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southwest culture

Culture Drives Brand Value – Where Will It Drive Yours?

I recently published an article in Inside Higher Ed describing five strategies of great brands, and how they apply to universities.

One of those five strategies is: brand inspires behaviors – you build a brand by being something, and letting that culture shape the way you behave and communicate. A successful brand strategy must lead to tangible behaviors, ways of thinking and acting that can differentiate you and your company in measurable ways.

Consider FedEx, Southwest Airlines, GE, and other brands that have become legendary for their corporate cultures. They all recognized the importance of defining and articulating not just their customer promises, but their internal behaviors for fulfilling those promises. Customer satisfaction and business success are the rewards that reinforce these behaviors, creating a cycle of growing brand strength.

A recent example of this is San Francisco’s own Salesforce.  Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, has fostered a culture of “Ohana” within the company, a set of principles that inspire everyday behaviors against which employees are evaluated. Ohana is a Hawaiian word with deep meaning, which translates very roughly as “extended family”. What it means is that all members of a family, and their greater community, support each other. This culture extends externally for Salesforce – their number one mission is “customer success.”

The emphasis on culture has major effect. Benioff recently said, “There’s all this incredible energy in your company and you can unleash it for good. All you have to do is open the door.”

With this attitude, it becomes evident why Salesforce is one of the world’s fastest growing companies, and is ranked among the “best places to work” wherever it has offices.

Compare Salesforce’s results, and the brand benefits they accrue, to recent events at United Airlines and Uber. These two companies have dominated the news cycles lately, for all the wrong reasons.  Within each story is a tale of bad behavior and poor choices, revealing crippling or even toxic corporate cultures. People who describe these woes as “PR problems” aren’t dealing with the core issue, the deep cultural flaws that threaten the very existence of these two companies.  When United loses $1Billion of market valuation in one day and Uber has over 200,000 customers deleting its app, that threat is clear and present.  These companies need to focus on their cultures at all costs, or they will lose any customer loyalty that remains.

We hope that more companies will take a close look at what promises they really want to make to their employees, customers and shareholders, and what those promises mean for how they act, speak, and treat each other – as well as their customers. Iconic, customer-centric brands like Salesforce and Southwest show strong evidence that placing a priority on building and living a positive culture results in loyal customers, healthy companies and strong brands.

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The Importance of Listening

The Importance of Listening

The most basic of all human needs

is the need to understand and be understood.

The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

~(Ralph G. Nichols)

Watching the Democratic national convention, we’ve been closely following the protests of Bernie supporters, not because we love drama, but because we believe they will rejoin the party once they believe they’ve been heard and understood.

We are often asked what makes a strategic positioning or identity program succeed or fail. One of the most critical keys to success is to ensure that important people within the organization feel like they have been heard and understood. From universities to corporations and government initiatives, decision makers and rank and file alike are more enthusiastic and involved when they know they’ve been heard.

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honor all olympians

Honor All Olympians

With the Olympic games upon us, what it means to be an Olympian is taking center stage. 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 representing athletic excellence, competitive drive and unquestionable dedication.

While allegations against the Russian delegation are putting that brand promise to a particularly meaningful test, I’d like to share a personal perspective on the nuances of being an Olympian, as an Olympic competitor myself (Rowing, Tokyo, 1964).

During the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, a fellow competitor and I were walking in The Ginza, Tokyo’s dining and entertainment district. We were both wearing our Olympic blazers.

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A Truly Universal Name

A Truly Universal Name

There is wide frustration with how difficult it is to find a name that is legally available and protectable in any product category or geographic market.

As a challenge, our naming team set out to see if we could create a name for a product or a company that would be legally available in every product category worldwide.

And we have succeeded! The name we created is:

Qwxzyo   

Pronounced QWIX – zee – oh

There are several reasons why a name like this could provide strategic advantage:

  • It is completely distinctive
  • The iconic letter Q is memorable
  • It is surprisingly easy to pronounce
  • The unexpected letters have impact when assembled this way

When companies have global ambitions to build a multinational, diversified empire, the ability to own an idea worldwide gets tougher and tougher. The coined-word route is a viable direction to consider.

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Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Many organizations – whether corporations, non-profits, or educational institutions – develop broad stables of identities to segment their offerings to different audiences. Some of them succeed with this strategy, but many of them do not. Our client, The University at Buffalo (UB)’s recent success can help explain why a singular identity lends more collective strength to an institution than can a handful.

UB is an AAU institution, which means it has been carefully selected to sit among only 61 peers in the American Association of Universities. It is the largest and most comprehensive research university in the SUNY system, and has multiple nationally ranked departments. Over the years, however, UB has had multiple names, and adopted specialized identities for athletics and other departments. These changes had a dampening effect on awareness, appreciation and internal pride.

Now, the university is committing to a singular identity, backed by a strong and unifying brand strategy, and is already reaping huge rewards in local pride and national momentum.

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Global Teamwork Achieves Scientific Breakthrough

In Marshall Strategy’s work with leading researchers at Caltech, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and Rockefeller University, it has become obvious that today’s most important issues require not just brilliant people, but people who have the skills for working with others productively.

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of space-time gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe, opening a new window on the cosmos, and confirming Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This was only made possible by large groups of people working together and points out the importance for universities to not only impart knowledge, but to impart the skills required for working with others successfully. This applies to all significant areas of human endeavor.

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Spokespeople are No Substitute for a Strong Identity

Spokespeople are No Substitute for a Strong Identity

We have encountered prospective clients who believed that the best way to build awareness and enthusiasm for their corporate identity or brand was to find a charismatic and compelling spokesperson to represent them.

My personal favorite Spokesman is George Foreman. His delivery and personality are infectious (See his current TV pitch for Inventhelp), but when you sign up with George Foreman, you get a human being who could become inappropriate despite his charm.

Hiring celebrity spokespeople can be a dicey strategy. People, or their circumstances, can change. Consider the following situations:

When Lance Armstrong finally admitted cheating, he was dropped like a stone by all his sponsors. When Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his wife, however, Nike stuck by him.

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Great Branding Starts with a Promise

Recently in Fast Company Design, I read an article that claims “great branding is invisible,” and goes on to make the point that the little details, like the satisfying thunk of a closing BMW door, or the stitching in a Gucci purse, create and reinforce our relationships with great brands.

The article also makes the point that a catchy tagline or attention-getting logo is relatively unimportant in establishing that brand relationship in the first place.

I agree with these observations, but there’s something missing. Thoughtful details – the “invisibles” that create great brand experiences – are only meaningful if they come from a unique and meaningful central promise. What do you aim to provide that nobody else can? Why does it matter? If you don’t have an answer to these core questions, all those details have no center of gravity. They become tactics that can be easily copied and commoditized.

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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?

 

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CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand Win

CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand WinMy mom quit smoking recently, after fifty years of it. The fact that CVS is no longer selling cigarettes had nothing to do with this, of course. But the company’s decision to go smoke-free, now—a month ahead of schedule—had particular resonance with me.

Opponents of this move argue that it’s hypocritical, a stunt. They have a point—but in that case it’s a pretty expensive stunt (more than $1 billion in lost annual revenue). This is a clear example of a brand-driven business decision. In addition to pulling tobacco, CVS has changed its name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, indicating a commitment to something bigger than themselves.

So how much financial loss is CVS willing to sacrifice for a bold brand promise? Does that mean they’re pulling Frito’s and M&M’s off the shelves? (I hope not.) The store will still carry plenty of products that contribute to major health problems, so can it really be the flagship of health it’s aspiring to?

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