Union leader

Posted by David Furlonger on 29 Jun, 2012 / News

Simon Bolton is less than impressed with Johannesburg’s hotel sector. “I travel a lot and I find the hotel experience here very poor.

Staff are not given enough training. If you ask them a question outside the 10 they are trained to answer, they are lost. They struggle to deal with different diets.”

He sighs. “Your hotels have a long way to go.”

Bolton tends to notice these things. As global CEO of Brand Union, one of the world’s leading corporate branding groups, he understands what companies (including hotels) need to do to protect their brand image.

It’s not just a question of a snazzy logo and catchphrase. If the people on the frontline — the staff — don’t shape up, everything else is wasted.

“The customer experience defines your brand,” says Bolton. “You, the company, can do what you like but a bad experience screws everything. I don’t think many clients understand that yet. They don’t own the brand, the consumer does.”

Bolton was in SA briefly a few days ago to look at the local Brand Union operation. SA has been a great talent base for the group, he says. A number of SA personnel are in senior positions in other operations around the world.

“SA is disproportionately important in our network,” he says. The local company is playing a significant role in an international group project with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The studio here has world-class capability,” says Bolton, “and it is very price-competitive.”

Africa is an important long-term market for the branding industry. Brand Union expects to open an operation in Nigeria soon, possibly in association with other members of the monolithic WPP communications group, of which it is part. Fellow subsidiaries Ogilvy and Scangroup, which already have a strong presence across the continent — and with which Brand Union has already worked in some markets — may provide support.

Bolton says SA, with its long history of world-class communications expertise, has an important role to play in Africa — though it must be careful not to try to impose its ideas on 50 other, very diverse nations.

“If it is willing to be magnanimous and share what it has learnt, it can play an important teaching and mentoring role. It has creative talent other countries don’t have,” he says. “China is doing a similar mentoring thing in Asia. Perhaps you can learn from them.”

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