Last night, we hosted an evening of idea sharing and discussion led by business leader, brand specialist and author, Sophie Devonshire. The presenters highlighted the essential factors that are affecting us all in the ever-changing business landscape, and how they impact on everything from leadership to loyalty to the brand itself.

Sophie’s advice was based on her latest book ‘Superfast: Lead at Speed, for which she interviewed one hundred different business leaders from José Neves, the founder of the global luxury fashion platform, Farfetch to Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, to the Head of Counter-Terrorism.

What became apparent, whether she was talking to the head of a start-up or a supertanker, was the need for speed and a sense of impatience to get where they needed to be. So how do pioneers like these manage to cope and set the pace? They need to set the right pace – knowing when to speed up and when to slow down. The answer, says Sophie, is in the ‘power of the pause’. By taking a strategic pause, you can ensure that everyone is working to the same objective; you can prepare for anything that may go wrong. And you’ll find that instead of rushing, people are working at velocity – speed in the right direction.

Sophie went on to talk about how energy management is more valuable than time management and knowing what energises you and your team is the key to maximising productivity. Sophie promoted “strategic laziness’, the idea that a leader can spend time giving input, strategy and guidance then walk away with nothing on their ‘To Do’ list. Knowing that they have enabled others to take care of the job at hand frees up leaders to dedicate their energy to what they do best – making the type of good, high velocity decisions that are essential in this fast-paced world.

What does loyalty mean today?

The next speaker was the founder and managing director of loyalty company Stream Communications, Mark Maclure, (one of The Chemistry Works’ members) who talked about what customer loyalty means today. Mark talked about how far we’ve come since the early loyalty schemes like collectible Green Shield Stamps, which began in 1891, to the airline miles, retailer cards and exclusive membership programmes that we have today. The average Brit is a member of 13 different loyalty schemes, but which ones are we actually engaging with?

Mark explained how the most successful businesses were using dynamic data to create more customer-centric experiences and more personalisation. Those doing it well, he said, included Starbucks, whose loyalty scheme integrates seamlessly with its mobile app to provides points as well as free and surprise rewards. O2 Priority Moments provides location-based rewards and weekly offers; and Air Canada, who began awarding badges to flyers for activities such as checking in at specific airports, have since reported an ROI of 560%. Mark also highlighted a new breed of loyalty scheme – the pay-to-access services like Amazon Prime and Netflix that offer exclusive content that just can’t be replicated.

With all this competition, it’s essential for brands to refresh their loyalty offerings if they want to keep pace today. This might mean converting points programmes to be more flexible, partnering with other brands or offering currency conversion schemes where points can be transferred or even traded. And it opens up the opportunity to come up with really unique ideas like Dominos Pizza, which actually gave away shares in the business to loyal customers. The customer’s experience is key and there is no ‘one size fits all’ loyalty strategy.

Is change always better?

Finally, Simon Wright, Managing Director of Greenwich Design (and our co–founder) turned the question of change on its head. The perception, he said, is that we live in a period of massive business shifts, and while that may be true in some respects, not everything needs to change. While technology has made our lives easier and more convenient, some things haven’t changed. Simon used the example of commuting on the same train to work as his grandfather had; the journey hadn’t changed, but the experience around it, the way we book tickets, for example, had. Simon argued that successful brands embrace change when they need to and when consumers want them to, but they only innovate what really counts rather than implementing change for change’s sake.

Simon suggested the biggest change we must all embrace is protecting the planet, which requires the brands we love to move from a linear to a circular economy. This may require a change in strategy that puts sustainability at the heart of the business, but it doesn’t have to change the essence of a brand. McDonalds, for example, have put sustainability and healthy eating at the heart of their business strategy, but their brand essence hasn’t changed – it’s still family friendly, fun, fast food.

In the fast-paced world of business, brands need to consider whether the changes they are considering are relevant, valued (Do they make life simpler? Are they profitable? Are they sustainable? Do they have momentum? If they don’t tick those boxes, perhaps change is not necessary.

The outtake: change may often be good, but it’s not always essential.