Author:Jon Schleuning

Building a Strong Corporate Identity

Most organizations realize that having a strong brand identity brings many benefits, among them more motivated employees, competitive advantage in the marketplace and a clear brand promise to engage customers and stakeholders.

But it’s not always clear how to build a strong identity if you don’t already have one. What does it take? And how do you know what to aim for?

 

READ MORE

0
4

Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of Youth

Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of YouthRecently I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Leah Garchik. She recapped a story that involved a pilot, who, while navigating a flight to the East Coast, suggested over the intercom that passengers look out the window for a scenic “Kodak moment.” As Garchick reported, one flight attendant then asked, “What’s Kodak?”

Once a ubiquitous tagline, “A Kodak Moment” made its way into casual speech to describe a moment worth remembering, but awareness of Kodak’s popular tagline, as well as its brand relevance today, has almost completely evaporated.

This is a huge lesson. Success can be fleeting, even for the most iconic brands; The question is, how can you prevent that from happening?

READ MORE

0
4

An “Olympian” Brand Attribute

An “Olympian” Brand AttributeHow much do you really think about the words that you use to define your brand? What are their definitions, what feelings do they inspire in people?

As the excitement of the winter Olympics fades—a week spent watching some the world’s best athletes compete against each other—I’ve thinking about the word “Olympian.” What does it mean to be an Olympian?

The American Heritage Dictionary lists “Olympian” as both a noun and an adjective. In the context of the Olympic Games, the noun is the literal definition: “A contestant in either the ancient or modern Olympic games.” To be an Olympian is to be recognized by your country as the best they have in a given sport at the time of the Olympic games. It is an elite circle and the level of athletic excellence, competitive drive and dedication to their sports that Olympians have is unquestionable.

The more interesting expression of the word for me, though, lies in the adjective’s definition: “To surpass all others in scope and effect.”The highlight Olympian moments are the ones that demonstrate a courage, determination and desire to leave it all on the field—the ones where the athlete finds an inner strength to rise beyond the competition, despite all obstacles.

Sometimes Olympian efforts are gold medal winning, like ski racer Mikaela Shiffren’s cool recovery to win the slalom. “No matter what else was happening, I kept thinking that I had to keep my skis moving down the hill. Keep going, don’t quit, don’t stop…Then see what happens.” Other times they display a fierce resolve, like Jeremy Abbott, the American ice skater who fell disastrously early in his routine, but got up and finished to a standing ovation with some of the most spectacular jumps of the evening.

Why do these definitions matter? In our business, we often describe a brand with key attributes or personality traits; words that capture the essence of a brand. Often these words are descriptive, but not deeply meaningful. I’ve never seen “Olympian”used as a brand attribute, but maybe in time. A brand that included “Olympian” as one of its attributes and aspirations would be inspiring, and one I’d love to be a part of.

0
0

Focus First on Your Brand Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.READ MORE

0
2

Brand Positioning: What to Convey vs. What to Say

Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splitsWhen it comes to positioning and messaging, there’s a fundamental distinction between “the idea” and “the message.”

We sometimes work with clients who come to us for positioning help, but then ask us to tell them what to say as their message. This typically happens after we’ve worked together to drill down what their complex organization does into a single, compelling idea. We’ve helped them articulate who they are, what they do and why they matter to their critical audiences, and it’s at this point where they run into trouble. We hear comments such as, “this positioning statement doesn’t just roll off the tongue.” Our clients are hoping they can take the positioning statement we’ve given them and simply drop it as messaging language into communication material. It doesn’t work like that.

Positioning vs. Copy
The position of your company sets you apart from everyone else. Used strategically, positioning should be the foundation for the messaging and communication that comes next, such as taglines and tactical advertising slogans. Positioning is internal and timeless—it is what you want to convey holistically, not what you literally say in each communication piece.

The message you then put forth should reflect your position and target the key opportunities and audiences you want to address. If every message comes from a common conceptual foundation and engages with its target audience in relevant ways, the effect of the brand will be greater than just the sum of its parts.

A good example of this is when Volvo Trucks wanted to highlight the precision and dynamics of Volvo Dynamic Steering in 2013. Volvo produced a memorable commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving semitrailer trucks. Volvo is famously positioned around safety; the ad effectively conveyed both the company’s positioning and the key point they wanted their customers to understand using inspired, memorable imagery.

Tips for a successful positioning/messaging relationship

  • Treat your positioning as your galvanizing idea. Once you’ve identified what you want to convey, you can take creative latitude to express it based on specific communication needs.
  • Don’t use positioning as your communication boilerplate. You should always be thinking of what you want your audience to understand, instead of simply looking for language you can plug in.

When used effectively, positioning and messaging takeaways are the litmus test for brand communications. They help guide communications—they are the key ideas, not the literal words.

0
2

Need a Creative Breakthrough? Reframe Your Approach

Leonardo da Vinci challenged convention with his thinking, as he demonstrated in his drawings of his flying machine. Similarly, we must be creative thinkers as we work to position our clients. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Leonardo da Vinci challenged convention with his thinking, as he demonstrated in his drawings of his flying machine. Similarly, we must be creative thinkers as we work to position our clients. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

At Marshall, we’re not designers, but we appreciate the creative problem solving approach that visual designers employ. When we are called upon to position a client, we must find a way to describe their complex organization in a single compelling thought, which requires similarly creative thinking.

This can be a daunting task, especially with the multifaceted clients we work with. For example, we have several higher education clients, such as UC Berkeley and Caltech, who are known for being leaders across a breadth of disciplines. When we work with them on positioning, our goal is to develop one defining thought that’s clear enough for the organization’s audiences to understand, but broad enough so they aren’t limited by it. We call this strategic ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean that this thought can be vague. It still has to be true, differentiating and meaningful.

Along the way we might get stuck as we work to distill this “big idea” from the many important facts we hear. When we get stuck, the key is to approach the problem from a different perspective—to be unconventional.

Getting Unstuck

There are a few tips we can share that will help pull you out of your creativity slump, reframe your position and move ahead.

  • Do your homework. Early on, we immerse ourselves in the client’s world as deeply as we can—interviewing people inside and outside of the organization, spending time in their environment and looking for as much insight as possible. Then, if we need to shift the direction, we have plenty of research to go back to.
  • Listen for the truths. Identify multiple insights at the beginning of the process, instead of beginning the project with one narrow insight. It’s smarter to begin the creative process by thinking of all points of entry into an issue.
  • Go big right out of the gate. Keep your thinking as high level as possible. Look for analogies in other businesses or industries. This will enable you to rise above the details and look for organizing principles.
  • Make sure you’re solving the right problem. Sometimes we end up wrestling with issues—such as organizational or operational problems—that can’t always be solved through positioning or messaging. If you try to resolve the wrong problem, the solution will always be at odds with it.

Early on in our work with UC Berkeley, we saw them as a uniquely unconventional institution. But the idea of “challenging convention” was divisive, as for many it tied the school to the rebellious era of the ’60s and left-wing protests. We reframed our thinking and thought about Berkeley’s excellence across every discipline—a truly renaissance institution where breakthroughs often happen because disparate ideas collide daily. If Berkeley were a person, we thought, it would be someone like Leonardo da Vinci. We found Berkeley’s bigger promise in this renaissance spirit—reimagining the world, by challenging convention to shape the future.

Creative problem solving begins with being well informed, then taking a step back to free oneself of the details. When you let go for a minute, and look for the unconventional approach or reframe your path, new avenues will open.

0
2

3 Signs You Need to Reconsider Your Identity

 

Courtesy Brian Talbot

Courtesy Brian Talbot

We’ve written before about the ways that a strong identity benefits leaders. Identity work can have tremendous positive impact on internal audiences, but it’s more likely that clients will come to us because they’re being misperceived by their external audiences. Here are three of the most common scenarios that signal it’s time to reconsider your identity:

  1. You’re losing business because of how you’re perceived: We’ve seen clients have multimillion dollar deals killed at the last minute because of how the brand was perceived in the marketplace. Other times, misperceptions can slowly erode your relevance with key audiences.
  2. You’re too narrowly defined: We’ve had clients with a great set of services and products, but they’re known for only one thing. If you’ve made your name in one area, great. But it might be time to communicate that you’ve got more to offer.
  3. The market you’re in is changing: Maybe you’re in an industry undergoing significant change. To stay relevant you need to be ahead of that curve when markets shift.

Transforming Into Something New
When you do change your identity, whether the change is evolutionary or revolutionary, it needs to be communicated in a way that is relevant. An identity change signals to both internal and external audiences that something is fundamentally different about your company. You need to make that difference as clear as possible.

One of our clients had acquired several regional cold-chain supply companies to create a cold-chain logistics company with national connectivity. The challenge for this client was that even though they were bringing together multiple smaller companies, they didn’t want to be perceived as a big, impersonal corporate roll-up and lose the family-owned, regional heritage of the acquired companies.

We created the name Lineage Logistics to convey a sense of history and legacy coming together to form a fully connected, forward-looking service business. The new name communicated to employees that the heritage of their companies was important to the new company, and signaled to customers that existing relationships weren’t going to go away. The benefits of the new company–increased efficiency and coast-to-coast continuity–were established without sacrificing regional understanding and local relationships.

Making Change Successful
An effort to change your identity involves more than changing your logo or tagline. To make the shift successful, you must understand how it will affect your people, your culture and your customers. When you communicate a clear a reason for change, you can effectively engage both internal and external audiences. Customers, prospects and clients understand where you’re going, and your internal audience sees that there’s something they can believe in and get behind.

0
0

How to Retain the Uniqueness of Acquired Brands

Picture of moving boxes
What happens when a brand that people trust and feel strongly about is acquired? Loyal customers have a strong emotional attachment to it; often they’re watching with trepidation, worried that the small brand is going to get big and “corporate” and lose what made it special. We’ve been thinking about this as we watch what’s happening with Tumblr. Fans are afraid that the Yahoo acquisition is going to ruin what makes Tumblr unique—and after seeing what happened to Flickr, another Yahoo acquisition, they may have good reason. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, went as far as to say, “We’re not going to screw this up.”

Questions for Acquiring Companies
It’s not necessarily a bad thing for smaller companies to be acquired and gain access to the resources of a larger entity. Often the move can provide a jolt of energy for both the acquired and the acquirer. Our enterprise clients face this challenge frequently. How can they retain and foster the spirit of the companies they’ve acquired?

Any acquisition has to be handled carefully from a brand management perspective. As an acquiring company you need to ask yourself:

  1. How does the acquired brand add to, or build upon, our own brand essence?
  2. Which attributes may be at odds with our brand?
  3. How much of that unique character do we want to keep?
  4. How are we going to elevate what we have decided to retain?
  5. How do we ensure that our new people feel valued and part of their new environment?
  6. How do we communicate these decisions in a meaningful way?

When the unique essence of a brand is important to preserve, acquiring companies have some options they ought to consider:

  1. Let the acquired brand stand on its own: In some cases, this makes strategic sense. Zipcar has been acquired by Hertz, but you don’t see any mention of Hertz on the mobile app or the website. Hertz is a largely invisible presence. The Zipcar brand is about independence and sharing: You just need “wheels when you want them.” It is a brand appeal to a very different kind of consumer and circumstance, one that Hertz would have trouble delivering under its existing brand. That independent appeal can be made stronger now that Zipcar enjoys the operational efficiencies and national reach that come with being part of Hertz.
  2. Demonstrate how you are better together: In the technology space, many successful acquisitions have shown how two brands coming together created more value than they could have on their own: Amazon with Zappos, for instance, or Google with YouTube. These companies didn’t try to simply absorb the acquired brand and its customers. Instead the attitude was, “Wow, we bought something incredibly special here, and it makes us all better. Let’s let it develop.” Having this complementary view is important if you want to retain the people, both employees and customers, who love the brand.

When done right, acquisitions of beloved companies appear almost seamless, but it’s  rarely easy. But behind the scenes,  parent companies must make careful, considered decisions about what makes the acquisition unique—and how to retain what it is that made the brand worth acquiring in the first place.

0
0