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Common Sense for the C-Suite | Volume 5, Issue 1


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Is your brand only skin deep?

We often think of corporate brand as a company’s public face — be it a logo, a product or an ad — something a person can touch or see. In reality, a brand is the sum of the entire organization — its values, operations, policies, decisions, operating principles, work environments and more. It’s about behaviors, not messages.

In our latest Common Sense for the C-Suite report, we explore the significance and complexity of branding in the age of influence. Give it a read, and let us know what you think.

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Common Sense for the C-Suite | Volume 5, Issue 1

  1. 1. VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? A Commentary for Marketing and Communications on the Significance and Complexity of Branding Today
  2. 2. WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 2 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? With all of today’s talk about “brand” AND “content,” one would think we’re in a Golden Age of storytelling, superior service, fulfilled expectations and endless possibilities for companies, customers and employees. Unfortunately, we have more “content” than attention and “brand” has become an overused buzz word, losing its meaning. This presents a semantic (and substantive) challenge for communicators. Brand development and communications too often are euphemisms for a new logo, new advertising, sloganeering, and superficial promises, with little or no consideration given to the actual intent behind those efforts. The reality of “brand” is more complicated than all of that, and demands a more sophisticated approach. A well-conceived brand transcends signs and slogans. It reflects who we are, not simply what we say or what we look like. Brand refers to our products and entire corporate entity. The signs and slogans are only physical manifestations of our company’s core. It’s up to us as communicators to help define the underlying substance. It’s up to us to recognize that brand is conveyed and validated by actions and behaviors, not marketing and messages. Steve Jobs talked about marketing as values. “People want to know what you stand for and why you exist,” he once stated. “It’s not about features or benefits, but about belief.” Ask yourself: if you took down all of your “signs” – removed your logo from your signature, your name from your ads and your sign from your buildings – would people inside and outside of your organization still know who you are, what you stand for or why you exist? Or, is your brand only skin deep? Memorable brands aren’t built by accident. Building and sustaining an effective brand is one of the most difficult and important challenges facing a company today. How, then, do communicators contribute to the building of the brand? The answer involves how we communicate both inside and outside of the organization, and how we truly comprehend the meaning of our brand and translate that into language, attitude and behavior. In the following pages, we’ll explore what brand is (historically), what it is today (in an age of influence), key questions to consider when branding, and the role of Communications in brand management.
  3. 3. WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 3 Can’t Touch This We often think of corporate brand as a company’s public face — be it a logo, a product or an ad — something a person can touch or see. That’s the first mistake. We need to stop thinking of brand as a thing. Brand is not something we can see, smell, hear, taste, or touch. Brand is the sum of the entire organization — its values, operations, policies, decisions, operating principles, work environments and more. Brand is determined by how we conduct ourselves each day, and not by corporate edict. It’s about behaviors, not messages. To the consumer, investor or onlooker, brand exists solely in the mind. Brand is a result of the cumulative experience of people as they interact with your people, products and services. How do your products and services make them feel? How does interacting with your employees impact their perception of your company? What motivates them to purchase? What makes them want to come back? Do they view your offerings differently from those of competitors? Why? Do they view buying from you as a relationship or merely a transaction? An effective brand doesn’t simply distinguish a company or product from its competitors. It builds a lasting relationship with people. It influences, motivates and drives them to take action (be it purchasing or joining the team). Brand is the emotional feelings and responses a company engenders in people. It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts — Thinking Purpose Beauty may be only skin deep, but brand runs to the core of a business. We often think of brand in terms of its impact on the customer. The customers are, after all, the people who buy our products and services and generate our revenue. The customer is the most visible part of the brand experience but brand, paradoxically, is not primarily an external force. Brand begins on the inside. Consider the following hypothetical example: you’re attending a professional sporting event, looking forward to rooting for your favorite championship team. But, when you get there, the parking lot is poorly lit, the restrooms are dirty, the concessions are tasteless, and your seat is broken. Even though the part of the brand that you rationally care about – the Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? A Commentary for Marketing and Communications on the Significance and Complexity of Branding Today
  4. 4. VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 4 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE players – may perform at the highest level, isn’t it likely that your feelings about the organization might somehow suffer? What created these negative impressions? Not the game itself. Not the players. Not the team’s logo or slogan. It was people you didn’t even see, and had probably never thought about. Brand in an Age of Influence In his book Pre-Commerce, Bob Pearson first introduced the concept of Influence as the next phase in Marketing and Communications. In an age when everyone literally has a “voice” due to technology, traditional ways of reaching and engaging with employees, customers and stakeholder communities are no longer effective. Today you are more likely to act on a recommendation, comment, opinion, criticism, or characterization from your colleague, friend, or family member than from an organization or some other “authority.” In this regard, as Pearson stated, “The topic is more important than the brand.” It places the organization as a “voice” in the marketplace and a content curator and publisher exploring multiple dimensions of a variety of subjects. Is Brand Less Important Today? Some have argued that brand matters less in a social and digital age with global economies. They believe products and companies become commoditized as people inevitably gravitate toward the lowest price. We couldn’t disagree more. With the increase in choices and options, investors and consumers make brand more important. Further, any company that doesn’t believe this will learn the hard way. Look at it this way: why do you feel comfortable buying myriad products from a brand such as Amazon® ? Who would you rather give your credit card information to? Who will you trust to deliver your shipment on a timely basis? Who do you believe will do a better job of guaranteeing quality and accepting the return of an unsatisfactory item? Is this peace of mind worth an extra buck? We believe most people would vote “yes” – with their credit cards. We are What We Eat. And Drink. And Drive. As society diversifies, consumer brands are becoming more important because they increasingly are part of defining who we are. We are no longer solely defined, as we once were, by such demographic factors as neighborhood, ethnicity, age, education or occupation. Today, what we invest in reflects how we identify ourselves. We’re Cadillac® -driving, Calloway® -swinging, Kettle One® sippers, while our teenagers are Tazo® Tea drinking, Under Armour® - wearing, iPhone® -users. And a whole set of characteristics and expectations are associated with these descriptions. Today’s brands speak far less about the characteristics and functionality of products than they used to. Remember the durability of Craftsmen® tools or the cleaning power of Ajax® ? Brand now symbolizes what your With the increase in choices and options, investors and consumers make brand more important.
  5. 5. VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 5 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE product represents to the consumer in terms of lifestyle and aspiration. Brand makes an emotional connection, helping a person – or group of people – project how they want to be viewed. However, once one gets past the emotional connection, the rational side kicks in – when brand becomes a legitimate choice based on more tangible factors, such as differentiated products or services and quality. Questions, Questions, Questions When developing a new product, the process generally begins with a lot of questions: What are the opportunities? What are our customers’ needs? What is or is not being done to meet those needs? What are our core competencies? Do we have the resources to launch and support this? Do we have internal capacity for design, manufacturing, fulfillment and advertising, or will we have to outsource? What do we want to know from research? What will it take for us to succeed, and to sustain success? So it is with branding. Like so many other strategic initiatives, branding first requires a thorough understanding of where your audiences “live” and correlating it with where the company is headed before deciding where to go – or how to get there. Analysis means knowing both the external environment and the company culture. How well do you understand your customers? Why do they buy your products? How often? What are the perceived benefits? What does your brand stand for? If brand indeed represents a set of promises, what promises does your brand represent? What gaps are there between who you say you are and who your customers say you are? What else do your employees need to know or do? Would people know it’s your company without the proper identification? Who are you when your sign comes down? Who do you want to be? In a sense, we don’t really communicate in order to sell products. We’re selling – and building – a brand or a promise. Failing at that, the effectiveness of our communications is compromised at best, or a moot point at worst. Think about it. Does anyone but perhaps a world-class athlete really perform better in Nike® shoes? Do Tostitos® really make your party more festive? Any beverage can quench your thirst, but asking a loyal Pepsi® or Budweiser® drinker to switch their preferred beverage can be like asking them to root against their favorite team in the Super Bowl. What consumers are really buying – knowingly or unknowingly – is the experience conveyed. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The customer may be the ultimate test of brand. But that’s not where brand begins. Communicate Frequently So, how do we live the values of our brands? Many people talk about employee “awareness”
  6. 6. VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 6 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE of the brand. Awareness isn’t enough because it doesn’t guarantee people believe and support it. The first priority is for employees to understand, embrace and believe in the values of the brand. This will only happen if leadership lives the brand, and if business decisions and human resources policies reflect the brand’s values. That takes time, passion, energy, consistency and effort. But, it’s important, because you’re asking employees to live a set of values that are supposed to represent the company, their role in the company, and how the company interacts with customers, employees and investors alike. The key thing is that all of this must be communicated on a regular basis, which is certainly a challenge, given that many corporate communication functions are actually communicating to a workforce that no longer exists. They keep pumping content and using channels but fail to realize few are paying attention. Employees can’t be expected to embrace a brand if no one is building a relationship with them. Reading periodic leadership blogs, getting a copy of the annual report, and attending a quarterly Town Hall may technically qualify as organizational (employee) communications, but don’t do much to help employees discover, understand, and discuss the business in meaningful ways. Neither will telling employees “what the brand is” in so many words and charts. Employees need to see, hear and feel what’s going on outside their cubicles and workstations. Fortunately for us as communicators, they need and want to know this information. In an era of instant messaging, if we don’t tell them, they’ll find it out on their own. Keep it Simple If all employees impact brand and have the ability to reinforce what it stands for through their actions, how can it be discussed with them? Here are some do’s, don’ts and determinations communicators should consider when aligning and encouraging their employees to emulate the brand essence in everything they do: Don’t use the word “brand” when communicating to employees and customers. Brand is reflected in how we act. Truly, your actions will speak louder than your words. You can’t simply talk about the brand – you must “be” it and live it, every day. Don’t position or introduce brand as a “solution” for current problems; this could compromise the credibility of both the brand and the company. Remember, brand isn’t a “thing.” Do introduce or revitalize brand in the overall context of company business. Take every relationship, intenal and external, into consideration. The communications function is uniquely qualified to take this holistic perspective. Do ensure that the CEO is the champion: how the CEO lives and breathes the brand will determine its success or failure. Determine how people find, experience, see, value, discuss and rely on communications to ensure these things are consistent with who you want to be. Employees can’t be expected to embrace a brand if no one is building a relationship with them.
  7. 7. VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 7 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE Determine what kind of relationship management has with employees, and whether the dialogue is two-way or one- way. Do you have the right tools in place to facilitate that dialogue? Never forget or underestimate the environment your brand operates in. At GM® , for example, the company would like the process of buying a new Cadillac CT-6 to be an experience akin to purchasing a fine piece of jewelry or even artwork. As such, the dealership experience – the true face of the GM corporate brand to consumers – is just as important as the ultimate product itself. The Importance of “Storytizing” In his new book, Storytizing, Pearson once again introduces us to the next evolution in marketing and advertising. Behind every successful brand is a good story that underscores the philosophies, risks and actions of a visionary person. Every new McDonald’s® employee, from executive to fry cook, is immediately immersed in the tale of how MultiMixer salesman Ray Kroc built the world’s largest foodservice retailer on the company’s QSVC principles — quality, service, value and cleanliness. Companies have histories – or, stories. And by telling these histories, people can understand the mission, values and passion that have built, grown and sustained the company. Corporate brands reflect their company’s heritage. With successful brands, the pride and emotion they generate are passed on to new employees like family heirlooms moving from generation to generation. Do employees know the history of your company? Do you? Are you borrowing from that legacy to help find your brand today? Finding Your Center of Gravity If employees are to live and reflect your brand, and if your brand is in turn to both shape and reflect your company, communications and desired behavior must start at the top. Leading by example is rarely more important. During Ray Kroc’s tenure, all McDonald’s® executives could boast that at one time in their careers they had worked behind the grill and the till. Many a junior executive spent a month or more not just observing franchises, but working in them alongside harried managers and burger flippers. As Kroc knew, this was the best way for them to fully understand how the McDonald’s QSVC brand values play themselves out countless times every day with customers, franchisees and employees. No Quick Fix As the value of brand becomes increasingly understood, a growing tendency is for companies to view brand as a quick fix to reverse a number of business maladies. “Competitor X has a great brand — let’s get one too!” This can be an all-too-common battle cry.
  8. 8. VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 8 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE Market share dropping? Market cap down? Initiate a new brand strategy! Or, even worse, a new name or logo! Brand is not an after-thought, something to be sprinkled on top of an already-baked business plan. It requires a considerable and constant effort. Brand is not something that can be achieved by merely ordering up a splashy new ad campaign, or slapping a logo on the side of a NASCAR® racecar. The corporate brand should be treated like any other major corporate initiative. It requires its own strategy, dedication, commitment, resources and personnel. It’s easy to take bold, decisive action in the name of brand building. But are the efforts being properly channeled? ”Got Brand?” Every company likes to think it has a unique and effective brand. Protecting or building an effective brand involves a constant process of self-evaluation. A few questions you must ask and answer include: • Who are we today? • Who do our audiences say we are? • Where’s influence in our category? • If there’s a gap between those things, why is that the case? • Are we “on-trend”? • How is senior management’s behavior reinforcing – or detracting from – our brand? • Do we encourage the kind of internal dialogue and debate that optimizes our performance and brand consistency? • What are our employees thinking, believing, and saying? How about our customers? The media? Are we even in the habit of asking them? • Are our communications strengthening our brand? Are we communicating the right things? • Who do our competitors say they are? Has that changed? • Do our capital product and other investments strengthen our brand promise? • Regardless of who we say we are or who we actually are, who do we need to be? You may not have all of the answers right away. But, as a bridge between the internal and external communities, communicators are uniquely positioned to get to the answers. So, if you chose to take down your sign, everyone will still be able to say, “That’s you!”
  9. 9. WCG | COMMON SENSE FOR THE C-SUITE VOL. 5 | ISSUE 1 | JUNE 2016 9 Removing Your Logo… Will Anyone Recognize You? For more information, please contact Gary Grates: 212-257-6994 WCG’s Corporate and Strategy Group is the organizational communications consulting practice for WCG*, a leading independent, global strategic marketing, digital, and corporate communications firm. The mission of the WCG Corporate Strategy Group is to advise and assist organizations in effectively addressing reputational risk, change management, innovation, product supremacy, and brand leadership. The group offers distinctive expertise in culture transformation, strategy implementation, CEO transitions, leadership positioning, internal branding, M&A post-merger integration, labor-management relations, advocacy and issues management, internal communications improvement programming, investor relations, training and development, and employee worldview research/measurement through a proprietary combination of analytics, management outreach, employee engagement and strategic communications. *WCG is a firm of the W2O Group