The question is… can trust be revived in a brand that is seriously damaged? Almost every year there are brands that amaze us with incredible stupidity… mostly generated by a drive for bigger sales numbers. Volkswagen not only misled consumers and dealers about emissions and gas mileage claims, but
tried to make it a small and inconsequential issue until investigators uncovered an ever-growing circle of management and leaders who actually knew exactly what was going on. [Read more →]
September 30, 2016 No Comments
The New York Times featured an interesting article by Adam Grant, a contributing Op-Ed writer entitled “Unless you are Oprah, ‘be yourself’ is terrible advice.” It sheds some new light on what individuals need to focus on to “erase the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world”.
But doing this, being totally authentic and completely open and honest, has a downside and often a negative effect on advancing in the business world. Said another way, we really don’t want to know everything about the authentic you. There is much truth here for organizations, as well.
In the corporate branding world, professionals have been trying to mine the authentic “self” of an organization… that inner essence which needs to be brought forward to present a brand that is true and honest. While this is a strong starting point, as Mr. Grant points out for individuals, perhaps organizations don’t need to focus on all the warts and truths of their inner self, but define themselves to what they can credibly claim. “Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in”.
Corporations do need to understand the foundation of where they have come from, but build their brands based on reasonable aspirations of what they want to be. It is a fine line between aspiration and over-promise…and this task has to be very carefully approached. But in the end, if that seam can be found, great brands can be crafted.
The magic is in the synthesis. Understanding the reality of the past blended into a vision of the future.
To quote Grant… “they just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.” So spend meaningful time thinking about what that is, and then live it. Amen.
June 8, 2016 No Comments
Brand 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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Mean Something If You Want To Matter
Any brand that endures and stands out from the pack does so by connecting with a fundamental human need.
Professional services firms, which deal with abstractions and intangibles, can begin to build and leverage this deep human connection by first understanding what they stand for – what they intend to mean to their clients and employees.
A powerful, authentic brand captures and signals the underlying human meaning in your business – the thing that sets you apart and makes you matter to your marketplace of potential clients and recruits.
Your brand is therefore a strategic business issue, way more profound than issues like name, logo, tagline, or visual style. Those are symbolic expressions of the brand, shortcuts to the meaning in the business: they are not the brand itself.
One of the key challenges for a professional services firm is how to encourage clients to have a committed relationship to the organization, not just to the individual consultant. Brand offers a way to do this, by building a shared sense of the meaning in the business, while at the same time enabling individual professionals to express that meaning in a way that is authentic to them.
Our experience helping professional services firms to differentiate and market themselves effectively has helped us identify three key factors that set professional services brands apart:
- Relationship is the envelope that wraps the client work. Professional services firms need to understand and leverage the emotional value of the client relationship as a key differentiator
- Attracting and developing talent is as important as attracting and developing clients. Aligning the internal and external brand is crucial
- Vision, values and beliefs drive the behaviors that convey the brand. Understanding and clarifying these areas is essential to building a meaningful professional services brand.
Take McKinsey and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the top two global strategy consulting firms. They each recruit similar people from the same set of elite schools, and they each address similar business challenges with similar intellectual tools. And yet clients see real differences and make choices between the two. How and why?
The answer lies in the meaning that both firms have built as they have developed their respective brands. McKinsey has come to mean power and control – the stability and order that enables prosperity. BCG on the other hand, has built its brand meaning around understanding and transformation – the insight that empowers you to change your circumstances for the better. Both are compelling meanings that speak to fundamental human needs, but each appeals to a different client mindset.
These two iconic consulting brands have used narrative and story to create meaning and differentiation as they compete for clients and talent. Our next post will explore how to use story as a tool to differentiate your firm, and to create meaning that attracts the right clients and the right recruits.
July 1, 2015 1 Comment
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May 20, 2015 No Comments
I was asked by a friend about the Washington Redskins name issue, which was so eloquently written about in the New York Times Opinion Pages on June 24 by Michael Lewis and Manish Tripath.
Here is essentially what I wrote as a reply….
This is an interesting branding question on many levels. I am in complete agreement with the Michael Lewis and Manish Tripath conclusion.
1. Money aside, (changing the name) is the right thing to do.
2. The “model” they used (have not seen it) indicates no significant loss in revenue. My experience with name changes would bear this out. In fact, the opposite is often the case. I understand the argument about existing brand equity, but there are other important factors.
3. We would advise that the team owners look at a new name as an opportunity to re-energize the fan base. What if it attracted more fans and advertisers? Looking at the upside might help all involved think about a different and better brand and future for the franchise.
4. Lewis’s idea of involving the Native American community leaders is a brilliant way to move forward in a positive manner. It could result in an even larger upside, albeit the process might be complex so as not to disenfranchise anyone.
Change is scary for many, but, in this case, necessary. Not only has the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office voted to strip the team of trademark protections, but changing the name is the right thing to do.
June 26, 2014 2 Comments
Ad Age reported that Velveeta inventory is running low, just as Superbowl parties are only a few weeks away. This has created yet another media feeding frenzy. The Chicago Tribune calls it “Cheesepocalypse”. But the underlying reason is quite deep. Velveeta has earned our trust as a brand that hasn’t changed, and in the confusing world we live in, anchor brands are very important. Moreover, anchor brands like Velveeta often become part of a national tradition, a cultural touchstone that has meaning and value beyond the functionality of the product.
Velveeta was invented in Monroe, NY in 1908 at the Monroe Cheese Company. By 1923, it was spun off into the Velveeta Cheese Company and subsequently sold to Kraft Foods. In the early 1950’s, the product was reformulated into a cheese spread, and has not wavered since. Used as a base for dips, and in sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, it has been a staple in homes in North America and Canada. It is also an ingredient in dips at Superbowl parties everywhere. [Read more →]
January 10, 2014 No Comments
Inertia is an amazingly powerful force, and “reason” often proves inadequate to overcome it. Think about how hard it is to get people to move their bank accounts even when it is clearly in their financial interests. Or why nearly three-quarters of all corporate change initiatives fail, no matter how well argued, or how compelling the business case.
Human behavior is hard to change, and this is one of the biggest obstacles facing businesses selling sustainable products and services. We believe that brands are uniquely well placed to help, because they can speak two languages – reason and story. And they can leverage the unusually powerful relationships they have with consumers.
November 12, 2013 No Comments
The outsourcing industry has become highly competitive with many new entrants. It has also become highly commoditized. Purchase decisions are predominantly driven by price, recently fueled by pressures of the struggling global economy. Branding, which is often overlooked in the outsourcing industry, is a very helpful tool to break through the clutter and elevate a company away from commodity price comparisons. In addition, a strong brand can help secure new customers, grow the business franchise, and improve margins.
Buyers of outsourced services today expect more than tactical support and inexpensive labor. Today, companies look at outsourcing as a strategic imperative to grow on a national and global scale. So providers must address the customer’s needs in unique new ways. Said another way, a strong “brand” can help communicate a unique value-added aspect of a business and generate great interest.
Outsourcing has grown rapidly over the past decade and continues on an upward trajectory. HfS research estimates that the total market size will exceed $950 Billion in 2013. Traditionalists break it down between IT Services and general BPO services. The sheer scale has attracted many providers who claim anything and everything, muddying the waters for the legitimate companies that provide excellent solutions for their customers. The result is a complex melting pot of companies providing off-shoring, in-shoring and even rural-shoring. And because the traditional markets that have historically provided very inexpensive labor are changing, there is the added pressure for buyers to understand the implications, and find value-added partners to deliver services in new and different ways.
March 21, 2013 No Comments