Identity and Brand Strategy

Brand Matters – The Power of Strategic Identity

The following content was presented at the AIRI 2017 Annual Meeting. Click here Marshall_AIRI_Presentation-2 to download a PDF of the slide presentation itself.

Brand has many definitions, and most of them line up within marketing and advertising.  In this presentation, I hope to shed some light on the power of strategic identity – being true and clear about who you are as an organization and why you matter. This should have influence over all an institute says and does, from who it hires, to how it fulfills its mission, and of course, how it engages, and inspires support from, its critical audiences.

Here’s one important reason brand matters to research institutes: The top ten federally funded institutes depend upon government funding for 71% of their budget on average. But our government appears to value research less and less.  In fact, according to AAAS, “The FY 2018 funding cycle has been rather mixed for Science and Technology on the whole, with many more agencies looking at reductions than increases.”

What this means is, a good portion of an institute’s budget is necessarily going to need to be replaced by other sources of funding.  Where is that going to come from?  Who is going to understand and value these institutes enough to participate in their future?  Why should they?

The challenge is even bigger than funding.  It is about awareness, relevance, and perceived value to multiple audiences, including new research talent, partners and collaborators, and the public who this research is intended to benefit. While in the past, your accomplishments may have spoken for themselves, now you’ve got to ensure that you are understood, appreciated and supported – in an environment that is more competitive than ever. You need to become a “preferred” place to invest in, to work for, and to rely upon for new knowledge.READ MORE

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DACA is an Identity Issue.

DACA is as much an identity issue as it is an immigration one. The effects of decisions today may affect many people’s sense of who they are for much longer than its political news cycle.

We are faced with some 800,000 people who identify themselves as Americans – and why shouldn’t they?

  • Their parents are in America.
  • They grew up in America.
  • They were educated in America.
  • They work in America.
  • They pay taxes in America.
  • They serve in America’s armed forces.

America is the only home they have ever known. If they are returned to an unfamiliar country, they might not even speak the language.   

  • Will their identity no longer be American?
  • What will this do to America’s identity?
  • What will this do to America’s brand promise?

Britain recently went through an identity crisis with Brexit. The British brand cut off the European part of its identity. And the consequences for many Europeans and Brits alike has been a sense of broken promises. The DACA identity issue raises important questions about America’s identity and its own “brand” promise.

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Collaboration Drives Breakthrough Brand Strategy

Brand breakthroughs, like all breakthroughs, require collaboration. In our work with leading researchers at Caltech, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Rockefeller University, it is clear that examining today’s most important issues require not just brilliant people, but people who have the skills for working productively with others. The same collaboration principles hold true for breakthrough brand strategy in organizations. READ MORE

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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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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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wells fargo

What happens to a brand when a CEO leaves?

The answer is, it depends. On the:

  • Stature of the CEO in the business community
  • Perceived influence of the CEO on the company – good or bad
  • Swiftness with which a respected replacement takes charge

The recent resignation of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf could mean one of two things for the Wells Fargo brand:

  • The company is in trouble and his resignation is symbolic of a bigger problem
  • His resignation signals Wells Fargo’s commitment to fixing what is wrong, and is therefore good news

To employees, investors and customers alike, a CEO’s resignation might result in the loss of some trust in the company, the loss of some competencies and valuable connections the CEO acquired while in office, the loss of some institutional memory, and a potentially demoralizing impact on the organization.

However, these consequences may be overridden by showing that the organization has strong principles, that it holds its executives responsible for their actions, and that it is taking steps to prevent similar problems. The departing executive takes the perceived problems of the organization with him, while the new executive starts with a provisional slate.

When our client Boeing had to let its CEO go in 2003, the action created an opportunity for Boeing to reframe its story and deliver a bigger, more positive vision for the company. By drawing attention to a broader promise and a renewed commitment, the loss of a CEO catalyzed the brand’s ascendancy.

In other cases, the CEO embodies the company brand, and his/her departure signals a major change in the brand’s promise. Virgin America is a shining example of this – while Richard Branson was not allowed to be CEO of the U.S. based airline, he was every bit the personality of that brand. The sale of the company to Alaska Airlines, and Branson’s subsequent departure from the scene, has investors and customers very worried about the future of their beloved airline. Virgin America has done its best to reassure customers through communications and consistency of experience that their brand promise is here to stay. Like Wells Fargo, time will tell if they can fulfill that promise.

Our advice to Wells Fargo in this time of transition is to commit to a new story, invest in making a renewed, valuable promise to your customers and deliver on that promise in actions, not just campaigns. Seize the opportunity to make the brand stronger, rather than just hoping this loss of confidence will be forgotten with time.

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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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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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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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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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