Revolving door opens the information highway

The front doors at Esplanaden, the Maersk Group headquarters in Copenhagen, have been revolving for 35 years, keeping out drafts, noise and strays, keeping in heat and protecting the precious aura of a particular shade of blue. Or so it used to be.

One person passing through them recently was a freelance television director, perhaps a little bewildered and shocked about the meeting he’d just had. He’d come in to pitch an idea and left, his mind abuzz with ideas and opportunities. These had replaced the anxiety on arrival of making a novel proposal in what might have seemed like the ultimate crucible of conservative thought.

Over the past decade there’s been a significant revolution within Esplanaden and the revolving door might well be its symbol. It is a constant which maintains a controlled atmosphere inside, countering conditions outside whilst allowing a free-flow of ideas and information, in and out.

Esplanaden, once a journalistic cul-de-sac, is now an information highway. It has been recognised as an innovative leader in communicating, particularly in relation to social media.

The television director had just spent over an hour with Tobias Lassen Falkencrone, Head of Marketing and Branding, and was leaving inspired and full of positive hope that the series proposal he’d tentatively made, would itself be made. The major difference in this new world is that the director would be granted access that promised to be free from corporate colouring.

Now it was my turn. Meeting Tobias is like an encounter with a passionate evangelist, but with one enormous difference – he doesn’t try to force feed you his own particular brand of religion. Certainly he oozes a certain shade of blue* with every word, but there is no preaching about the sacredness of the star, the preciousness of the font. I’d expected a pantone tone referenced conversation with the Ten Commandments on where, when, why and how to place the logo on everything from an envelope to an antelope.

But no. The head of branding for one of the three most identifiable of Scandinavian commercial names, sees the gold at the end of the rainbow, not by following colours, but by taping in on a spirit. It is a spirit which he sees distilled from the company’s long established core values.

What is a brand?

As Tobias views it, it is the pure simplicity of the values which makes them endure -, it is the manner in which the business card is exchanged, the quotation made and not the exact shade of the white star’s background that makes the difference. Uprightness he says will never go out of fashion.

‘What is a brand?’ he asks. ‘A brand is not just sales or just marketing, it is not the wrapping or lacquer on our cookies, it’s not the logo on the brochures – the brand is the sum of every single contact point we have with every single stakeholder out there.

‘From a look in the eye to the handshake from the salesman who is going out, to the email with quote that gets to the customer fast, to the presentation for the annual general meeting, to recognition of the star on the funnel as the vessel comes in, to the stories you read about us in the newspapers – all of these are part of and contribute to the brand. It is that full perception of everything we do, how we do it and how it is perceived. So it’s not just one thing.’

One thing that Tobias’s department is not, is a branding police department. He points out that it is too time consuming and it serves very little purpose ‘because you are trying to stem a flood. What I’ve wanted is to educate, make people know why it matters.’

Last year his department did a survey in Kenya with students, potential employees and business people. It was focused on trying to gauge Maersk’s footprint in a country in which it has no physical presence. Despite the low local profile, around 50% instantly recognized the logo, and 25% put it in the right category.

Whilst marketing takes your resources and message outside, Tobias spends much of his time keeping the branding message inside, getting it into the culture so that when everyone of the Maersk employees go through the revolving door, those on the outside see ‘a certain kind of person.’ The words are treasured ones for Tobias. It is not about being the best, it is about being distinctive in manner, approach and how situations are tackled. Quoting the late Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller ‘we are a “certain type” of people,’ he says.

Who we are

‘I’d like to think there is something special about the way we do things here,’ he says. He turns again to the values which define the company and plays one off against the other. How difficult is it to have pride, which is a natural emotion, but within the confines of remaining humble, which is a value?

‘We are not satisfied with having the most efficient ships in the world, we want to go that one mile further striving for better performance with less effect on the environment, as with the Triple-E’s.’

Returning to the TV director Tobias explains how he would like to feel about how he reflected on their meeting. ‘I hope he goes away thinking, these are people I want to work with, these are stories I want to tell.’

‘We used to issue news releases about annual reports, now we have dialogues with journalists and programme makers. Everything we do on social media is also acceptance of the fact that the name of the game is dialogue. We have to be where are stakeholders are and allow them to tell our stories as much as we tell them. The real brand is not defined by us, it is the sum of all those touch points.’

The change in perception from those in the world outside of Esplanaden on how they view the world of Maersk is palpable. ‘I think is it because we have become decidedly better at telling our stories. When I started, pride was seen to run in conflict with our value of humbleness. That’s probably no longer so, there is good reason to be satisfied at a job well done.’

* Pantone 631, if you must know.