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
Wherever you look these days, mainstream brands are engaging in initiatives or taking a stand on issues that were once considered “social or environmental causes of fringe groups”. Social media has given activists a voice and platform to reach the masses like never before. And whether or not there is enough hard data or scientific evidence to categorically support their causes, there are most certainly enough unanswered questions around issues such as the safety of GMO’s, artificial ingredients such as aspartame, red dye 40, and the prolific use of pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate, to name a few. Consumers are no longer in the dark and are asking questions, reluctant to blindly believe the safety claims of corporations. As such, many iconic brands like McDonalds and Pepsi find themselves directly impacted by this growing sentiment. And more than ever before, it is a case of “adapt or die”. There are many examples of brands that have been proactive, or at the very least, quick to respond. Yesterday Chipotle announced that 100% of their ingredients are now non-GMO. On the same day, Pepsi announced that they will no longer use aspartame in Diet Pepsi. And in January 2014, General Mills announced that Cheerios will be GMO free.
April 28, 2015 No Comments
This blog was originally featured on the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network’s website on October 10th, 2013.
One of the great challenges of a shared services division is to attract the best talent and keep them motivated. This is understandable. Because the concept of “shared services” has built into it a negative stereotype from the start, creating and managing a strong internal “brand” can accomplish a number of important things:
- It can signal the true value the shared services team provides and define value in a new way
- It can be a beacon to attract the best talent
- It can keep the team not only motivated, but also excited to continually elevate the value of what the team can deliver.
October 29, 2013 No Comments
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.
August 2, 2013 No Comments
What can the difference between a straight line and a circle teach us about building a sustainable economic system that fuels growth without destroying our planet? And what do brands have to do with it?
The answers are “lots” and “lots”, respectively.
This is the first in a series of posts in which we will explore the relationship between brands and sustainability. So we thought we should start by questioning whether consumerism itself is sustainable. Is it reaching the end of its useful life? And if it is, what can replace it as an engine for economic growth?
The law of unintended consequences has meant that the existing model of consumption makes many of us sick, unhappy, stressed, and time-starved; it fails to produce affordable food that sustains healthy life; it fails to offer work that gives us a healthy sense of meaning and purpose; it gradually renders the planet itself unviable; and it makes only 1% of us wealthier.
For most of us, this is not a good deal. For our children, it’s disastrous.
In his book ‘Cradle to Cradle’, William McDonough recognized that in nature’s cyclical design, resources are infinite. Yet human industry is driven by a traditional linear economic model: Take (resources) – Make (stuff) – Dispose (dump when the new version comes out).
So which is the better (more sustainable) option? That’s where the circle comes in.
July 15, 2013 No Comments
To ensure a seamless image, smart brands take responsibility for both the content of their ads, as well as the environment in which their ads appear.
Vigilance is especially necessary online, where intelligent software and e-marketing technologies allow brands to target the user, not the environment. The old adage of ‘fish where the big fish are’ has never been more true. With varying degrees of success.
A friend of mine recently joked on Facebook: ‘If the ads that Facebook so cleverly targets at me are correct, I need to: a. Lose 9kg. b. Buy a motorbike and c. Attend the classic rock concert at Willowbridge Barnyard Theatre. Now that’s artificial unintelligence if ever I saw it.’
She’s a fit, slim, married, mother of two in her 40s, who lives in the suburbs and drives a family-friendly 5-seater VW.
But getting it wrong can have more sinister results. What happens when a brand finds itself in an online environment that potentially undermines its image? [Read more →]
April 30, 2013 No Comments
The press about Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo! CEO, has focused on whether she is up to the task of reviving the company and the difficulties she will face with a declining business and less than ideal resources. While this may be true, the real challenge is whether Ms. Mayer can recapture the original, organic, innovative culture that made Yahoo! so popular in the first place. This is the engine of brand success today.
August 9, 2012 No Comments