Identity Tag

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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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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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.

READ MORE

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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.

READ MORE

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Winners in 2013

Managing Director Ken Pasternak

When we look back at the client relationships we’ve enjoyed over this last year, there’s one word that sums up our experience: Inspiration.

Our clients have shown both resilience and initiative in a time of uncertainty and recovery. In coming to us for help, they’ve shown they are committed to a renewed identity, a stronger position, or a clearer message to communicate to their audiences. We have been thrilled to assist these groups through this process.

There are several examples from this past year of clients doing extraordinary work to further their missions, and build their brands in the process. Our higher education clients, such as Georgetown and Caltech, set examples everyday of their innovation and thought leadership. UC San Francisco and Highmark, our clients in the healthcare field, are working to improve the quality of care and increase patient satisfaction. And in the technology sector, VMware is technology that makes any service ubiquitous, efficient and within reach.

It is easy for an organization to tolerate fuzzy thinking, let costs rise and lose sight of their mission. We’re proud of the committed work our clients do remain at the vanguard of higher education, healthcare and technology, and we see many good things ahead for them. We are inspired as we go into 2014.

Highlights from our clients’ 2013:

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If They Know What You Stand For, Your Consumers Will Love You (and Your Brand)

HeartIn the news last month were the results of a recent study that reveals the world’s 100 most loved companies. The top three brands? The Walt Disney Company, Yahoo! and Google. The study surveyed 70,000 people in 15 countries and measured individuals’ emotional feelings toward a brand. While we’re happy to see several of our past clients on the list, the study poses a great question: How can a company establish enough emotional connectivity to create familiarity and favorability among its audiences?

A company can’t be familiar to, or loved by its customer base if it isn’t true to itself. If familiarity breeds favorability, this might make a good argument to push for a higher marketing spend. But a more fundamental (and less expensive) way to improve and sustain familiarity is to be coherent and consistent in how you tell your story. Customers are people. People trust what they know.

Creating a Trustworthy, Intriguing Brand
Three steps to becoming a familiar and favored brand:

  1. Know who you are. Build a strong identity strategy and you will have a clear mission. Your employees will understand what they’re a part of and your customers will be able to identify with the choices you make. Our founder and CEO Philip Durbrow points out that everyone from the gardeners to the guy who plays Goofy could give a solid yes or no on whether something’s really “Disney” or not.
  2. Walk the talk. If there is a disconnect between what you proclaim yourself to be and how your customers experience you, your brand will cease to be appealing or trustworthy. All the marketing dollars in the world won’t solve this problem.
  3. Find the balance. Once you have an established following, you have to decide how to walk the line of remaining familiar while innovating and evolving as an organization. One of our recent SlideShare presentations, “How to Create a Valuable Company,” demonstrates that a company can be both solid and reliable and dynamic and innovative.

Seeing Success
Many brands struggle to connect with their customers and create favorability because they never take the time to assess what they stand for. One study points out that, more than familiarity just leading to favorability, it leads to behaviors that support companies’ strategic goals. Word-of-mouth marketing, investment referrals—these help companies grow and succeed, and they are more likely to happen for organizations that tell a clear and honest story about who they are.

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Who Owns the Letter X?

Logo_XIt’s no longer “X” marks the spot on a treasure map. The use of “X” first increased as it became a go-to variable in beginning algebra. Then it evolved to become a secret ingredient of success, someone’s “X factor”. Now “X” seems to mark every spot, having found its way into the identities of a slew of companies, products and even universities in an attempt to create the perception that they are on the cutting edge. But what does it mean anymore, and can anyone rightfully own it?

There are several ways in which “X” has been used:

  •  Xerox was one of the first and logical users of “X”.
  • For EXXON, one “X” was not enough.
  • The X Games drew a new breed of sports enthusiasts to ESPN.
  • Microsoft wisely left its brand off the naming of XBox, the company’s successful entry into the gaming and entertainment market. But now it needs wordier names, such as XBox One and XBox Entertainment Studios, to explain why XBox still matters.
  • Comcast launched its Xfinity service to divert attention from its troubled brand though a new, hyperbolic and space-aged entertainment sub brand. In the end, it just confused a lot of people.
  • Ted, a set of global conferences, used TedX presumably to indicate an extension or auxiliary to the original, exclusive event.
  • Space transport company SpaceX seems to say it is headed to places unknown, perhaps in the same vein as the algebraic “solve for X” mode. It is instructive to think of the context of the X PRIZE, and www.x.com, Elon Musk’s first startup.
  • Universities are now joining the fray, each with its own purpose. Stanford’s StartX is an investment fund for student entrepreneurs. HarvardX is “a bold experiment to push the boundaries of learning through reimagined teaching, unprecedented research and cutting-edge technology,” or a response to the quandary of online learning.

With so many uses, all saying different, but ostensibly trendy things, is “X” going to go the way of “e”? Does it still add the desired magic to any identity? Can any one company or project really own it anymore? Or, is it really just a weak substitute for a creative expression of unique value?

If you’re thinking about using a trendy letter in your name, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Are you using the letter to say something meaningful, or just to get attention? Attention getters typically have shorter shelf lives.
  • Does the use of a trendy letter create sustainable differentiation, or do you risk blending in over time as others adopt the same idea? This tactic has a very low barrier to adoption.
  • How long will it be before the trend is over and the market has moved past your naming convention?

Some companies have managed to take true ownership of trendy letter. Apple has done quite well (and protected itself very aggressively) with “i”. VMware has made a strong case for its ownership of lowercase “v”. The bottom line: be sure that what you’re doing is relevant, ownable and works with your overall brand strategy.

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Branding Isn’t Skin Deep—It’s Your Connective Tissue

BrandingIn some organizations, branding is thought of as window dressing: It’s seen as superficial and peripheral to the organization’s purpose. In our experience, the opposite is true. We think of branding as an organization’s connective tissue.

When everything you say and do as an organization is driven by a unifying, meaningful and differentiated concept, it can create powerful results. But those who think of brand as simply promotional or attention getting miss the big payoff that strengthening their connective tissue can have.

3 Questions to Strengthen Branding Coherence

Brand is often confused with advertising. But branding is not only a marketing discipline, it’s a management discipline. (As our CEO Philip Durbrow has written, identity is the CEO’s tool.)

Whether they realize it or not, organizations are constantly communicating about themselves through their products and services, new hires, advertising and press releases. Everything you say and do as an organization can and should reinforce a coherent message about you—if you’re thinking about brand as your connective tissue. To achieve this level of branding coherence, ask about any message, behavior, and communication:

  • Is there a purpose for the way it’s identified?
  • Is there a purpose for its role in the organization?
  • Is there clarity about its contribution to the whole versus a separate business plan or identity?

The Dangers of Putting Brand on the Periphery

We’re working with a higher ed client at the moment who is responsible for some of the most cutting-edge research on (and off) the planet. Although they constantly do things that have never before been done, they don’t always get (or take) credit for their innovations, so these breakthroughs don’t add much to public understanding of who they are. They’re not as appreciated as they need to be in the face of increased competition for resources and talent. The lack of understanding about who they are results in lost opportunities. They need to strengthen their connective tissue so that everything about them communicates a clear, compelling, and meaningful story.

When you don’t pay attention to your connective tissue, you can run into a number of problems. Change is scarier. Progress is harder. The basis for making decisions is less secure. Most importantly, there’s a lot of wasted effort. The yield on what you say and do is much lower than the yield would be if there were some central concept for everyone to draw from.

But approach branding as a management discipline—as the connectivity in your organization—and you’ll tap into a strategic advantage you’ve always had, but just haven’t leveraged yet.

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The Washington Post: A Name in Limbo

Courtesy Adam Glanzman

A view of The Washington Post building on Aug. 5, 2013. (Courtesy Adam Glanzman)

When Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post last month, the media began analyzing the sale and questioning the future of the legacy newspaper. One minor detail, however, that may have not been at the forefront: According to a filing with the SEC, the newspaper’s parent company, Washington Post Co., must change its name within 60 days of the deal closing.

There is no indication (as yet) that Mr. Bezos will change the name of the newspaper. But it’s my hope that he will retain the name. While I generally suggest that geographically based or product-based names can limit an organization’s growth by creating limited perceptions of their potential, this does not seem to be the case with The Washington Post.

“Washington” essentially means “national politics” and “Post” literally means to send, to display and to publish electronically. It seems to be a perfect word for becoming the digital medium of Washington.

Retaining a Valuable Position

What Mr. Bezos purchased is an organization that has tremendous credibility within Washington, D.C., and among top political circles within the district. This is a large and important national audience. The Washington Post is to politics what The Wall Street Journal is to business. The paper owns a unique, differentiated and valuable role within the media industry. And according to his recent statement, I think he gets this.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, D.C., and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change,” said Mr. Bezos. “Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of the Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.”

If It’s Not Broken…

While his commitment to retaining the company’s mainstay values is apparent, the 60-day requirement may leave them with a new “coating.” If it were my call, the name would not be changed as long as the organization continues its unique focus on, and its credibility in, national politics and all that national politics impact. I would not like to see the Post become a general source of random news and lose its unique reason for being. Design, however, could play an important role by changing the visual expression of “The Washington Post” from a traditional newspaper masthead to convey that the newspaper has become a more contemporary medium.

It seems that Mr. Bezos’ main contribution would be to figure out how to turn the newspaper into a viable model for the distribution of credible news about national politics. He doesn’t need to alter the identity of The Washington Post to do that. In fact, its identity and equity is a major asset for his purpose. I would go so far as to say that the Post is one of few beloved institutions in the political sphere.

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