Author:Philip Durbrow

What I Learned About Branding From Aristotle Onassis

Aristotle OnassisIn 1975, I had the enjoyable experience of being the guest of Jackie and Aristotle Onassis at the El Morocco club in New York City. It was New Year’s Eve, and while I had worked with Jackie previously, I was meeting Mr. Onassis for the first time. I explained my profession in corporate branding to him, and his subsequent advice surprised me. It was completely related to image; not a word he said dealt with financial or investment advice.

“Drink where the rich drink, even if it means sipping one drink,” he said. “Live at an upscale address, even if it is the worst accommodations in the neighborhood. Exercise. Stay tan, even if you use a tanning lamp.” To me, his advice was this: To be successful, act successful and network with successful people. This is good advice for building your personal brand.

Using Your Personal Brand to Engage Others

But Mr. Onassis’s advice relates to more than just your personal brand or image. It also relates to how successful you are at reaching your intended audience—both within your organization and externally. When you think about what your personal image is, it’s really a combination of four things:

  1. Appearance: How are you dressed? Do you have good posture?
  2. Personality: How well do you communicate? Is it apparent that you have a good attitude?
  3. Competencies: Can you easily fulfill what’s required of you?
  4. Differentiation: What traits or skills separate you from everyone else?

These elements must be suited to your audience and the milieu you—and your organization—operate in.

Over the course of my career I’ve spent time in Hollywood, New York, Washington DC and Silicon Valley. Each place thinks it’s the center of the world and each has its own values, styles and characteristics. If you went down to Google’s headquarters wearing a three-piece suit, you’d be rejected. So just as you need to think about the signals you’re putting out with your personal image, you need to do the same when it comes to your audience. You need to understand, attract, and engage your audience.

If you’re going to operate across these different arenas you need to be sensitive to each audience and understand what resonates with them. Only then will you be successful.

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When Naming or Renaming, Go Short

Brand logoIs there a correlation between the length of a brand name and success? It is human nature to shorten words to make communication easier and more efficient. People will eliminate the unnecessary part of the word, while keeping the meaningful part:

  • Omnibus becomes bus
  • Motion picture becomes movie
  • Television becomes TV
  • Gasoline becomes gas
  • Coca-Cola becomes Coke

Since companies don’t want to put obstacles in the way of communicating their names, short communicative names of one or two syllables are generally more successful. For example:

  • Apple
  • Target
  • Chevron
  • Dell
  • Nike
  • Visa

Short and Successful

This human tendency to shorten names can have a direct impact on your organization’s value. A recent story in The Harvard Business Review noted new research demonstrating that companies with short, easy-to-process names were more likely to attract investors, generate more stock trading and have higher valuations.

According to the study “Company Name Fluency, Investor Recognition, and Firm Value,” corporate renaming generally increased a name’s “fluency” and as a result translated into more value. Shortening name length by one word could result in a $3.75 million increase in value for a mid-size company.

Renaming

If your organization doesn’t have a short, simple name, what can you do?

Sometimes the public renames your organization for you. The San Francisco 49ers become the Niners. Nicknames like this convey fondness and familiarity. Sometimes they can be prompted. One of my favorite billboards in New York read: Our name is The Irving National Bank and Trust Corporation (You can call us Irving.)

We often see a long, cumbersome name as the result of a merger or acquisition. The investment bankers and lawyers who are involved aren’t thinking about corporate identity strategy. They’re thinking about closing the deal, and they don’t want the name to get in the way.

Yet this creates problems down the road in ways that end up costing the organization. If a company name is long and difficult to shorten, often the only hope is to go to initials. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers goes by PwC. But initials make weak names. They are difficult to remember, easily confused and hard to relate to—unless billions of dollars are spent over decades to make them familiar (e.g., IBM, NBC, GE).

The better course? Even in the case of a merger or acquisition, it’s usually better to look forward to the opportunity of a shorter, more fluent name instead of backward. When in doubt, go short.

Learn about Marshall’s work in naming and naming systems.

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To the New President of UC: Start With an Audit!

Janet Napolitano

Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was appointed president of the UC system on July 18. Her first day as president is today, Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes)

As many of you may have already heard, today is the first day of work for former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in her new position as president of the University of California system. We’ve worked with UC before, and we’re eager to see what Ms. Napolitano’s tenure brings to this great institution.

The First Thing Any Leader Should Do

As a student at the Harvard Business School, when my classmates and I aspired to one day serve as presidents of our organizations, I remember a professor of ours posed an interesting question: “What is the first thing you should do when you become president?” he asked.

For us, the first thing that popped into our heads was the thought of cracking open a bottle of champagne for our success. But other than that, we were puzzled. The advice this professor gave has stayed with me to this day: The first thing you should do is take an audit.

Here’s why:

  • To establish which assets you have been entrusted with and for which liabilities you have accepted responsibility.
  • To put a stake in the ground showing the condition of the organization when you took over, so that you can measure and demonstrate the improvements you’ve made during your term as president.

3 Intangible Assets That Should Be Part of Any Audit

For us at Marshall Strategy, we also recommend—and practice ourselves—to audit each organization’s intangible assets as well. If you know what you assets and liabilities are, then you know what your plan of action needs to be.

There are three main intangible assets we review with our clients:

  1. Awareness: When we begin auditing a company’s intangible assets and liabilities, we begin by listening to the executives about the issues they are facing, the challenges that lie ahead and what disadvantages they may have. You may have a great company in the public’s eye, but if there is low awareness about its potential obstacles among its executives, then that’s a problem.
  2. Image: We research our client’s image, which includes talking to audiences that are important to the organization, both customers and employees. We gather information on how they perceive the company. Whether employees have high or low morale, that’s something, for example, that gets sorted out in our initial analysis. Out of that we establish some identity objectives that would help alleviate the problems and leverage the advantages.
  3. Branding: Some of an organization’s strongest intangible assets deal with its brand identity. An organization’s name can be an advantage or disadvantage. Along that same line, its graphic expression may be detailed and intricate, but may also be meaningless. Our objective is to reduce those liabilities and increase the assets the company has to work with, which could be naming, messaging, visual expression or strategy.

My advice to Ms. Napolitano is to take an audit of UC, of both its tangible and intangible assets. Such an audit will not only help her understand the massive, intangible value of the university to the state, the nation and the world, but it will also help her identify the perceptual liabilities that threaten appreciation and support of UC’s great value.

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The Washington Post: A Name in Limbo

Courtesy Adam Glanzman

A view of The Washington Post building on Aug. 5, 2013. (Courtesy Adam Glanzman)

When Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post last month, the media began analyzing the sale and questioning the future of the legacy newspaper. One minor detail, however, that may have not been at the forefront: According to a filing with the SEC, the newspaper’s parent company, Washington Post Co., must change its brand name within 60 days of the deal closing.

There is no indication (as yet) that Mr. Bezos will change the name of the newspaper. But it’s my hope that he will retain the name. While I generally suggest that geographically based or product-based names can limit an organization’s growth by creating limited perceptions of their potential, this does not seem to be the case with The Washington Post.

“Washington” essentially means “national politics” and “Post” literally means to send, to display and to publish electronically. It seems to be a perfect word for becoming the digital medium of Washington.

Retaining a Valuable Position

What Mr. Bezos purchased is an organization that has tremendous credibility within Washington, D.C., and among top political circles within the district. This is a large and important national audience. The Washington Post is to politics what The Wall Street Journal is to business. The paper owns a unique, differentiated and valuable role within the media industry. And according to his recent statement, I think he gets this.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, D.C., and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change,” said Mr. Bezos. “Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of the Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.”

If It’s Not Broken…

While his commitment to retaining the company’s mainstay values is apparent, the 60-day requirement may leave them with a new “coating.” If it were my call, the name would not be changed as long as the organization continues its unique focus on, and its credibility in, national politics and all that national politics impact. I would not like to see the Post become a general source of random news and lose its unique reason for being. Design, however, could play an important role by changing the visual expression of “The Washington Post” from a traditional newspaper masthead to convey that the newspaper has become a more contemporary medium.

It seems that Mr. Bezos’ main contribution would be to figure out how to turn the newspaper into a viable model for the distribution of credible news about national politics. He doesn’t need to alter the identity of The Washington Post to do that. In fact, its identity and equity is a major asset for his purpose. I would go so far as to say that the Post is one of few beloved institutions in the political sphere.

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The Beauty of the United States’ Identity System

American flag

Courtesy Kahunapule Michael Johnson

This 4th of July, it’s worth taking a moment to admire and be inspired by the U.S. Identity System (naming and design firms unknown). What lessons can we who are in the business of brand identity draw from the U.S. system?

An aspirational and inclusive identity: The system is based upon the universally desired attributes of Freedom, Justice and Equality. The system is not intended to favor, or to appeal only to any single cultural, ethnic or religious group. It is not intended to balkanize the U.S. into separate groups with interests prejudicial to others, or to allow one group to abuse other groups.

A cohesive architecture: The U.S. system allows for increasing levels of loyalty. U.S. citizens can be proud Americans, but they can also be proud citizens of Texas or California and proud citizens of Dallas or Houston and Los Angeles or San Francisco, and The Mission District or Pacific Heights. These loyalties to states, cities and neighborhoods under the United States umbrella provides plenty of room for individual identities within a collective identity. In addition, we benefit from the cultural contributions of African Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans Hispanic Americans, Gay Americans, Catholic Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, Native Americans, liberal Americans and conservative Americans and many more. Large companies with dispersed operations, multiple products and diverse customers should hope to achieve such a cohesive yet diverse and vibrant identity.

Unique and evocative naming: The names of U.S. states provide a rich tapestry of stunningly beautiful and unique names. How could names be more wonderful than: California, Texas, Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, Colorado and Alaska? The uniqueness and beauty of these names stand as a mighty challenge to those in the business of naming companies, divisions and products.

Clarity of purpose: The U.S. also has major Divisions, and each has a clear and powerful mandate: Justice, Energy, State, Treasury, Budget, Agriculture, Commerce, Trade, Small Business, Labor, Health, Veterans, Housing, Transportation, Education, Environmental Protection, Defense, Interior and Homeland Security.

Great graphic design: The unique graphic impact and flexibility of the American flag’s stars and stripes are unlimited. There have been beautiful applications of blue fields with white stars and vertical or horizontal uses of red and white stripes and combinations of both. We have a wide range of authoritative seals and symbols (some better designed than others).

People who embody the “brand promise”: And, we must never forget the brave men and women in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, each with its own uniforms, units, symbology and rousing anthem, who protect and defend all that we enjoy.

How did we get so lucky?

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The ROI of Identity

ROI
Can thinking strategically about brand identity translate into bottom line results? Our experience is that it can. The benefits of identity projects—such as greater employee satisfaction, increased clarity of purpose and a stronger culture—have been shown to correlate with improved corporate performance. Some authors have suggested that these cultural aspects can account for a difference of 20% to 30% in corporate performance.

The ROI of Branding and Corporate Identity

Brand Identity and the Bottom Line
Corporations consider identity projects for a number of reasons:
• They want to increase awareness
• They want to enhance perceptions of their company
• They want to eliminate malaise and have higher-performing teams
• They want to position themselves in a way that’s more compelling for the times they’re living in

But what’s the real reason underpinning all these efforts? Simple. Companies want to increase sales. They want to increase profits, shareholder value and market capitalization. Our clients understand that by working on identity they are actually addressing their bottom line.

So how should you look at the potential ROI of identity work?

How Identity Increases Value
The long-term ROI of communications efforts are hard to quantify. But by clarifying what the company is and what people can expect from it, identity strategy has the potential to engage and motivate employees as well as capture the attention of customers, shareholders and funders.

For example, we might have a client with $10 billion in sales who is currently suffering from numerous symptoms of identity problems: The company isn’t well understood, people aren’t attracted to it, employees aren’t happy and leaders are spending so much time putting out fires they’re not able to set a course for the future.

We go in and fix that. Now everything’s firing on all cylinders and there’s a new excitement about the company, its products and services and its people. This new energy and shared purpose takes the management burden from executives, freeing them to lead. Employees require less management, because the company’s purpose is clearer and what’s required of them is better understood. From a change like that you might expect anywhere from a 1% to 10% increase in sales. But even a one-tenth percentage point increase in sales will be a return of $10 million in added revenues every year.

I believe there’s nowhere else that you can get return like that. Legendary investor Warren Buffett buys companies with strong identities for a reason: They represent a future stream of revenue he can count on. Identity is an investment that pays multiple dividends.

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3 Ways a Strong Identity Benefits Leaders

chain with red link
Recently I wrote that your organizational identity is not your brand. It’s also not the responsibility of your marketing department.

Identity is a leadership issue that should reach into the highest ranks of the company or institution. The marketing team’s work revolves around identity,  but in the end identity is the leader’s responsibility, because if it’s made clear what the organization stands for, then everything about leading the organization becomes easier.

Identity Is the CEO’s Tool
A CEO can run around in the organization and say, “Why did you do it that way?” or “What’s this about?” or “I don’t like that.” And CEOs can exhaust themselves doing this—especially if they are running global organizations. But when there’s clarity around identity, the organization manages itself more knowledgeably and effectively.

Strong organizational identity:

  1. Clarifies communication: It enables CEOs to clearly convey their vision for the organization to critical audiences, such as employees, customers, partners and shareholders or funders.
  2. Sets direction: With clear identity, employees know how to act, customers know what to expect, and shareholders and funders understand the value the organization creates.
  3. Makes decisions easier: Employees need less supervision and can be more productive because they intuitively know what’s right … and what’s not.

An example I always think of is Walt Disney. You can go to Disney World and talk to one of the janitors sweeping up the grounds and say “Disney is thinking about a movie that has some hard language and violence and nudity.” And they’ll say to you, “That’s not us.” Everyone there knows what Disney stands for and how to represent it. No one has to micromanage the entire team company. That frees up the CEO to think on a higher level.

When Can Identity Help Management?
Often when we work on identity strategy we’re going into organizations where there is some kind of malaise or confusion. Maybe the company is in trouble: People don’t understand it or are confused about it. Maybe there are disruptive forces in the market that make what they used to do no longer viable, relevant or compelling. Or maybe they’ve acquired a lot of companies, and people with different mindsets have joined at different times with different perceptions and capabilities, and pretty soon no one knows what the company is all about.

The lack of a clear organizational identity can interfere with everything. One person may have a grand idea and start going off in that direction and others say, “No, we don’t do that.” Which direction are they going in? Nobody knows. And everybody’s at cross purposes and unhappy.

But with thoughtful and strategic work on clarifying who you are, what you do and why you matter, it’s a different story. When we leave our clients with a strong, clear identity we leave them energized and motivated by who they are and what they do. Everybody knows what makes them special.

That’s the power of identity.

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Your Identity Is Not Your Brand

Philip Durbrow, Marshall Strategy
As identity strategists, we work all the time with corporate and nonprofit leaders who come to us seeking the benefits of identity work: improved loyalty and preference, increased sales, an energized workforce and so on. But one of the biggest misperceptions is around the idea of identity itself. Most people confuse it with branding, when in fact your identity is different from your brand in key ways.

A brand is a promise. When someone sees the brand they should know what they’re going to get. Branding is doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the brand promise is fulfilled. That’s what branding is about. But branding is often aimed at specific target audiences: people who want whiter whites or brighter brights. Brands are what I call outer driven. They’re driven by trying to please people out there.

Identity to us is a bigger idea. It’s about the essence of who you are. You might have several brands that make various promises and are aimed at different people. But your identity should be inner driven.

Identity and Authenticity
The power in identity comes from being who you want to be, not who others want you to be.

Your identity shouldn’t be constructed the way some politicians run campaigns—running around the country doing various focus groups to find out what people care about and then giving speeches tailored to very precise groups. That’s all outer driven.

The most powerful identities come from thinking about who you are, what you care about, what matters most to you, what you want to accomplish and why people should care that you exist.

The Six Elements of Identity
As you undertake identity work it’s important to understand what identity is not. It’s not your vision. Your vision is how you see the future. It’s not your mission. Your mission is what role you want to play in that future. It’s not your goals. Your goals are what you want to accomplish. It’s not your logo (your logo identifies you, but it’s not your identity). It’s not a short-term initiative—that’s a tactic. And it’s not a marketing responsibility, it’s a CEO’s responsibility to deliver on your unique sense of self.

So those are the things we think identity is not. But what is identity?

  1. It is the essence of your organization
  2. It is your organization’s sense of self
  3. It is what the organization stands for, is committed to
  4. It is what the organization cares about, its driving force
  5. It is what you want to be, not what others want you to be
  6. It is why your organization matters

You can go on the web and easily find a number of how-tos that promise you can create an identity in five easy steps (give or take). But the reality is that determining your identity is a matter of deep exploration. It requires you to see yourself from new angles, think about possibilities, understand where your industry will be in the future. It’s hard work, but it’s the key to motivating your employees and changing the way your customers, shareholders and competitors think about you.

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