Consumer

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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trump brand

Does Identity Trump Brand?

In reading “How Will Trump Rebuild His Brand? published through Knowledge @ Wharton, we need to think about Trump’s brand and his identity, and how both may affect his upcoming presidency.

It can be confusing when the word brand is used to mean so many different things. Brands convey a promise that people come to rely on. The Trump brand promises ornate, luxurious, exclusive products or experiences at a premium price. It attracts prosperous clientele that are drawn to these qualities and who can afford these experiences. It is an appropriate brand for up-scale products and properties, because it is very well known, and it can command a premium price. Hence the brand has value to properties not even owned by Trump, and for which some product and property owners have been willing to pay a royalty.

Identity is different from Brand. Identity is about the reality of a person or company – who he, she or it really is – where brands are externally driven to appeal to others, identity is inner-driven. Identity flows from the reality of who the person or organization is – their innate driving force. Identity is bigger than brand. The identity of a corporation, organization, individual, or even a presidency may develop several “brands” aimed at different audiences. It can be especially powerful if all the brands stem from or reinforce the identity. The identity of Proctor & Gamble is characterized by a singular drive to provide quality household products that improve people’s lives. This is their driving force, but P&G has many brands (Crest, Tide, Pampers, Gillette, etc.), all shaped to appeal to different external audiences, yet all reinforcing P&G’s identity.

Donald Trump’s identity is more multi-faceted than his luxury brand. Trump’s identity should not be confused with his luxury brand. If Donald Trump’s drive for power is sincerely about populism, uniting the country and creating prosperity for all, and if he delivers on these goals, President Trump will be recognized and appreciated for not just luxury goods and properties. To accomplish his objectives, he may need to create a healthcare brand, a tax reform brand, a foreign trade  brand, and other “brands” shaped to appeal to different audiences. And these brands should all reinforce and deliver on his drive to “Make America Great Again.” If they don’t of course, all of these brands will lose credibility along with the presidential identity.

In conclusion, it is not only possible, but necessary, that a president serve many different audiences, and good branding can help, but the Trump luxury brand alone is not enough. What matters most is Trump’s Identity, who he really is, what he truly cares about and what he aspires to accomplish.

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Bank Relationship

How would you define your Relationship with a Bank?

Timothy Sloan is replacing John Stumpf, as the new CEO of Wells Fargo, due to the bank’s inappropriate and, perhaps illegal, cross-selling practices.  In the October 13 Wall St. Journal, Sloan is quoted as saying,

“I don’t believe that strategy was fundamentally flawed. We are not abandoning our cross-selling focus. Cross-selling is shorthand for growing relationships with our customers.”

This shows a serious misunderstanding of what “relationship” means to Sloan and to the Wells Fargo organization. Only a banker would say that their relationship with their customers is based upon how many products the bank can sell them, whether they need them or not.

A relationship to most people involves some kind of human connection. A positive relationship is one in which people regard and behave toward one another with respect, understanding, and truthfulness. Strong brands are built on individual connections, not financial transactions, but most big banks seem to get this wrong. Perhaps this is why most banks typically rank very low on brand satisfaction surveys – they are focused on the wrong kind of “relationships.”

Wells Fargo and its new CEO need to give some serious thought to what is needed for the bank to truly serve its customers’ needs. They should change their focus on building the bank’s income and instead focus on how customers might define a profitable relationship. That is how we would recommend Wells Fargo make its next efforts to become appreciated, profitable, and to a grow a lasting brand.

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It Never Pays to be a Copycat

It Never Pays to be a Copycat.

A recent WSJ Article trumpeted “Copycats Rule the Skies.” It was about how the three largest U.S. airlines have all become so much alike.

Why are the Delta, American and United brands so much alike? Patrick Moynihan, the former Harvard professor and U.S. Senator had a theory called, “The Iron Law of Emulation.” His theory held that nations that competed against each other became more and more like each other. This certainly seems to be the case with our airlines, hotels, banks, etc.

Moynihan pointed out how the U.S. and Russia once emulated each other: We got the bomb, they got the bomb; we got intercontinental missiles, they got intercontinental missiles; we got nuclear submarines, they got nuclear subs, and on and on.

During my 20 years at Landor, we designed the brand and identity strategies for dozens of leading airlines. Our purpose, always, was to differentiate each airline in a way that was relevant, true and compelling. To create a preference or command a premium, we built on each airline’s unique brand characteristics which were often its national characteristics: British Air was about their understated global competence. Singapore Air was about the pride that Singaporeans take in providing personal service. Alitalia was about Italian style. Hawaiian Air was about sunshine, flowers and relaxation. These identity strategies influenced all the decisions each airline made. Whom to hire, how to train, what kind of fleet to operate, and what passenger offerings and style of operations would reinforce their particular identity.READ MORE

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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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How Branding Is Helping GM Survive Recall Disaster

The news about GM this year has been grim. We’re not even through 2014, and so far GM has had more than 60 recalls. The total cost will likely top $1 billion and involve more than 26 million vehicles.

And yet, GM just paid its shareholders a quarterly dividend in September. Despite everything, GM’s stock valuation is holding relatively steady.

How can a company that has been in the news all year for extremely negative reasons, continue to be valued on the stock market? Partly it’s a matter of brand management.

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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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The Smart Way to Use Market Research

The Smart Way to Use Market ResearchIn agency life there is a spectrum of projects that range from all-research on one end to all-creative on the other. I could never sell Steve Jobs research. He didn’t want to hear about it. And it was the same with Steven Spielberg. Both men had gut feelings about what they wanted. And all the research in the world wasn’t going to change that.

Now, if you’re working with visionaries of their caliber, you might be able to proceed with huge costly projects based on their gut feeling.

But that’s not the reality for most of us. The question is, then, when should you use research, and how much research should you do?

Research is expensive. It adds cost and takes time, but it also reduces risk. So it’s important to understand how to allocate your research budget to different types of projects.

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The ‘Best’ Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most Beer

Best Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most BeerI recently read an article in Adweek called “What Are the Best Looking Beer Cans in America.” Apparently we are in a Golden Age of beer can design. And some of them are pretty fun (see a gallery here). But I believe that while these designs are creatively interesting, they divert from a beer can’s real job, which (aside from its function as a container) is to get beer drinkers to buy the beer.

Design should have an objective. Design is purpose-driven and client-driven, and these qualities are what differentiates it from art. Good design can certainly enhance our lives and create an aesthetic response in its beholders. But I believe the best design is the one that sells the most product and builds the biggest market.

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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?

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