“One thing COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter (BLM) has exposed is that a lot of brands aren’t fit for purpose,” says Nik Roope. “They don’t possess the clear, simple set of values and principles at their DNA level that makes it clear what brands should do. It’s why you end up with these misfires.”
Roope last spoke to Design Week in August 2019, as he was about to leave Poke, the design consultancy he co-founded, after 18 years. Roope, who also established the internet-centric Lovie Awards and product design company Hulger (responsible for the Plumen light bulbs), now has a different project: Reset Sessions. It aims to help brand avoid these misfires, by clarifying – or estbalishing – a brand’s social purpose.
The consultancy – which is “pop-up” at the moment – has been co-founded by Hanisha Kotecha, previously managing director at Good Agency, who has been in the marketing industry for more than 15 years. Her career has focused on brands for good and not-for-profits but had been left “frustrated” by the lack of change in the industry. “The things that were getting headlines were the wrong things,” she says, “a stunt here, or a strapline there, no real organisational change.”
Roope and Kotecha started talking about starting a consultancy in October, but only decided during lockdown that it was the time to set it up. It aims to set companies up for a “better future” not just “getting things back to where they were” before the pandemic, Roope says. He believes in looking at the crisis in a “positive way”: “Only in times of a crisis do you get to do foundational work.”
A global pandemic is also when brands are likely to be more “receptive” to Reset’s approach. Meaningful change is hard to implement when there are no global pandemics, Roope argues. “When everyone’s on their knees, you don’t need to be polite,” he says. “You’re allowed to break the rules and reinvent yourselves.” He also believes that shareholders are not going to be “particularly harsh on companies who make bold and radical shifts to their strategy because everyone expects that that’s what they need to do”.
“Short, sharp intervention”
Part of the approach is to instill “mobility” through “short, sharp intervention”. Kotecha and Roope will firstly talk to the leadership team at a company to understand what the current missed opportunities are. Leaders have to be “aligned” for a whole company to get behind them, Kotecha explains.
The second part will consist of workshops – which will be run via Zoom over the course of a week – with “carefully curated activities that are strategic and creative”. These will, she says, “tease out the opportunities, rebuild value sets” and help people understand “how to articulate your purpose in a way you’ve never done before”. It will hopefully leave brands with a “playbook” – a set of actions and behaviours that need to be displayed to make clear what they’re about. Kotecha says that it’s about working out what’s relevant to the brand, and comes under its “sphere of influence” but also where “consumers’ heads are at”.
The format has been kept “simple” to achieve this purpose. Lots of people talk about “rebuilding a new normal”, she says, but “nobody knows how to.” Reset’s approach aims to cut through complication. Kotecha adds: “It just takes the right people being in a room, being asked the right questions to come up with an answer that’s really compelling.”
“You have to be open for a reset in the first place”
As the consultancy has only been recently launched, there are currently no clients. Roope says they are talking to a couple of companies – and will try out a few formats before formalising their working process. These first couple of sessions will allow them to “refine” what they’re doing, he says.
However, Kotecha is clear about working only with brands that show a willingness to change. It is unlikely that a fossil fuel company, for example, is going to be a good fit. “You have to be open for a reset in the first place,” she says.
Are there any dream clients? Kotecha says that fashion brands are ripe for this kind of intervention. She highlights ASOS as “one of the biggest in terms of audience, with an exciting platform and potential to be a force for good”. The online fashion brand has also “tinkered around the edges of doing some good” already. Roope agrees, pointing to Swedish fashion brand H&M, who have been “lauded” for trying to “address supply-chain issues”.
He also mentions a successful case of brand purpose being Gucci. The Italian luxury brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele recently announced (as detailed in the Instagram post below) that the brand will eschew the typical fashion calendar and show collections twice a year – in ‘chapters’ – rather than four times (cruise, pre-fall, spring/summer, autumn/winter). This new “seasonless” approach aims to tackle the fashion industry’s waste problem. Roope says this is “meaningful change” which must have been a “difficult sell to shareholders”. But it addresses the “rot” that’s in the business.
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Fashion brands have also had widely publicised problems with diversity in light of the recent BLM protests against police brutality. Brands such as Anthropologie, Reformation, and L’Oréal have all faced criticism for past workplace intolerance after they’ve made public statements about BLM. “I think there’s so many hypocritical examples of businesses just putting on a black square and being absolutely slammed by everyone else,” Kotecha says. “You cannot pay lip service to a movement that huge and loud without backlash if you’ve got no actions to back it up. People need to understand the issues at play, without just sticking something on for PR.”
The practicalities of a pandemic have been – perhaps unexpectedly – conducive to setting up Reset Sessions. Fitting it around school times and parenting, has meant that it’s been “disciplined” – with “clear” meetings which lead to “going a long way in a short time”, Kotecha says. The format of the consultancy, with its Zoom-reliant workshops, is also well-suited to the pandemic. And while it is intended to be “pop-up”, the founders seem happy to see where the venture leads – missteps for brands are unlikely to disappear just because COVID-19 does.