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Can good design increase the resilience of companies and entire economic sectors to crises? Are strong brands and companies with high design standards and adaptable products more resilient? The leitmotif “recreate. transform. be resilient” of the GDC Summit (formerly the German Brand and Design Congress) gets to the bottom of these questions. We spoke to several speakers in the run-up to the congress.

A brand core that needs no transformation

Interview with Michael Lessmann, Managing Director DACH + Nordics at Ritter Sport

Ritter has always remained true to its brand essence. Does that contribute to the resilience of the company?

A strong corporate culture with clear values is central to the resilience of a company. For us, these values are based on the beliefs of the Ritter family and are not only guidelines for our daily economic actions as a company, but also for our brand.

Ritter is still a family business in contrast to the competition. How can you survive in the market and remain resilient?

We exist in the market not because we are a family business, but because we are! Being a family business is a huge advantage. It enables us to act quickly and to operate with a focus on long-term success. 

GDC Summit Michael Lessmann
Michael Lessmann

Can you still be innovative?

Being innovative is as much part of our DNA as being sustainable. Unsere Innovationskraft reicht von der Erfindung des Schokoquadrats vor 90 Jahren bis hin zu unserem Ansatz der ganzheitlichen Verwertung der Kakaofrucht heute. The secret of our success lies not least in the fruitful combination of innovation and tradition.

GDC Summit Ritter Sport
First tests with paper packaging were very well received by consumers, © Ritter Sport

The packaging of your product is the same, but the material is new: Are you successful with this? Is it a guarantee for success to make sustainability a topic?

Our first tests with paper-based packaging were promising and the feedback from consumers has been excellent. Our main goal is to put our product in a recyclable and sustainable packaging with maximum product protection and safety. But it is still too early for a changeover. That is why we are continuing to develop and research and will continue to use our tried and tested packaging made of polypropylene, a single-material packaging that is already fully recyclable.

Making sustainability a topic is successful when you have done your homework and can show real progress.

In the field of sustainability, there is now a lot of competition in your industry, also in the discounter sector. What is your unique selling point?

There is a misunderstanding here. There can’t be too much “competition” in the field of sustainability. If you are serious about sustainability, you have to welcome the commitment of others. We are not concerned with unique selling points, but with improving the impact of our actions on the environment and on future generations; this is a joint effort that we cannot master alone.

Resilience through employer branding

Interview with Dr. Astrid Fontaine, Member of the Board of Management at Volkswagen

GDC Summit Astrid Fontaine
Dr. Astrid Fontaine

Electromobility, autonomous driving, sustainability in production and materials – the automotive industry has to deal with changes and new trends. This also affects Volkswagen commercial vehicles. How are you driving the transformation of the commercial vehicle brand?

The Volkswagen Group is at the forefront of change on all these issues. With all our brands, we are moving more decisively towards e-mobility than any other manufacturer of this size. In recent years, we have shown that Battery electric vehicles are absolutely suitable for everyday use – and customers accept and use the technology. An absolute showcase model is the ID. Buzz, which we have been producing at VWN in Hanover since this year. Er transportiert nicht nur die Bulli-Gene in eine neue, vollelektrische Ära. Er steht auch für den Wandel in unserer Fabrik. Und auch beim Thema autonomes Fahren spielt er eine entscheidende Rolle: Schon heute fährt der ID. Buzz AD – das steht für Autonomous Driving – zu Testzwecken durch Hamburg und München. In Hamburg, we will launch a commercial service as early as 2025.

How can people, and especially your employees, be convinced and inspired by this change?

VWN not only produces some of the most sought-after cars and vans on the market, such as the Bulli, Caddy and others, but also increasingly electric ones. We also address important future topics such as autonomous driving and new mobility and transport services that are shaping the entire industry. This makes our company interesting for people with very different experiences. And then we offer the opportunity to directly participate in the transformation of a traditional company that is repositioning itself for this future. This is a unique opportunity for talented people – but above all for our own employees who want to develop further and go this way with us.

Do employees need an identification project to bind them to the company? Does design help with this?

In today’s “new world of work”, identification with a company, for example through its products, is becoming increasingly important. At Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, we have had an absolute design icon in the form of the Bulli for more than seven decades: the Bulli – especially in the camper version – stands for a lifestyle of freedom and independence. It inspires people all over the world. And for the “Bulli builders” at VWN, it is much more than just a car. Despite all the changes, the Bulli has always retained a high recognition value. Generations of designers have had the task of developing a car that is immediately recognisable for its roots and yet looks to the future. In my opinion, the latest generation, the electric Bulli ID. Buzz, is particularly successful. This is how you create identification in the transformation.

ID Buzz
The ID. Buzz creates employee identification in the transformation process, © Volkswagen AG

The shortage of skilled workers is becoming more and more visible across all sectors. How do you bind your employees to your brand – and of course to your company? And how do you manage to attract new employees through your brand work?

The growing shortage of skilled workers is increasingly affecting the entire labour market, i.e. all qualification levels and all professional areas – but especially IT. We take a twofold approach: on the one hand, we place a strong focus on the qualification of our own staff, for example in our Faculty 73, where we train employees with an IT affinity to become software developers in a two-year programme. These are not only academics, but also tech-savvy employees from the assembly line.

In addition, we are also specifically looking for IT specialists on the labour market. Speed counts here! Recruiting is increasingly becoming a strategic core function and must be set up accordingly in order to win the best talents for the company faster and more efficiently. We are moving away from “Post & Pray” to an “Active Sourcing” approach. At VWN, for example, we search for autonomous driving primarily on social media. In this way, we pick up potential candidates where they are. Employer attractiveness is important in “active sourcing” – for example, the question: Can the talent identify with our company and our products? The attractiveness of VWN has recently been enhanced by our ID. Buzz.

Outperforming the AI

Interview with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University

How can companies benefit from your idea of framing?

We humans think in mental models, in so-called “frames”. They influence not only how we see the world, but also how we make decisions. This has been known for a long time, but now researchers have found that we can improve our decisions by cleverly using these frames – not because we choose one bad option out of two, but because the frames allow us to generate other and potentially much better decision options besides the obvious ones. This is a kind of superpower of the human mind that we all have but often under-use. The advantage of better use of the frames is obvious: we make better decisions with them.

GDC Summit Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
Prof. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

Recreate. Transform. Be resilient – can an AI even keep up with this challenge?

No, because unlike us humans, an AI cannot dream purposefully. It can infer the future from the past and present, but cannot imagine anything entirely new. It is precisely when the known answers to the challenges of our time are no longer sufficient, when tomorrow is different from yesterday, that the power of AI fails. This is because only we humans can imagine alternative futures that are different from what already exists, and then choose one of them and make it a reality.

So we can relax – an AI will never be able to replace a human. Right?

No. AI will not replace humans in the long run. But there is no time to relax. We are facing great and new challenges that we will only overcome through very intense purposeful dreaming. A really exhausting time is coming. But the good thing is: we have the right mental tool within us – we just have to use it.

GDC Summit

GDC Summit

Speakers from different disciplines will talk about the influence good design can have on long-term success and what the most important factors for resilience are. At the congress, experts from research and science will discuss with successful brand managers, creative professionals from agencies – and of course with the congress participants from a wide range of industries and professional fields. Further information on the GDC Summit can be found at summit.gdc.de, registration is still possible.

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