Brand Tag

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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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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Great Branding Starts with a Promise

Recently in Fast Company Design, I read an article that claims “great branding is invisible,” and goes on to make the point that the little details, like the satisfying thunk of a closing BMW door, or the stitching in a Gucci purse, create and reinforce our relationships with great brands.

The article also makes the point that a catchy tagline or attention-getting logo is relatively unimportant in establishing that brand relationship in the first place.

I agree with these observations, but there’s something missing. Thoughtful details – the “invisibles” that create great brand experiences – are only meaningful if they come from a unique and meaningful central promise. What do you aim to provide that nobody else can? Why does it matter? If you don’t have an answer to these core questions, all those details have no center of gravity. They become tactics that can be easily copied and commoditized.

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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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Brand Positioning: What to Convey vs. What to Say

Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splitsWhen it comes to positioning and messaging, there’s a fundamental distinction between “the idea” and “the message.”

We sometimes work with clients who come to us for positioning help, but then ask us to tell them what to say as their message. This typically happens after we’ve worked together to drill down what their complex organization does into a single, compelling idea. We’ve helped them articulate who they are, what they do and why they matter to their critical audiences, and it’s at this point where they run into trouble. We hear comments such as, “this positioning statement doesn’t just roll off the tongue.” Our clients are hoping they can take the positioning statement we’ve given them and simply drop it as messaging language into communication material. It doesn’t work like that.

Positioning vs. Copy
The position of your company sets you apart from everyone else. Used strategically, positioning should be the foundation for the messaging and communication that comes next, such as taglines and tactical advertising slogans. Positioning is internal and timeless—it is what you want to convey holistically, not what you literally say in each communication piece.

The message you then put forth should reflect your position and target the key opportunities and audiences you want to address. If every message comes from a common conceptual foundation and engages with its target audience in relevant ways, the effect of the brand will be greater than just the sum of its parts.

A good example of this is when Volvo Trucks wanted to highlight the precision and dynamics of Volvo Dynamic Steering in 2013. Volvo produced a memorable commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving semitrailer trucks. Volvo is famously positioned around safety; the ad effectively conveyed both the company’s positioning and the key point they wanted their customers to understand using inspired, memorable imagery.

Tips for a successful positioning/messaging relationship

  • Treat your positioning as your galvanizing idea. Once you’ve identified what you want to convey, you can take creative latitude to express it based on specific communication needs.
  • Don’t use positioning as your communication boilerplate. You should always be thinking of what you want your audience to understand, instead of simply looking for language you can plug in.

When used effectively, positioning and messaging takeaways are the litmus test for brand communications. They help guide communications—they are the key ideas, not the literal words.

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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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