Brand Strategy Tag

Brand Strategy for Mission Driven vs Profit Driven Brands

How to Develop Brand Strategy for Non Profit Brands

How to Develop Brand Strategy for Non Profit Brands

We recently received a question from the Board Chair of a prestigious non profit foundation that supports basic science research around the globe.

“Is brand strategy different for mission driven organizations than it is for commercial organizations?”

It’s an important question for a few reasons. Many education and research non profits consider brand strategy to be appropriate only to commercial entities. Because “branding” is so tightly tied to “marketing” in most people’s minds, and many researchers consider marketing to be beneath them, “branding” is seen as a bad word (see our recent post Branding vs Marketing).

Other non profit brands, such as cultural organizations and international aid organizations understand the power of brand, and many use it to their advantage. Here’s how the approach to brand strategy is different, and important, for mission driven organizations.

Non Profit Brands: Understand, Believe and Support

  • Understand: Everyone involved, from internal to external audiences must understand the mission. People are most enthusiastic about the things they understand best. If they don’t really understand it, and what makes the mission uniquely important, they will never support it. For the strongest and most sustainable brands, you must start with a common understanding. Read how we helped the UC System create clear understanding of their mission and promise. 
  • Believe: Next, audiences must believe in the mission. It must be compelling.  It must be personally relevant. The organization needs to be able to show progress toward that mission, no matter how small. There must be some “there” there for a non-profit to motivate the types of behaviors and investments that will make them successful. A clear brand position, based on a clear understanding of the mission and supported by some proof is necessary to build belief. We helped a program in San Diego that teaches coding to kids inspire community-wide belief in their mission. The result is the League of Amazing Programmers, an aspirational idea that kids and their families want to be a part of.
  • Support:  This is clearly important when raising funds.  If your potential funding sources don’t understand you, personally relate to your mission or believe that you can accomplish what you’ve set out to do, they are less likely to help.  Consistent internal stakeholder support is also critical. In the non-profit world, especially in larger organizations, people may apply their good intentions in misaligned or counterproductive ways. The better they understand and believe what it is they are there for, the more likely they are to align their efforts in the right direction. Our foundational work for the World Wildlife Fund still inspires incredible support for their efforts. 

For mission driven organizations, everything hinges on clarity of the idea that makes your mission unique, meaningful and special.  Your brand strategy must be clear and valuable in the minds of your critical audiences. We’ve enjoyed helping many of our clients in higher education, research, and culture achieve positive and sustainable brand results.

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brand strategy for a commodity

Using Brand Strategy to Differentiate a Commodity

Differentiation is critical for commodities to achieve any marketing advantage. With few exceptions, such as monopolies like the cable companies and one-of-a-kind products like Polaroid was years ago, differentiation is critical to creating a preference or commanding a premium price. If your product or service is not differentiated, there is no reason to choose yours over others, and you will wind up competing on price.

The good news is that there are many ways to differentiate commodity products and services. I used to be in the business of selling flour, shipped by trainloads from the Midwest to large, commercial bakeries on the East Coast. Trains can get delayed for a variety of reasons, so the bakeries needed to build expensive flour storage facilities on their premises for back-up. We built our own flour storage facilities in locations from which we could reach the bakeries by truck within a few hours. This gave the bakeries an assured supply on demand, and it eliminated the necessity of tying up their capital by building storage facilities. In this way, we created a preference and price advantage for our commodity.

There are many other ways to differentiate commodity, such as:

  • Risk – eliminate or reduce your customers’ potential risks.
  • Inventory – offer inventory management or convenience.
  • Financing – develop customer financing options, appeals and incentives.
  • Rewards – consider a rewards program to encourage loyalty.
  • Sustainability – appeals to customers, employees and communities.
  • Packaging – use packaging for convenience, or badging, to stand behind your commodity.
  • Ingredient – create a proprietary ingredient or concept available only in your commodity.
  • Bundle – or unbundle, your products and services.
  • Segment – your market, and tailor your marketing to the most profitable segments.
  • Experience – provide a superior purchase or usage experience: easier, faster, more flexible.
  • Consulting – become an expert in your customers’ industry and become a valued authority.
  • Facilities – showcase impressive facilities, operations and equipment as sales tools.
  • Safety – commitment to the health and safety of yours and your customers’ workforce.
  • Marketing – create appealing marketing materials and concepts.
  • Brand Strategy – build and support a compelling identity, story or promise.

Let’s talk about Brand Strategy: Gasoline is a commodity that relies on differentiated brand strategies. These strategies usually involve ingredient branding: Shell NiTRO gasoline (to protect your engine); Exxon/Mobil Synergy gasoline (Better for the environment); Chevron “With Techron” gasoline (to maximize your mileage).

Some of the most successful brand strategies have been created to differentiate a commodity. Think about Morton’s Salt, Gold Medal Flour, C&H Sugar, Sunkist Oranges. Water, once the ultimate commodity, is now a range of differentiated products aimed at different market segments and desires. Water is differentiated by its source (Fiji, Lake Geneva, Glacial Iceland, Artesian Springs) or by its character (Vitamin Water, Mineral Water, Smart Water).

With a clear brand strategy, good market data, strategic naming and design, creative communications, and resources aligned to support your goals, you can differentiate any commodity to create a preference or command a premium.


Branding vs. Marketing

Sometimes our clients ask us, “What is the difference between branding and marketing?” The question arises because most people and organizations use these terms interchangeably. Unlike Medicine, Law or Finance, practitioners in the field of brand and marketing don’t share a common professional language. When one doctor says a patient is suffering from nephritis, another doctor will understand that the patient has inflammation of the kidneys. When one lawyer says he has an affidavit, another lawyer will know he has a written statement made under oath.

Ask 20 marketers what branding is, and you may get 20 different answers. To some it may mean creating a logo, to others it may mean developing an advertising or public relations campaign, to others it may mean initiating social media conversations. Because the term “branding” is used to mean so many different things, it doesn’t have a specifically agreed upon meaning. For some clients, especially higher education, we sometimes have to avoid the word altogether, because it not only misunderstood, it is looked down upon as “beneath” academics.

We make a point of telling our clients at the outset of any assignment what we mean when we use particular words, so at least, they’ll know what we are talking about. We fully recognize that others may use these words differently. We use them in this way:

A Brand – is the promise you make to your audiences. Strong brands are valuable assets, because when the promise is fulfilled, it creates an emotional response. Strong brands can create a preference or command a premium and assure a future stream of revenue. The name and visual expression of that promise is called a brand identity, because it gives you a way to identify with the promise being made.

Branding – is about positioning the brand to fill a need, meet expectations, build trust and develop relationships. It’s about keeping your promise differentiated, relevant, compelling and true.

Brand Strategy – is about determining how many brands you need and can afford to support, what each brand should stand for, and what relationships should or should not exist between the brands and the parent organization.

Marketing – is about finding and growing a market for the brand that leads to profitable sales, or in the case of non-profits, that leads to appreciation and support among key audiences.

Marketing Strategy – is guided by business goals, and involves segmenting markets, selecting target audiences, determining pricing, packaging and distribution, integrating media, and executing creative campaigns.

Consider a stand out brand like Nike. The Nike brand promise is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. “If you have a body, you’re an athlete” says Nike. This brand promise demands a diverse, creative attitude-laden execution across the many customer touchpoints. That is branding. Nike’s innovative use of celebrity athletes and digital, social, mobile and retail channels to engage with existing and aspirational athletes, is marketing. Nike’s marketing strategy is highly influenced by the brand promise and expression – and the resulting ads, promotions, communications and offers feel like they could come from no other sports brand.

Bottom Line: We define branding as making, communicating and delivering a promise. Branding is a long-term commitment. We define marketing as finding and connecting with the audiences who will most benefit from that promise. By its nature, marketing tends to planned out with shorter term goals. Marketing strategies and campaigns will come and go, but brands should endure. While definitions of branding and marketing may differ, it is important that people use agreed upon definitions of terms, to ensure that you meet both short and long-term objectives for your business.

Blizzard Entertainment, BlizzCon

Becoming a Beloved Brand

In 2017, when the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship for the second time in three years, the Bay Area exploded with excitement.  The victory parade drew more than one million fans in their blue and gold to cheer and bask in the glory of “our” victory. The Warriors are truly one of San Francisco’s few beloved brands. 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 known as community branding, and is the envy of most brands.

Are there business benefits of community branding?  The W’s have sold out every home game for the last several seasons. The Warriors have become a major attraction for out of state and foreign tourists. Win or lose, W’s fans are behind their team in every way, emotionally and economically.

How does community branding work, and how do you become a beloved brand? 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 brand worthy of your lifetime support. Other brands are a beloved part of their communities and even the world at large.  Blizzard Entertainment’s BlizzCon gathering is an epic celebration of their game universes and their communities. Some players spend months crafting elaborate costumes of their favorite characters. 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 community 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.


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

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.

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.

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

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.



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?