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Building a Collaborative Brand

"Be a connector and a lobbyist rather than a brand director" —Caroline Wouters, SVP, Chief Brand & Communications Officer at Wolters Kluwer

About 20 years ago Wolters Kluwer started its digital transformation by digitizing information and distributing it via online services. Today, we have transformed into an expert solutions company. Our digital transformation has had a considerable impact on the business and the Wolters Kluwer brand.

Loes Verhoeven, Group Marketing & Communications Manager at VIM Group in the Netherlands, interviewed Caroline Wouters, Chief Brand & Communications Officer, revealing insights into how the Wolters Kluwer brand has evolved and adapted to the organization’s culture. The strength of a brand increasingly determines the success of any organization. Research shows that the more effectively a brand is managed, the better it will perform, which ultimately contributes to the value of the organization.

What constitutes a strong brand to you?

For me, a strong brand is a brand that matches the association users have with it and which is relevant in their world. Wolters Kluwer helps customers make faster, better decisions. And that’s important! For the customers and especially for society. I firmly believe that a good brand lives in people’s hearts. And that goes for customers as well as employees. When your people recognize the culture your brand stands for, and feel it applies to them, they’ll support the brand and allow it to come into its own genuinely.

What role does the Wolters Kluwer brand play in realizing business objectives?

At Wolters Kluwer, the brand is central to our strategic plans and forms part of our vision for the future. We evaluate how the brand can help us reach our goals in each facet of our organization.  This way we can gain insight into how the brand contributes to the business objectives. The need to understand how brand investments contribute to results is now more critical than ever.

When you look at brand management, what do you experience as the main challenges?

In 2005, we decided to manage the brand centrally and this led to our master brand, a development that has had both an internal and external impact. Currently, our challenge is to define the roles and responsibilities in our branding organization. We need to involve and support people more in that.

I believe you must create a brand culture based on respect rather than rules. This doesn’t mean we have no guidelines, but it allows us to listen to people. As a brand manager, you need to have empathy and avoid a ‘hands off, I’m the brand boss’ attitude. You need to have a clear vision and exude leadership. People must trust that the brand is in good hands and that you’ll create frameworks for people to work with the brand.

With a collaborative brand, it’s essential that brand management cooperate with some of the crucial functions in the organization, such as HR, Marketing and Strategy, Finance, and Sales. At Wolters Kluwer, leaders in core positions have quarterly meetings where we sit down to discuss the brand on a strategic level. We also organize many brand-focused meetings for employees. Openness on the proverbial shop floor is really important. If I had to give other brand managers just one tip it would be to go and talk to people – discuss the brand. Be a connector and a lobbyist rather than a brand director.

How do you see the Wolters Kluwer of the future?

In a world where people tend to make things more complicated than they need to be, I think our brand has to be flexible, simple, and attractive. The brand must be accessible. We want to remain a people company. In my view, a large organization can be successful only if the people who work in it live up to their potential.

I also think that we need to be a brand that is open to change. It’s important for the brand to be able to live in a variety of worlds and channels. Consider a future where features such as virtual and augmented reality are the new norm. With this type of trend, you have to ask yourself whether you’re going along with because of the pioneering aspect or whether they’re genuinely relevant to your brand.

What do you want customers to say in five years time when they think of Wolters Kluwer?

The Wolters Kluwer brand represents high-value knowledge, quality, and innovative technology for professionals. That’s what we want to convey. In five years time, I want people to associate the Wolters Kluwer brand with smart solutions, what we call ‘expert solutions’. That’s what we focus on in our strategy.  If we are seen as  solving real problems in the world when it matters, I will be very happy.