Bedbury, also the author of "A New Brand World: 8 Principles to Achieve Brand Leadership in the 21st Century", was responsible for launching Nike's "Just Do It" slogan and making the brand a household name in his seven year tenure there.
He shares a stage at the summit live and in person over the next three days of the event with other thought leaders such as Tom Peters, Michael Porter, Carly Fiorina and Rudy Guiliani, in one of the most high profile events of this nature ever held in South Africa - with all the speakers appearing in person.
Bedbury emphasised that a brand is everybody's responsibility and everybody's vulnerability. "Great products are the starting point of a great brand and service is the foundation. Great brands connect something that is timeless and meaningful and well known brands equal value and promises."
So how does one deliver on that brand promise to consumers?
Bedbury says find your highest common denominator in the brand, whether it is 'to belong, to love, to feel loved'. "It is about how you make your consumers feel? And every brand needs to be positioned around core values, products, the local market nuances and relevance."
It's not rocket science, these are pretty common denominators in the new branding science, but it is the simplicity and elegance with which Bedbury strips the basic principles of brand building from the metaphorical brand-speak which litters agency presentations, that is impactful. It is the sincerity of his message, the heartfelt delivery and absolute belief in the total brand delivery - from the lowest paid workers at the forefront of brand interaction, to the state of the restrooms in the retail space that houses your brand, to how employees are treated internally.
The essence is: "How do you grow like a Goliath, but behave like a David?" he asks.
Addressing the audience, Bedbury explained: "I don't know what kind of business you are in, but I suggest you remember that you are in the people business. The most important decisions you make are usually emotionally driven.
"If your brand is a retail brand, you have employees out in the public eye: anyone who touches or sells your brand is either going to be an asset or a liability to you. Optimise every touch point.
Using two of the brands he helped develop and turn around into the global super brands they are today, Nike and Starbucks, as example, Bedbury outlined his basic brand philosophy.
Starbucks came up with a revolutionary "Third Place" brand strategy to grow its brand, under Bedbury's marketing leadership.
The coffee market was given up as dead in 1985, yet consumers in Starbucks focus groups couldn't stop talking about coffee and how it made them feel.
"How do you make people feel? Find your 'core' of your brand, your 'third place'. When you have a great idea, don't leave it on a PowerPoint! Bring it to life... shoot some film... draw some pictures... share it. Get it out there."
The third place concept was premised around the construct that the 'First Place' in people's lives is home; the 'Second Place' is work; and the 'Third Place' is an oasis, the place were you go to recharge, relax, share special moments with friends, spend time with yourself.
"We asked ourselves: is there a 'Third Place', a place between home and work. The café table has been at the centre of some of the most important movements, creative and political, worldwide. Starbucks is a respectful inheritor of this tradition. An island of hope in the middle of the work day... an oasis..." Bedbury explained.
Starbucks became a place to meet, to unwind, a place with "friendly strangers" who knew your name. And it was also down to the ambience of newly redesigned stores with more comfortable seating to encourage people to linger, and friendly, efficient staff.
Lesson: Do something with the people on your front line.
"They are often lowest paid, but they represent your brand out there. Never forget the human element," Bedbury emphasizes.
Lesson: Define your brand as good as it can be on your terms and lead your distribution channel by example.
No Nike Town store was ever designed to be profitable, Bedbury says. It was a marketing platform to prove to retailers that sports apparel was a viable product line. But within 10 months, Nike turned a profit on the first store and revolutionised retail.
"Deliver your brand without compromise at least once... It's not just what you do, but how you go about doing it."
Lesson: Everything matters and everything communicates.
"It's not your best advertising, your clever press release that only distributes your brand message - everything else written about you on the Internet, rude staff, your office building... communicates your brand message too," says Bedbury.
"Brand image used to be everything," says Bedbury. "I think we are at a place now in business where consumers give money to you and where there is a much-needed area of sensitivity in this era. One can't say one thing and do another in your business - all it takes is one employee, one email, one journalist and your cover is blown. The Internet is the ultimate truth serum.
"Increasingly, employees want to work for companies they respect. Starbucks gives full medical benefits, even to half-day employees and stock options for all employees. You need to ask yourself: 'Are your employees assets or liabilities?'"
Lesson: There should be zero separation between 'Brand' and 'Product'.
Bedbury explains: "In some companies, there is a line item called 'Brand' and a bigger line item called 'Product'. At Nike there was no separation. You need to be a storyteller of your brand... but with one brand voice."
Lesson: It's not what you say, but how you say it..
Nike brought in a woman-only marketing team after its advertising bombed with the women it was trying to reach.
Lesson: Mistakes are a requirement for transformational innovation. Just don't make the same mistake twice.
Bedbury believes smart decisions are made when your butt is on the line.
In today's over-tested market with multiple focus groups and pre- and post-testing of marketing messages, 90% of all marketing is perfectly unremarkable, Bedbury asserts.
"You can either advertise something people remember, or they don't remember. It costs the same amount of money! The biggest companies today, who spend billions, are pre-testing the life out of all their marketing. They test and test and carve all the edges off, testing for over a year, before rolling campaigns out."
The result he says, are watered-down ideas and safe messages. If you want to stay current and reach new markets, pre-test less, he advises. There is art in business. Hire the creatives and get the hell out of their way!
Lesson: If you're going to test, test your work against the world's best... and always trace brand strength.
Remember the spandex rule of entering new markets, Bedbury reiterates: "Just because you can, doesn't mean that you should..."
"It's the little things that make the difference," he concluded.
The Global Leaders Africa Summit is sponsored in South Africa by Barclays and SAS Institute.
All the speakers appearing at this benchmarking event in Johannesburg are appearing live on stage, not recorded or via satellite, giving business leaders a remarkable opportunity to workshop and interact with global leaders of the calibre of Bedbury, Tom Peters, Rudy Giuliani, and so on.
Global Leaders deliver unique, influential business and thought leaders in the field of leadership, strategic management and competitive strategy to corporate and government decision-makers in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa. Each speaker has been instrumental in shaping the business world of today. Global Leaders' next event features the world's most foremost marketing thinker, Dr. Philip Kotler, also 'LIVE & In Person' on 27 July. Visit www.globalleadersevents.com/kotler for more information.