Technology

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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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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High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?

High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?Google, which we’ve held up as an example of both good and bad when it comes to branding, recently applied for a trademark for the word “Glass.” Not Google Glass, just Glass. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not going to give in so quickly. Everyday terms, such as glass, are usually not ownable by any one company, especially when they are descriptive of the product or service itself.

Trademarking Generic Terms
Generic terms are typically difficult to trademark, and for good reason. They are undifferentiating and cause confusion in the marketplace. The reason Apple was able to trademark an everyday word was that a word for a fruit does not in any way describe computing hardware. Glass, however, describes the appearance, apparent composition and function of the Google product. (Although, as this Mashable article attests, the product is not actually made of glass)

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4 Questions to Ask About Your Brand Architecture as Your Organization Grows

4 Questions to Ask About Your Brand Architecture as Your Organization GrowsLet’s imagine you are Facebook. When you first started, you had a clear idea. You created messaging, a user experience and an identity platform to guide it as it grew. You made the hard decisions to whittle your brand’s message down into one clear, coherent thought.

But now, you’re acquiring additional brands at a very high cost, adding complexity to your brand. Now you’ve got Instagram and WhatsApp. You say you are committed to preserving their independence. We say it’s time to revisit those hard decisions, to keep your brand architecture intact and your brand strong.

Continuing to Build Your Brand Architecture
We see organizations—especially those in the technology and digital fields—take a “ready, fire, aim” approach to acquiring brands and working them into their brand architecture. As a result, any of the following situations may occur, creating a complex and unwieldy environment:READ MORE

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What Is Brand Architecture?

What Is Brand Architecture?One of the corporate branding disciplines that we receive the highest number of inquiries about is brand architecture. We find that for many clients however, it’s hard to grasp what brand architecture really means. Some organizations think of it as market segmentation, others think of it in terms of rationalizing portfolios or acquisition strategy. These are all important concerns, but we think about it at a higher level. Brand architecture explains the degree of relationship that should exist between the corporate brand and its various product and service brands. Should they go with a monolithic Master Brand strategy, corral multiple brands into a “house of brands,” or some combination of the two? What is the strategic rationale for an approach? Without clarity on these issues, your brand promise can become unclear, which creates confusion and can even reflect a lack of confidence.

The Root of the Problem
Anything that is ever created, whether it’s an app, a product or a service, wants a brand. And why not? Every creator wants to draw attention to his or her creation. By this philosophy, however, one company could easily have numerous brands. Companies often revert to micro-market segmentation as a surrogate for brand architecture. Google, for instance, has set an unusual precedent. The tech giant has many independently moving parts (read: brands) within its organization, but the sum total of those parts doesn’t necessarily create a comprehensive sense of what is “Google.” This is the most common problem we see with brand architecture.READ MORE

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VMware

At the recent VMworld event in San Francisco, VMware showcased the power and commitment of its unrivaled Partner Network to enable business transformation through innovation, technology, and expertise.  This message, and the graphic tools that support it, are the results of our work with VMware to position its Partner Network as a uniquely aligned business and technology ecosystem, “collectively committed to business transformation”.

With over 50,000 partners in its ecosystem, VMware required a powerful, yet simple message that could be adopted and translated across thousands of client relationships. The notion of being in a collective effort to transform business was a unique differentiator for thePartner Network.  When supported by leading technology and continuous innovation, this story became highly compelling, aspirational and sustainable for both network participants and the customers they serve. One of the most motivational aspects of this simple strategy was the number of ways it could be communicated, broadly or specifically. From giveaways to group events,  VMware has begun investing in telling the story of its Partner Network, to increase value for participants and customers around the world.

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When Corporate Brand Strategy & Company Culture Collide, Culture Wins

Hal King of King Brown Partners has said of corporate brand strategy, “When strategy and culture collide, culture always wins.”

Those words ring true in today’s marketplace. Having a corporate brand strategy is essential for a business, but it is not enough if the enterprise is unwilling to embrace change and modify behaviors to align with customers’ needs, to keep the brand relevant.

Two stalwarts of the consumer products industry have recently suffered the fallout of the strategy/culture collision, and yet another appears to be facing a similar fate. Kodak recently filed bankruptcy, Sony posted its worst annual operating loss in company history, and now Best Buy is on the ropes with a huge first-quarter loss.

Neither Kodak nor Sony was ambivalent about changing times. Both companies made strong statements about where they needed to go, yet neither appeared prepared to steer their corporate cultures in that direction. On the other hand, Best Buy continues to cling to the culture that earned the retail giant its reputation of a big-box powerhouse in the 1990s, ignoring major changes in consumer buying habits in the process.

Kodak’s downfall was blamed on its inability to make the leap to digital media. But Kodak has been positioning itself as a digital imaging company for more than a decade. Why was it unsuccessful? Because at its core, Kodak is a chemical company whose culture embraced film coatings and processing. When digital media came along, Kodak rebranded itself as a digital imaging company, but the move took it further away from its chemistry-based roots, and company culture could not adapt.

The Sony brand faces similar challenges. Sony has spent billions of dollars marketing itself as an entertainment company, yet has not been able to make the transition in the eyes of the consumer or its employees, who still see it as a manufacturer of premium hardware.

Best Buy may be next. The culture of the company is deeply rooted in consumer choice and selection at its retail stores, but it is exactly this choice that dooms the company; consumers now choose to buy their movies, music, and electronic equipment online. They no longer comparison shop in stores, they comparison shop on the internet, and Best Buy is not a value leader in online sales.

In contrast with these companies is Amazon. Amazon has grown from the world’s largest bookstore into the world’s largest retailer, and is now extending its brand to hardware (the Kindle e-Reader) and cloud computing and storage. Since it began, Amazon’s brand strategy and organizational culture have always been aligned with customer satisfaction, scale, and delivery. This enables them to remain a global player, even in changing economic conditions.

We believe strongly in brand-driven business strategy. What that means is, a solid corporate brand strategy should inspire a company to be have in a certain way. This requires cultural resonance. If those new behaviors aren’t imbued or embraced, the strategy will likely fail. The longevity of a brand relies on a culture within the corporation that thrives on meeting customers’ needs at every level, while at the same time retaining core values.

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Forecast: Cloudy Days Ahead

As discussed in this recent article that appeared in The New York Times, companies the world over, large and small, are waking up to cloud computing. It’s one of the most referenced – and recognized – terms in business today.

Brands and their audiences are taking notice. You’d have to be living off the grid entirely to miss Microsoft’s advertising blitz, bringing the cloud to businesses and consumers in ways that increase information availability and computing power, reduce cost, and generally make life more convenient.  With brands like Azure, Microsoft’s enterprise cloud computing platform, Cloud Drive from Amazon, and Sales Cloud and Service Cloud from Salesforce, we’re seeing a frenzy of meteorologically-themed branding that could soon rival the “e” naming craze of the late 1990s.

The challenge for tech companies, from a naming point of view, is to be a part of the buzz without relying too heavily on the buzzword. “Cloud” is currently a buzzword – like “branding”, or “innovation,” “e-“ or “dot.com” have been before it. In today’s rapidly paced market, what was once “new” will become table stakes in a very short time. The key is to position your company and products in a way that is familiar, meaningful and appealing to your customers in the near future, but also unique, differentiating and sustainable over the long term.

Read The New York Times article.

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