Cultural

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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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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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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One word is critical to M&A Success – CULTURE

One word is critical to M&A success – CULTURE

We learned last week that Hewlett Packard Enterprise is merging its enterprise services unit with Computer Sciences Corp (Read the full story). This is a perfect opportunity to talk about the consequences of mergers on identity and brand, and how having a solid strategy for both is key in your merger’s success.

Research has shown that as many as 83 percent of mergers fail to achieve their original business goals. Brand value, or goodwill, suffers right along with business value, often destroying the appeal and premium that might have inspired the acquisition in the first place. Why is this? Because culture, and the purpose behind each organization being combined, is often ignored in favor of the numbers.

These deals are put together by attorneys and investment bankers, who fail to consider the cultural implications of the merger. These people think in terms of “synergy” and 1 + 1 = 3, when the real goal should be 1 + 1 = 1.

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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Has Lost Its Brand

Although we understand the critical importance of trademarks in preventing others from profiting from your intellectual property, we are disappointed in the move by Delaware North to try to extract $51 million from the National Park Service for a shortlist of iconic location names in Yosemite Park. To us, Delaware North is holding these properties for ransom from the American people, for a few historic names that will have little to no value anywhere else.

Let’s back up a minute – last year, Delaware North lost the contract to run hotels and concessions at Yosemite National Park. Shortly thereafter Delaware filed suit, claiming that the Park Service (or its new contracted vendor) no longer has the right to use the familiar and iconic names of historic park facilities (Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Park, Badger Pass, the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, and Wawona Hotel). It turns out the Park service had never trademarked the names, so Delaware North took advantage of the situation and trademarked them themselves. Rather than pay a ransom to use the names, The Park Service has agreed to create new names for the facilities.

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Did the Olympics Help Russia’s Brand?

Did the Olympics Help Russia's Brand?

Philip is an Olympian who represented the U.S. in rowing.

By most accounts, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were very well run and thoroughly enjoyed by athletes and spectators with a minimum of protests or distractions. A recent poll conducted by the Guardian asked “Were the 2014 Winter Olympics a success for Russia?” According to 77 percent of respondents, the answer was “Yes.” And with the games coming in at a reported cost of $50 billion, Russia certainly spared no expense.

However, I’m not sure Russia got the beneficial image impact such an effort should have yielded. That’s because Russia was sending out two powerful and opposite messages. Never a good strategy.

Unrest Detracts from Impressive Games
The Olympics surely helped us admire Russia and Russians. The sheer scale of the undertaking in Sochi was impressive. And the Olympics are always a chance for the host country to show off its best qualities.

But even as the Games were being played, images of chaos and discontent in Russia’s sphere of influence undercut the general goodwill. The continuous shipment of armaments and ammunition to the Syrian government for use against its citizens continues to hurt Russia (at least in the West and among supporters of human rights). So does support for the authoritarian regime and strong-arm tactics of recently ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

Less than a week after the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Russia is conducting military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and the cover of The Economist shows a figure silhouetted against a flaming backdrop with the headline, “Putin’s inferno.”

The Sochi Olympics have been the most expensive Games ever. From such an expenditure, one would expect a benefit to the host country’s image. And that has generally been the case. But while the Olympics are likely to offer a short-term benefit to Russia on the world stage, its geopolitical tactics will continue to be a long-term problem.

The lesson here, for all organizations, is that your organization’s behavior will have more long term impact than any short-term communication initiative. Ideally, your behavior should be consistent with your communications.

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How Does a Brand Become a Beloved Institution?

Brand as a Beloved Institution

Giants make fans feel like a million

Last week, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in a sweep of the Detroit Tigers, and the city exploded with excitement.  The victory parade, held on Halloween Day, drew more than one million fans in their orange and black, to cheer and bask in the glory of “our” victory. The Giants are truly one of San Francisco’s few beloved institutions. They are respected and adored by men and women, young and old, in winning and losing seasons.  People want to wear their colors, they know the players like neighbors, and they internalize the team’s struggles and celebrate its victories. This highly emotional connection is the envy of most brands.

Are there business benefits of being a beloved institution?  The Giants have sold out all 89 home games for the last ten seasons. Lines regularly form outside the Giants’ official merchandise store in the hours before the store opens. AT&T Park and the restaurants and business that surround it have seen a decade of strong revenue, and condos in the neighborhood command premium prices. The Giants are a major attraction for out of state and foreign tourists. Win or lose, Giants fans are behind the team in every way, emotionally and economically.

How does a brand become a beloved institution? If we think beyond sports teams, what other brands can truly say they carry this esteemed mantle?  Certainly many universities could make the claim – whether you are a Harvard Man or a Cal Woman, your alma mater is often a beloved institution worthy of your lifetime support. Other brands are a beloved part of their communities and even the world at large.  Coca-Cola energizes Atlanta GA; the NYFD has become one of New York’s most beloved and respected brands, (beyond its sports franchises); Disney is a beloved brand trusted by families and their children around the world; and Chevy and VW have captured our imaginations and elevated our pulses more consistently over time than other car brands have been able to manage.

What do these brands all have in common? Each satisfies a universally human motivator.  Sports teams ignite the thrill of victory. The Fire Department embodies bravery and valor. Beloved consumer brands provide happiness and escape. These motivators are deeply and universally felt and part of our shared human experience. Brands that are successful enough to become and remain beloved are those that most consistently address, and fulfill, these instinctual needs. They become a part of how we define ourselves.

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Brand Focus: Standing For Something

Apple sold over 5 million iPhone 5’s the first weekend they were made available, setting records once again. We can count on Apple to be successful because they stand for something specific, valuable, and desirable, and because they deliver every time. Over the years Apple has mastered simple, compelling, and direct brand messages. When they launch a product like the iPhone 5, the campaign is memorable, disciplined, and focused. There’s no ambiguity as to the message or the target audience, and their sales numbers prove the power of this approach.

Brands differentiate themselves in the marketplace by clearly articulating what they represent, who their audience is, and why they matter to that audience. By developing a brand strategy that is focused, simple, and meaningful, they deliver a message that connects with consumers. This brand focus lets them stand out from the crowd.

American Express is another great example. By portraying themselves as the card of choice for the sophisticated, smart, and worldly, they have become one of the world’s top destination and travel industry brands. American Express entices consumers to be a part of their world, and they have become one of the most recognized brands in the market.

Developing brand focus is only part of what it takes to be a strong, differentiated player in your market. Once a brand takes a stand, it must maintain that position by providing a clear voice, creating compelling and succinct messaging, and ensuring that all behaviors are on strategy. And of course, like Apple and Amex, they must deliver. When brands try to be everything to everyone, they end up being nothing to anyone. Brands that establish a strong position and deliver on their promises are the ones that make a difference in the market.

[photo credit: TheQ! via photopin cc]

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Caine’s Arcade: Great Brands are Great Storytellers

This week’s viral sensation was Caine’s Arcade, the story of 9 year-old boy who built a cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store. It’s the kind of story great writers conjure – except it’s true, and it provides great lessons for storytelling and branding.

Caines Arcade

Caines Arcade

1. For a story to connect, it needs to be real.

9 year-old kid, summer vacation, nothing to do, so he builds an elaborate arcade out of cardboard in his dad’s store.

He doesn’t mope about. When Caine wants a claw game, his dad says, “why don’t you build one”? So Caine builds a claw game.  No helicopter parents. No carefully crafted messages. No Disney production value.

Just a real kid, with a great big imagination and incredible focus. And when the arcade becomes real to a bigger community it’s much more than a flash mob event, it’s a story of vision, perseverance, and imagination. If there’d been any question of Caine’s authenticity – if it looked like dad did the work, or that the video had been overtly staged, the story would fall flat.

2. For a story to connect, it needs to be told.

What are the odds that a filmmaker would be Cain’s first customer? Pretty small. He was lucky. And, to be honest, the filmmaker was pretty lucky too. You don’t find authentic, simple stories everyday. That’s why they’re so powerful when you do find them.

For a story to connect with a bigger audience, it needs legs. While the subject is one boy and his homemade project, it’s bigger than just that. It’s about believing in a dream despite all obstacles.

Brands are rarely lucky enough to have their story “discovered,” and overt attempts to capture attention often ring hollow.  The greatest brands figure out how to connect with authenticity, telling their stories in a way that resonates and enables others to embrace them.

3. For a story to have impact, it needs to engage.

Great stories engage their audience and ask something from them in return. The genius of Caine’s Arcade is that it asks for you to believe in small miracles and the simple genius of a 9 year-old.  It has worked, and quickly – people have donated over $140,000 to Caine’s college fund. He didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t what he set out to do. But his story inspired people to action. Brand stories are about more than selling or promoting a product or service – they inspire and engage their audience to believe in something.

Caine’s Arcade is a great story. It gives us hope that imagination and perseverance will prevail in an often cynical and manufactured world. It also is a great lesson that the best stories are real, easy to tell, and inspiring.

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