Political Primaries Spotlight Principles of Strong Brands

Republican logoBrand experts everywhere are scratching their heads about how the candidates (“brands”) in the current primary system are challenging beliefs and apparently re-writing the rules. The candidates in both political parties are exhibiting unpredictable, and in some cases abhorrent, behavior. We have looked beyond the immediate to remind ourselves that there are very true and proven principles about short and long-term brand development. Lest we forget, great, powerful, sustainable brands do share important characteristics. They are:Democratic logo

Clear and focused. Powerful brands know what they stand for and stay focused on their core positioning. Rather than bounce around with multiple promises, they understand the need to be almost singular in purpose. At this stage of the run up to the primaries, some of the candidates have demonstrated clarity and focus, and they are being rewarded for this.

Authentic and true. Great brands are authentic. Authentic brands understand what they are and do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises. That means that the organization making the brand promise must be congruent. So “brand” goes way beyond communications or image. It is a mandate for behaviors. Love a candidate or not, those that rise to the top are true to what they are and do not get distracted.

Truthful and honest. Brands that win, over the long haul, are ones that are true and honest. They don’t duck and weave between claims they make, but say things that they can back up. The gap between truth and fabrication will be a key determinate over the longer run.

 Transparent. Strong brands develop a level of transparency so their key audiences understand that they are telling the truth, and not hiding or shielding key information. They understand that this transparency is the basis of the bond they have with their advocates. It would be fair to say that all the candidates, in both parties, are not transparent enough. Some believe that shouting louder masks the need to be transparent. In the long term, this strategy rarely works.

 Consistent. Brands that last understand the need to be consistent over time. Brands that fail flip-flop from one position to another to satisfy immediate needs usually fail. That is because, in the long term, consumers and voters scratch their heads being unable to attach clarity and purpose to a constantly shifting target.

Delivery focused. Many brands can induce trial by making compelling claims and promises but only brands that actually deliver on promises will endure and develop loyalty. Consumers don’t tolerate bait and switch, and what may push a short-term victory could actually develop long-term detractors.

Shouting the loudest is not an enduring platform for a brand. It certainly gets media coverage and awareness. But in the end, it is the guiding principles above that will shape the outcome and the future.

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We believe that the degree to which a candidate embraces these principles will determine their long-term viability. Not just in their electability, but also in terms of their effectiveness. So while the American electorate is attempting to select one “brand” over another, those that survive over the long-term will have met the test better than others.

March 10, 2016   No Comments

Why Authenticity Matters

One universal characteristic of market leaders and powerful brands is that they are authentic. Business leaders should challenge if they have embraced what authenticity means.

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Authentic brands do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises. That means that the organization making the brand promise must be congruent: its business processes have to be designed and aligned to ensure behavior that supports and delivers the brand promise. So ‘brand’ goes way beyond communications or image. It is an organizational mandate.

There have been three recent examples of brands that have broken this trust. Volkswagen completely diluted its brand by not only installing software in cars to cheat on emissions standards, but also hiding and denying this behavior for years. They impeded and obstructed regulators and provided misleading information, and thus violated not only customer trust, but also employee affection for the company. It will take years for VW to recapture its market position.

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Takata, a leading supplier of air-bags, tried to duck responsibility for airbags that can explode when deployed by implying that it was a data manipulation issue. The truth did come out, and after years of denial, Takata is now paying the price for misleading customers. Their brand has suffered immeasurably. To quote the lead plaintiff, “The only thing they did not know was the names of the individuals who were going to be injured or killed, and the date it was going to happen.” Ouch.

UnknownChipotle did not appear to react fast enough when it learned about a Norovirus outbreak. Apparently, the procedure for “washing down” produce didn’t seem to be effective. They have subsequently apologized, closed some restaurants and put in place new procedures. The question is whether consumers will believe that they will continue to act in a truthful manner. We give them praise for not denying the problem, but time will tell whether consumers believe Chipotle acted fast enough in the best interest of their consumers. For a brand based on credibility, they are dancing very close to the edge.

One of the benefits of being authentic is word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat purchases. In other words… loyalty. Whether B2B or B2C, understanding what authentic means and living it every day is a mandate in today’s complex markets.

February 19, 2016   No Comments

Stories are the Building Blocks for Professional Service Firm Branding

Brands are ultimately about meaning. Stories are the building blocks of meaning. And stories that connect your brand with a fundamental human need can help you build a powerful bond with your clients.

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In our experience, this is as true for management consultants, accountants, law firms and architects as it is for carmakers, technology manufacturers, fashion designers and food brands. The difference is that while we have long accepted that emotional connection can drive consumer purchases, we like to think that business-to-business purchases are driven entirely by cold reason. They are not.

We have spent many years interviewing C-suite executives who purchase professional services. Sometimes one firm has a “silver bullet”, a tool or insight or method that nobody else has, so the choice is obvious. It happens, but it’s vanishingly rare (and quickly copied).

More often, clients have to choose between firms that have very similar offerings, people and approaches. So how do they pick? We have found that they make choices based on the story the brand tells them… the story that the brand allows them to tell about themselves.

Certain narrative patterns or storylines tend to recur within particular categories of professional services firms. The table below illustrates a few of the story patterns we often see in our work with these firms.

StroyLine TableCredit: Archetypal story patterns based on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and Carol Pearson’s The Hero And The Outlaw

Each of these narrative patterns enables a brand to evoke and address a deep human need, even when offering an abstraction such as professional advice. And each of these stories can be told in a multitude of different ways.

By understanding these patterns, a professional service firm can drive differentiation and preference.

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So how do you discover and then develop your authentic brand story? There are strong clues in your firm’s origin story and in the recurring iconic stories about the firm that your professionals tell themselves. The stories that clients tell about you (and the language they use to tell them) are also powerful sources. In both cases, it takes skilled questioning and astute listening to draw out the truth in the tale.

Once you have discovered the fundamental brand story that reflects the truth of your organization, it can then be developed into compelling market-facing messages, woven through all your communications and crucially, embedded in the culture of the firm and the behavior of your people.

August 7, 2015   No Comments

Sustainability and Authenticity Present Huge Opportunities for Brands

Riddle me this: how do you boost sales by almost one third while telling your customers to buy less from you?

Sustainability and authenticity are the twin brand values that can power this exemplary business growth, and Patagonia is the current exemplar.

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For some time now, Patagonia has been urging customers to repair and keep their $700 Patagonia parkas rather than buy new ones. The result? Sales increased almost one-third to $543 million last year, which included about nine months of the “Buy Less” marketing campaign.

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October 4, 2013   No Comments

Generation Y Should I Trust You? The Challenge for Brands

Generation Y Should I Trust You? The Challenge for Brands

Brands are symbols of trust – we use them as navigation beacons in a landscape of uncertain options. But the next generation of consumers is re-defining what it takes to be trusted.  At the core of this re-definition are two attributes: sustainability and authenticity. Brands that lack those qualities will struggle increasingly to attract either consumers or recruits.

According to research by The Intelligence Group, this next generation of consumers, described as Generation Y or ‘Millenials’, want to make the world a better place, and they’re demonstrating this intent in the brands and products they choose, ‘… products that follow ethical practices and are aligned with social causes’. (adweek: responsible youth)

For these digital natives, sharing is a normal part of life. Everyday they share photos, ideas, technology and information about themselves.  Defined by The Cloud, a key facilitator of this ‘open source‘ lifestyle is mutual trust and the brands that can demonstrate the qualities that drive trust, like honesty and authenticity, will benefit from Generation Y’s loyalty.

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August 2, 2013   No Comments

Back to the Past. Nostalgia is Back in Branding, Again.

This week MillerCoors announced that they will test market a new beer called “Batch 19,” bringing back a “pre-prohibition recipe.” The future is the past. And why not… we live in challenging times where we are all nervous about our future.

You’ve just got to look around to see how tough economic times strain our desire to take risks. It makes sense that we feel more comfortable with what we know than what we don’t know. Grandma’s recipes are looking better and better. [Read more →]

March 19, 2010   225 Comments