Can Trust in a Brand Be Revived?

Wells Fargo logoThe 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

Being Yourself is Terrible Advice… Authentic Brands Should Take Note.

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”.

UnknownBut 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

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.

Voting Booth

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

Caution: What will happen to my Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskeys?

The acquisition of Beam Inc. by Suntory Holdings of Japan, has created a storm of concern about whether the heartland American brands, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark will change. With enormous heritage, both brands have very loyal franchises and passionate consumers.

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And despite the fact that they have been around for a long time – Jim Beam was founded in 1795 and Maker’s Mark in 1958 – these brands continue to enjoy organic growth, and are benefitting, possibly even contributing to, a resurgence in the popularity of bourbons and whiskeys globally. [Read more →]

January 17, 2014   1 Comment

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.

[Read more →]

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.

[Read more →]

August 2, 2013   No Comments

Branding Tactics for Outsourcing Companies to Accelerate Growth

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Significant changes in the outsourcing industry in the past few years mean that outsourcing companies must re-evaluate their branding if they want to succeed in the new environment. These changes are the result of many converging dynamics. Understanding the nature of what is changing can help companies reposition themselves for growth and greater profitability.

The good news is that the continuing growth of the global BPO and IT services market makes it look attractive to new entrants. Current industry projections suggest a global market size of over US$900 billion. Unfortunately, this creates a wide and more confusing playing field.

BPO Market

Despite a languishing global economy, several reports and studies from different BPO sectors project a continuing growth rate of 4-6 per cent, possibly increasing further as the economy stabilises. But growth creates a new set of challenges.

Convergence of factors has caused the problem
The irony is that category growth puts new burdens on providers to stay competitive in a dynamic marketplace. Several issues form a foundation for new brand thinking.

Price shopping. One of the unfortunate fallouts of the global recession is an emphasis on low cost, which has in turn resulted in an increase in price shopping, with buyers driving to the absolute lowest prices from providers. This isn’t unexpected, but with new competitors entering the market, low price bidding becomes an even tougher hurdle. The implication of this trend is for brands to communicate their unique value in new and compelling ways.

• Providing greater value. Further, while price is a more important decision driver, buyers are, at the same time, looking for more than tactical support and are leaning on providers to bring new services and solutions to the table while keeping process costs low. Naturally all providers are looking to find a competitive edge so it is more critical than ever for providers to position themselves with clarity to differentiate, ensure understanding and secure engagement.

• Shifting labour costs. The past decade has seen a continuous shifting of global labour costs, so that some regions and countries that were once attractive sources of labour are less so today. Among other things, advances in technology have enabled new regions to be competitive. This has led to new perspectives about onshoring and rural shoring as viable alternatives, and keeps buyers up at night hoping that their outsourcing partner can satisfactorily meet their business needs. This is where the brand can act as an assurance of quality and service.

• Increased scepticism and need for transparency. One of the negative fall-outs of the global meltdown, lead by the financial services industry, is an increase in scepticism in what providers promise. This manifests itself in many different ways, one being the need for increased transparency and openness. Buyers approach relationships very differently post-recession, and this places a burden on providers to develop and sustain these relationships in new ways. Brand can be the beacon to show how open and transparent your company is in the new environment.

A consequence of these intersecting dynamics is that outsourcing companies must develop very strong brands to differentiate, attract new business and garner higher prices than competitors. This is easy to say, but requires some rigorous work to get there. What follows are the key elements necessary to define and strengthen an outsourcing company brand in the new environment we face today.

Keys to creating and shaping a unique and compelling brand

1. Create a unique and compelling brand idea that is different from your competitors. Stand apart. Spend the time and energy to really uncover why your company is different and better, and then make it part of how you communicate, what you communicate, and how you shape customer relationships.

2. Build the brand outwards from the DNA and culture of the company. This should be the foundational starting point. Unlike decades ago when a company could shout something and customers would line up, today strong brands have to be built upon the foundation of a company’s culture and DNA to have any resonance at all. Every organisation has an internal ethos that guides decision-making, service philosophy, and general behaviour. The most important starting point in building a brand is to uncover this unique character, and build it into the final brand idea.

3. Express the brand idea in unique language that telegraphs, in a nutshell, what your company is, what it believes and the value it provides. In most engagements we begin, our clients are often using generic words as tag lines or primary marketing messages that could be used by anyone. Here are some expressions being used in the outsourcing industry today:

“Innovative Solutions. Exceptional Service.”
“Shifting the Sourcing Equation”
“Extending Your Enterprise”
“Ready for Real Business”
“Experience Certainty”
“Helping Business… Process.”
“Leading the Process”
“Applying Thought”
“New Ideas. More Value.”
“Love the Way You Work”
“Passion for Building Stronger Businesses”
“Sourcing…Simplified”
“Premier Technology Services Partner”
“Rethink Outsourcing”

These types of generic messages create a real opportunity for an outsourcing company to really focus on what makes it special, and then find a compelling expression embodied in a short number of words that can be used as a primary marketing message. Strong marketers find different ways to express the underlying idea so it telegraphs a lot about the organisation and does much of the heavy lifting to create understanding and engagement.

4. Be open and transparent in your communications. The events of the past five years have driven customers and consumers to be very sceptical of messaging. Thus, smart business leaders now understand that they need to become more transparent in all communications. By being more open and candid, companies are able to establish stronger bonds with their customers. In branding terms, a company needs a “brand voice” that is honest and true to how it behaves and conducts business

5. Use brand architecture to make your products and services very easy to understand. One of the front lines in creating customer engagement is to make your business clear and easy to understand. That means developing a brand architecture that is built from the “outside-in”. In many cases, this mean reorganising how you communicate what products and services you provide from the customer’s perspective. In that manner, new customers will understand you better, and be willing to engage further in building a relationship. This may sound surprising, but all too often, outsourcing companies presume that customers understand them. Not only can this be false, but in a highly competitive marketplace, clarity is an essential tool to secure new and expand existing relationships.

Developing and building a strong brand does not happen overnight. Identifying the need for it is the first step…one that can no longer be ignored in the evolving complexity of the outsourcing marketplace.

This article appeared in Outsource Magazine    http://outsourcemagazine.co.uk/

April 24, 2013   No Comments

Why “Watering Down” a Brand is a Fundamental No-No.

The postulate that “watering down” a brand has long-term affects is generally well understood by smart marketers everywhere. But recently, two brands have been caught up in literally and figuratively watering down their products and consequently, their brands. We’d suggest that the act of watering down a product, or even the suspicion of it, will have very serious and long-term impacts on the business.

MakersMark

The two brands are Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon Whisky and Budweiser. Maker’s Mark announced that they were lowering the alcohol content of their premiere product from 94 proof to 86 proof because demand is exceeding capacity, and consumer testing had indicated that the difference was undetectable. While possibly statistically true, the idea that slowly diluting a product so that the perceived change in the taste profile is negligible could end up taking the teeth out of a product and without ever understanding why. This incremental product thinking almost always gets manufacturers in trouble. [Read more →]

March 1, 2013   No Comments

“Less is More” is the New Paradigm in Building Brands

Who would have predicted that in the year 2012, a silent movie would win the Oscar for Best Picture? The fact that “The Artist” defied the odds is a manifestation of consumers’ demand for “less is more”. Consumers are rejecting the “bigger is better” culture that dominated the late nineties and 2000’s and came crashing down with the global economic crisis. Add to that the daily barrage of information, advertising, news, social media and politics and you have a consumer audience begging for simplicity, less clutter, honesty and integrity.

[Read more →]

February 28, 2012   No Comments