partner in the lives of your people and your clients is really important. We live in an era of fake news. We live in an era of deep fakes. We live in an era of controversial news, at least. Because we all live in internet bubbles. And the things you read on the internet, Kevin, are very different, probably, from what I read. So becoming a reliable brand or remaining a reliable brand is really important.

And finally, the E of Care stands for Empathy. And empathy is an emotion that is quite new even to psychology. But it is about really, truly understanding the worries of others. And, again, others can start internally: the worries of your people. For instance, in this pandemic, how to work in a safe environment. But again, it is also: showing more empathy towards your clients.

You just have to call a call centre from, more or less, any company and you know that there's not much empathy involved in it. But of course you can also develop empathy towards your communities. Your stakeholders. And, of course, the last field to which we apply The Care Principles, is the world. Because, of course, sustainability and all those things matter as well.

So those are the four shifts within the Care model.

Okay, if we now zoom in, a little bit, on the event industry. Which most of our viewers are in or at least doing event marketing for their firms. How could this be applied on the event industry?

I do already see a lot of things, what you are telling.

For example: we see that the event industry is now helping with building vaccination villages. So they really show they want to help. But are there other parallels you see?

I think that...


The first thing that many of these event agencies or event partners did, and that is great, they really focussed on what mattered. And not on what was selling. And that was indeed to help hospitals. To help governments build the vaccination villages. Vaccination or, at retailers, special disinfection tools and everything. And that was great. But what we also see now...

And The Care Principles are really very closely related to innovation as well. And agility has a lot to do with innovation. Because it's always adapting to this fast changing world. So what we see now...

And there's many examples but I would like to talk about one. It's an agency in Amsterdam, an event agency in Amsterdam. They are called Raúl&Rigel. And what they did, very quickly after helping governments, after looking for these short term solutions...

They built all kinds of events, in-home. So they developed a whole in-home event, kind of, packages that companies could order for their employees. Who are all in homeworking situations.

Then the second step that they did, as soon as the first lockdown was over, they developed all kinds of brand activation on the 1,5 meter economy. So, activations that were literally taking into consideration the 1,5 meter distance that we had to keep.

And so they are always re-inventing new types of events and new types of brand activation. Adapted to in what phase that we are and what is needed by their clients, which are big companies. So I do believe that...

It's really tough. I mean: tourism, event industry. But also, for instance, cultural organisations. Theatres and everything. It's really, really tough to adapt to this fast changing world. But also, for instance, in the cultural industry.

I think there's a very nice example of this Belgian company. A cultural organisation. They are called SKaGeN. And tonight they are launching...

Through an application. Which is, kind of, like a WhatsApp application. You'll see a theatre show that is broadcasted. And it's like sliced. Instead of going one evening to a theatre show, it's like sliced in different shows. It's really inventive. It's a fun thing to do.

I'm sure without the pandemic nobody would have thought to launch a theatre show through a WhatsApp application. So the innovation and the creative mindset, to always re-invent yourself and adapt yourself to the fast changes in society, I believe that will be part of the next decade.

Because we will remain in this kind of society. In which a lot of changes are needed.


Yes and on top of that, I also think, for businesses not in the event industry, that for them, organizing an event can also be a good way of expressing care.

For your employees. Organizing an employee event.

Or for your customers. Organizing something for them. And as a means to bring that message.

Totally. Totally.

Because the last thing you need to do now is disappear.

One of the things that I say in the book, and it's really about the book, is that it's not about your challenges, Whatever challenge you face as a company, whether you're big or small, your clients, they really don't care about that. They have other preoccupations. So showing up, in whatever way you can, through an event or through a little brand activation or through a caring gift is something that is really the way to go.

But of course I do understand that it's not easy for everybody. And some things really cost a lot of money. And it's definitely a challenging time. So I'm not underestimating the difficulties that many companies are facing. Especially, again, like I said, in those industries that are hit hard by this pandemic.

You mentioned, earlier, a benchmark.

Yes, I'm very...

It's something that was really very special to me. Because writing The Care Principles is something that I've done over the last year. But then, in the beginning of this year, I really wondered: how could we measure The Care Principles? Because I do realize that companies already do a lot of effort. And they do a lot of things. For instance specifically for their employees. So, together with IVOX...

And IVOX is a market intelligence company. They do a lot of market research. They have all the methodologies and the tools.

So together with IVOX we've developed the Care-scan. And it's actually a scan that tests how well you already score on The Care Principles. So on Collaboration, Agility, Reliability and Empathy. And the nice thing about the Care-scan is that we can really see how CEOs and management think about it. And how employees think about it. And the gap that there is between both of them.

Because that is something that we really often see in research. It's that management teams really often think: of course we do that. Of course our people know that. Of course this is a common practice within our company. And then you ask the staff. And then they say: well, maybe it's not that clear. Or: it's not that easy to apply this or that thing. And so now we have a benchmark.

The Care-scan did a dry-run on a thousand companies. A thousand people within Flanders. We started in Flanders. The Flemish part of Belgium. We will do, also, the French part of Belgium. So we will have a Belgian benchmark. And actually the scores are quite low. The Care Principles, the generic score, is only 53%. So there's still a lot of room for improvement.

But the great thing, what I really like about the Care-scan, is that it immediately gives a very clear insight. On what field a company can become better. And on what field they are fine.

For instance, one of the things we see in the benchmark: reliability scores quite high. It's 62%. Specifically reliability towards stakeholders and clients. The scores are quite okay.

But if we talk, for instance, about collaboration internally. The scores are not that high. We only had 44%. So there's a lot of room for improvement on those levels.

So it's great. Because now we can do the Care-scan within a company. A company with five employees or five thousand employees. It's the same because everything, the whole Care-scan, is automated. So it's really great that companies will really be able to see now: what is the benchmark in Belgium? And how well do I score, as a company? And what are the fields for improvement? And what fields are fine? So I'm very happy with that.

Because it's not just a book now. It's not just a methodology. There's also a market research tool that goes with it.

Yes and not only that, Isabel.

People who want to know more about this topic can, obviously, buy the book. But you also have a podcast and you give keynotes on this subject.

Totally. Totally.

For me it was really important to become a more caring consultant too. Because I used to be a normal consultant. Who was always giving away her advice, in exchange for money. And I really decided that I want to focus, now, on two big fields.

I want to focus on inspiration and I give a lot of free content. And the podcast is part of that. I have, in the first season, ten business talks with companies. Big and small. Known and unknown. In fashion industry. In business to business. In the food. Really in all kinds of industries. And these business talks in the podcast, they are in Flemish and in French. I adapt myself to the language of my guest. And we really talk. It's a real honest talk. About what goes well, but also what doesn't go well. And why are certain companies still struggling with certain issues.

So that is something that you can definitely watch or listen. I have a YouTube-channel and you can watch. It's a video-podcast but, of course, you can also just listen to it. Through Spotify or Apple Podcasts or whatever podcast-app you listen to.

So that's the first season of ten Belgian companies. I can already say there will be, definitely, a second season. And the second season I will go abroad. Definitely some Dutch companies will come to my office in Antwerp. Now they couldn't because the borders were closed. But I will definitely enlarge the group and talk, already, to some Dutch companies. And, who knows, afterwards I will really go fully abroad and take it to other countries.

So that is the inspiration part. But then, of course, there's also the education part. That is the second part that I really believe in. And for the second part, for the education, I do want to give keynotes. Both on my own, simply to explain The Care Principles, with some examples adapted to each company.  Because then, for companies, it really becomes more alive, if they understand with recent examples.

But I also developed a duo keynote. Specifically for the internal part, for the employee part. And I developed the duo keynote with An De Bisschop, the wellbeing expert. So we will give a duo keynote together as well. So that is part of the education.

And there will also be Care classes. From September on. So there's a lot of things happening, with The Care Principles, that are very exciting.

A lot of things going on. Isabel, thank you very much for joining us today.

It was my real pleasure, Kevin. And hope to talk soon. And hope soon to be able to do it again in a real life situation.

Indeed, indeed.

And you, at home, thank you very much for joining us today. I hope to see you next time.