brand value Tag

Beloved Brand

Becoming a Beloved Brand

This spring, 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.  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.

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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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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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Brand Impact of Mergers

The Brand Impact of Mergers

Last year saw a n ear-record high in M&A activity, which at $3.5 Trillion was the highest activity recorded in seven years, according to the New York Times. Tiny startups (WhatsApp: $19 Billion) and major blue chip companies (DirecTV: $49 Billion) were swallowed up by larger acquirers for astronomical sums.

The conventional wisdom fueling these buying sprees goes like this: once a company gets to a certain size, organic growth becomes very difficult to sustain. Acquiring into new areas or capabilities is a much faster route to growth in revenues, capabilities, and ideally profitability.

But what happens to brand value in these transactions? How should brands be managed to retain or augment their combined value? Which company gets to keep its brand name and promise, and what happens to the other? In our experience, too few companies invest in the upfront strategic thinking and decisions required to get full brand value, and hence business value, out of their mergers.

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