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Brand Identity Personality Should be Behavior-Based

Brand Identity PersonalityBrand Identity Personality
Last year’s loss of Steve Jobs was a real-world test of the effect an iconic personality can have on a brand’s identity. Many people wondered if the Apple brand would be as valuable without him. There is already strong evidence that Apple’s strong organizational culture and focus on insanely great products will continue after Steve. If Apple can stay true to its promises, it remains a valuable brand, vs. a brand dependent on one man’s personality.

It’s not unusual for an emerging company’s brand identity to be connected to a charismatic or visionary leader. Tony Hsieh with Zappos, Jeff Bezos with Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, and Richard Branson with Virgin are all great examples of such brands. The real challenge for a brand, however, is to be recognizable, relevant and meaningful over time regardless of who is in charge.  Corporate identity should be built through shared organizational philosophy, not solely on a leader’s personality.

For a brand to survive in the long term, its leaders must embody the values of the company, not the other way around. Any company whose identity is linked solely to an individual should move away from being a personality-driven brand and move toward being a behavior-driven brand. Behavior-driven brands reflect how the company, its product, and its people, fulfill their promises. These behaviors can be inspired, or introduced by a strong leader, but must also be deeply embedded within the culture of the company to be sustainable over time.

Many companies have proven that they are fully capable of maintaining a strong brand without always having high-visibility leadership. Richard Branson is instilling sustainable differentiation for the Virgin Brand—building the “Virgin Experience” into a variety of existing products and services.  Nike adopted 11 core principles based on the vision and leadership of Bill Bowerman, but not dependent on his personal stewardship. As a result, both brands are associated with delivery of a clear promise, and not solely with the constant public presence of their founders.

Brands achieve greatness when people—customers, employees, and investors alike—feel an affinity to the product and want to be associated with it – not just with its founder or leader.  Companies with highly-visible leaders need to clearly show that the company as a whole embraces a singular vision, and doesn’t just rely on the cult of one personality.

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Political Campaigns – A Lesson in Brand Management

The Republican presidential primaries and debates have been fascinating, if not whiplash-inducing, to follow. The candidates continue to float on the winds of public opinion rather than their own personal convictions and vision. On any topic, they appear more interested in setting themselves apart from the competition than in having firm positions that constituents can rally behind. Focus groups form politicians’ positions on issues, instead of politicians working to help constituents understand and value what they really stand for. The absence of a clear frontrunner so far is evidence that candidates are failing to define what they stand for and that they lack resonance with the American electorate.

Politics & Brand Management

The word “politician” has taken on negative connotations; it is more and more likely to define a person who will say or do anything to get elected.  There are plenty of politicians in the world, and it seems few are irreplaceable. Brands should not fall into the same trap. To be effective in the marketplace, a brand must clearly communicate what it represents and what it aspires to become, and then deliver on that promise to its customers. The opposite approach – building a brand based exclusively on customer opinion or desired image – is a recipe for failure, as the brand in the end will lack identity, and will likely be forgotten when the next new product comes along. The more effectively a brand communicates and delivers on its promise, the more likely customer experience and feedback will reinforce the brand’s position.

The Walt Disney Corporation stands as a perfect example of brand conviction and purpose. Despite the ups and downs of the entertainment industry and economy, the brand has never strayed from its promise to deliver high-quality, family-oriented entertainment in a variety of formats. As a result, consumers know what to expect from a Walt Disney product when it is released without questioning its authenticity, quality, or content.

To be considered a true political leader, a candidate must have and communicate a vision; an authentic theme that voters can focus on and associate with that person. The same is true of a brand.  Without clear vision and promise, a candidate becomes a politician, and a brand becomes a commodity. Both will recede from relevance when the next new “thing” comes along.

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The Fallout of a Flip-Flop: When Brands Gets Political

Any brand that thinks it is above reproach need only look back as far as the recent Susan G. Komen Foundation debacle for a taste of reality. Organizations out of step with their audience find themselves foundering in the wake of public outcry when business decisions appear to be based in politics. Komen, arguably the most visible women’s health advocacy group in existence today, spent last week backtracking and apologizing to constituents and supporters for political missteps it made not once, but twice. The first when it apparently bowed to political pressures from the right to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, and the second when it apparently bowed again, this time to political pressure from the left, to restore funding.

Susan G Komen

The original decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood appears to have been based on an existing internal policy. But the move outraged supporters, convinced it was politically driven. The Foundation was inundated with angry emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. After two days of threats, resignations, and retracted pledges, Komen ceded and reinstated funding for the organization, sparking a second wave of anger from the other side.[1]

The fervor has since died down, but the damage left behind to the Komen Foundation’s brand is irrevocable. Contributors who, in the past, may have had concerns about the Foundation’s political affiliations but chose to overlook them for the betterment of women’s health are now voicing those concerns, and donations to the Foundation may never return to their former level. In addition, some of the past affiliations of the organization’s leaders are resurfacing, complements of media groups adamant to keep the controversy alive. This is slowing whatever recovery the organization expects to make as it responds to these new allegations.

Brands deliver a promise – what customers should expect from a product or service. When expectations and reality are not aligned, the promise is broken, and it can be very difficult to regain trust. If a brand does misstep and must reverse course, the reversal should be swift and apologetic, and make things better than they were before; not just return to the status quo. The Susan G. Komen Foundation was out of touch with its key audience, and failed to appropriately judge the response of its supporters to a politically-based decision, real or perceived. How the organization got to be so distant from its audience is a mystery, but in the minds of many, the Komen Foundation broke its core customer promise, and its trust among many may never be regained.

[1] “Who is Behind Susan G. Komen’s Split from Planned Parenthood,” Feb. 1, 2012, Nicholas Jackson

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Company Branding – Why Can’t We Do This Ourselves?

Company Branding and Brand strategy is the process of identifying and articulating who you are, what you do and why you matter – as clearly and compellingly as possible in ways that are unique, motivational, sustainable and meaningful to all of your critical audiences.

It can be difficult for an executive team to step back from the flow of business for any period of time and think holistically about where the business is going. What are the big ideas will drive their critical audiences? And, how can the executive team arrive at a consensus when multiple ideas are generated at the decision table?

A clear brand strategy can be a powerful tool for the overall company branding, and finding the right consulting team to gain strategic branding advantage is critical.

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