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What If Your Brand Isn’t “Cool” Enough?

cool sunglasses
A large enterprise software client of ours recently decided to make a big bet on a new business direction. People internally were concerned that the new direction would never be successful unless it had a different brand as well—because the corporate brand just isn’t “cool enough.” Is it true that it’s uncool to be big and established? Does the small, “cool” newcomer win every time? And what makes a brand “cool” anyway?

Our opinion—your “cool factor” is not the point. Instead of worrying about being cool enough, established brands should focus on establishing clarity about who they are. Nobody is going to be enthusiastic about something they don’t understand. Large companies often become too complex to be easily understood or related to. Brands that have been acquired, or new “skunkworks” projects, want to get out from under this complexity, just to have a little breathing room.

In our experience, enterprise software customers are more concerned with effectiveness and responsiveness than they are with “coolness.” Is the product easy to use? Is service easily accessible? Does it save time and resources, and increase profitability? In other words, what matters is fulfilling a meaningful promise to customers.

3 Cures for the Uncool
A large organization can easily begin to feel slow, bureaucratic and hard to do business with. If that’s the case, how can you shift perception of your brand? Three things you need to demonstrate are:

• Responsiveness
• Relevance
• A sense of inspiration

Sometimes a new brand initiative with some link to the parent may be appropriate. But don’t underestimate the value and credibility a brand with longevity can lend.

Lessons From Established Brands
A few years ago, we worked with Boeing, a globally known brand founded nearly 100 years ago, to refocus its internal positioning. A number of internal groups, essentially acquired companies, were clinging to their old brands to try to carve a special niche for themselves within giant Boeing. We succeeded in convincing these brands that they were much better together than they were apart. As Boeing, they were the undisputed global leader in aerospace. Individually, no single brand could claim anything near that stature.

Other large companies have managed to maintain clarity about who they are, and to deliver what their customers want in highly responsive and relevant ways. As a result, they retain a cool factor, not because they are the shiny new object, but because they are relevant, responsive and inspirational. Think about Disney, Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola. The latter was recently awarded the first ever CLIO brand icon award. Not bad for a 100+ year-old (not to mention huge) brand!

The bottom line—if you make your brand relevant, responsive, and inspirational, your customers make it cool. As long as you are fulfilling a meaningful promise in a unique way, you have a great start. Just be sure you communicate that promise as well as you deliver it.

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The ROI of Identity

ROI
Can thinking strategically about 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.

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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