Principles of Branding for a Post-Branding World

Saturday, May 26, 2012
Principles of Branding for a Post-Branding World
http://www.dannielleblumenthal.com/


Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodies and sweatjackets exemplify branding in the post-branding world. Photo via Wikipedia.

The following are notes from a teleseminar I gave for the Federal Communicator’s Network, May 21, 2012. (I am currently the chair of FCN.) All opinions are of course my own.

Thanks to Melanie Solomon for providing notes and to Paul McKim and others who contributed questions, comments and feedback. Also thanks to Ellen Crown for “live-tweeting” the event.

I. Notes – Melanie Solomon

1. What is “branding in a post-branding era?” Branding world = under control, no hair out of place. Post-branding world = inauthenticity challenged by social media. How to achieve balance between coordinating what you say while seeming authentic and accessible.

2. Culture first. Put internal communication first and let that be the driver. Get your people on board—not just with a training manual, but rather the whole gamut of your “corporate” culture.

3. Start at the top. In post-branded, the leader is the brand, not just endorsing the brand.

4. Everyone builds it. The frontline employees who deal with the public every day own the brand—not just Public Affairs. Post-branding employee treats you like a human being; no “canned” statements such as “have we me all your needs today?” Live the brand as if it was your neighbor.

5. “Say it plain.” KISS! Avoid bad branded writing! Un-writing the over-communicated message. Keep it in everyday, normal English. It’s fine to say what you want to say, but say it plainly. Strip away the phony baloney, but you still have a sense of coordination and shared view of the world.

6. Nobody likes a robot. Nothing more annoying than reading robot language. The skill is to say it in a way that people respect you, even if you have to say that you don’t know all the answers. It is not easy to do. And not everyone can do it well. Don’t publish BS!

7. A time for outreach, a time for content. NEVER do propaganda. But there is a place for marketing campaigns where you need to do more than just give people a phone number. Play with the brand; you don’t have to just mirror it for a campaign. When are we doing outreach; when are we doing content?

8. About those logos. It’s very hard to do well. A bad logo is distracting to the public. Pay a professional to do this! Needs to be coordinated: monolithic, endorsed, or standalone (DB). Brand architecture: think about on a business level what your objective is, and how your logo reflects that. Need a strategy. Trademark the brand if you need to to prevent fraud.

9. Dealing with dissension. Key in a branding effort, there will normally be a lot of fighting and dissension. People feel like they’re being forced into a mold and dehumanized. So…don’t call it “branding.” Call it “renewal” or something else (“reputation” – DB). In post-branded world, let people express their dissent in an adult way, to vent. Builds buy-in. Doesn’t always work in a closed culture because of reprisals. Get the decision-makers on board and in touch.

10. Social media and the web. Become fluent with social media. You have to recognize that the younger generation especially lives in the social media world. The way they interact with the government is the way they deal with each other. Let them be ambassadors without so much mediation, while holding them to a reasonable standard. Support the conversation. Begin by using internal communications tools. Start people talking in groups—a positive step.

II. Tweets (Short Takes) – Ellen Crown, FCN Board of Directors:

1. Training and employee buy-in are critical to creating authentic voices within an organization.
2. How do you keep your brand from burning out? You need to look at your organization from the outside and constantly evolve.
3. There is nothing that will destroy your communication faster than a crappy logo strategy.
4. Nobody likes a robot.
5. In a post-branded organization, the leader is the brand. They don’t just endorse it.
6. Focus on internal communication. “Culture is the neglected step-child of communication.” (via a colleague – DB)
7. The key distinction between the branding world and the post-branding world is that people are looking for authenticity.
8. History lesson: for government, this (branding) started because we wanted to keep the messages and language consistent. (Also – there was a perceived need for greater familiarity between the public and the agency in the aftermath of organizational change – DB.)

III. Additional Notes and Comments – Dannielle Blumenthal

1. Initially branding was restricted to products, then it was expanded to services, companies, and people.
2. A serious initial problem of branding for agencies was that people were saying different things in different places and not coordinating – leading to confusion among the public about how to perceive the agency. However, now things have swung the other way and the discourse seems overly controlled with “messaging.”
3. Branding and propaganda are not the same thing, but they can be.
4. Everybody talks the language of branding now, but due to the explosion of social media it seems phony and forced. The trick is to sound natural while still coordinating and thinking through in advance the things you say.
5. Mark Zuckerberg’s “hoodie everywhere” strategy is the epitome of post-branding.
6. In a post-branded world, culture and internal communication are more important than external communication because there is the assumption that employees will speak spontaneously about the organization and that it will not be possible to control that.
7. When the culture is strong employees automatically know what to do.
8. What happens inside the organization, will ultimately be seen on the outside.
9. Most branding is done by employees, not public affairs specialists.
10. You have to be passionate about good writing – it is a cause.
11. “Have I provided good service today?” is the kind of annoying brand talk that turns people off.
12. Outreach is necessary sometimes to explain new rules, laws, etc. to the public. Branding can be useful to make it clear which agency communications are authentic.
13. Must divide between branding, marketing, and information strategy. These are not one and the same.
14. Public affairs and IT should work together – not just as partners but in a fused office.
15. Use fewer logos, more strategically. There is a tendency to generate new brands and new logos like trophies.
16. Reduce acronyms as much as possible.
17. Don’t pick a fight with people who are wedded to a logo or what they think of as “brand.” To influence leaders, form an alternative group with a common vision, then work to engage the dominant group with the alternative group – create a new conversation that incorporates both. Read Art Kleiner’s book, Who Really Matters.
18. The longer the timeframe, the more collaborative you can be – but when time is short sometimes you have to go in and be a dictator about content.
19. Keep social media as loose as possible, but enforce existing policy stringently. Treat people like adults, and that includes making them accountable for using good judgment.

IV. Responses To Questions From The Audience – Thanks to Paul Kim and All Those Who Contributed To This Section

1. If there is one aspect of the agency that differs strongly from the rest in terms of stakeholder relationships and services offered, this should be reflected in the brand strategy (logo, colors, etc.)
2. Finding and engaging your audience is a marketing issue – do the research to find out where they are (often it’s offline), and get to the influencers because they will reach out to the others you need.
3. Take the time to engage with the people who represent your brand. It’s a matter of training but also buy-in. Buy-in is achieved through conversation, and through providing a context around what you want them to say. The longer the time horizon, the more collaborating you can do – but if time is short sometimes you have to jump in and dictate.
4. Subject matter experts should not be treated as writers. People cannot necessarily write from templates – these are only guides to set expectations as to what will happen to an end product
5. You achieve branded communication without formulas by emphasizing the culture. Think about Google, Apple, Facebook, Starbucks, Microsoft – you can recognize what kind of communication would come from each of these companies without thinking too much about it.
6. When developing a brand strategy think about your business objective and work backward to communication.
7. To engage the public, find out what they want and give it to them – don’t start with your predetermined message.
8. Brands burn out when they don’t evolve. It is important to have at least one person on the team who refuses to “drink the Kool-Aid” and is allowed to tell it like it is.
9. Branding is not a tool to create publicity – marketing and PR do that. Rather, branding is a long-term communication strategy that sets the foundation for marketing and PR to work, by establishing a desirable image. Read Positioning by Al Ries.
10. Can you destroy a brand by putting it on everything? No. You have to put the brand on everything if you want people to remember and trust it. You can tell you’re doing a good job when you get absolutely sick of looking at the logo.
11. Use “line extensions” sparingly. You have to know your stakeholders well and be sure you’re not diluting the original message. Every time you split the brand into different directions, you’re splitting your energy. Only do this when the stakeholder groups are so different that they can’t be included in the same conversation.
12. Avoid the B-word if possible. People innately dislike being branded.
13. Focus on success in terms of what executive want. Listen carefully to what they say, how they define the problem, the communication style they prefer.
14. In defining brand objectives, talk to employees informally about what the pain points are. Strategies that incorporate pain points stand a much greater likelihood of success than “nice-to-haves.”
15. Often communication experts focus on pie-in-the-sky ideals when basic factors are a problem (like people don’t know where to find the information they need)
16. Fix problems one at a time; start with low-hanging fruit. Don’t wait for the big plan to hatch – there is none.
17. Don’t be excessive about asking for permission. Find out what leadership wants to approve and focus on that; for the rest you will have to do the best you can, exercise good judgment, etc. If you are constantly asking for permission you are asking to be told “no.”
18. It is not self-promotional to highlight success. That is what executives want.
19. Don’t be the lone ranger. Form a network of people internally who are engaged in helping you to fix the problems that have been identified.
20. Everybody thinks they’re a writer and that technical skills are the only “real” ones. You can’t fix that. All you can do is gain people’s trust by showing your expertise.

8 Rules For Creating A Passionate Work Culture

Expert Perspective
8 Rules For Creating A Passionate Work Culture
BY Paul Alofs | 05-21-2012 | 6:05 AM
This article is written by a member of our expert contributor community.

Several years ago I was in the Thomson Building in Toronto. I went down the hall to the small kitchen to get myself a cup of coffee. Ken Thomson was there, making himself some instant soup. At the time, he was the ninth-richest man in the world, worth approximately $19.6 billion. Enough, certainly, to afford a nice lunch. I looked at the soup he was stirring. “It suits me just fine,” he said, smiling.

Thomson understood value. Neighbors reported seeing him leave his local grocery store with jumbo packages of tissues that were on sale. He bought off-the-rack suits and had his old shoes resoled. Yet he had no difficulty paying almost $76 million for a painting (for Peter Paul Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents, in 2002). He sought value, whether it was in business, art, or groceries.

In 1976, Thomson inherited a $500-million business empire that was built on newspapers, publishing, travel agencies, and oil. By the time he died, in 2006, his empire had grown to $25 billion. He left both a financial legacy and an art legacy, but his most lasting legacy might be the culture he created. Geoffrey Beattie, who worked closely with him, said that Ken wasn’t a business genius. His success came from being a principled investor and from surrounding himself with good people and staying loyal to them. In return he earned their loyalty.

For the long-term viability of any enterprise, Thomson understood that you needed a viable corporate culture. It, too, had to be long-term. So he cultivated good people and kept them. Thomson worked with honest and competent business managers and gave them his long-term commitment and support. From these modest principles, an empire grew.
Thomson created a culture that extended out from him and has lived after him.

Here are eight rules for creating the right conditions for a culture that reflects your creed:

1. Hire the right people
Hire for passion and commitment first, experience second, and credentials third. There is no shortage of impressive CVs out there, but you should try to find people who are interested in the same things you are. You don’t want to be simply a stepping stone on an employee’s journey toward his or her own (very different) passion. Asking the right questions is key: What do you love about your chosen career? What inspires you? What courses in school did you dread? You want to get a sense of what the potential employee believes.

2. Communicate
Once you have the right people, you need to sit down regularly with them and discuss what is going well and what isn’t. It’s critical to take note of your victories, but it’s just as important to analyze your losses. A fertile culture is one that recognizes when things don’t work and adjusts to rectify the problem. As well, people need to feel safe and trusted, to understand that they can speak freely without fear of repercussion.
The art of communication tends to put the stress on talking, but listening is equally important. Great cultures grow around people who listen, not just to each other or to their clients and stakeholders. It’s also important to listen to what’s happening outside your walls. What is the market saying? What is the zeitgeist? What developments, trends, and calamities are going on?

3. Tend to the weeds
A culture of passion capital can be compromised by the wrong people. One of the most destructive corporate weeds is the whiner. Whiners aren’t necessarily public with their complaints. They don’t stand up in meetings and articulate everything they think is wrong with the company. Instead, they move through the organization, speaking privately, sowing doubt, strangling passion. Sometimes this is simply the nature of the beast: they whined at their last job and will whine at the next. Sometimes these people simply aren’t a good fit. Your passion isn’t theirs. Constructive criticism is healthy, but relentless complaining is toxic. Identify these people and replace them.

4. Work hard, play hard
To obtain passion capital requires a work ethic. It’s easy to do what you love. In the global economy we can measure who has a superior work ethic, who is leading in productivity. Not many industries these days thrive on a forty-hour work week. A culture where everyone understands that long hours are sometimes required will work if this sacrifice is recognized and rewarded.

5. Be ambitious
“Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” These words were uttered by Daniel Burnham, the Chicago architect whose vision recreated the city after the great fire of 1871. The result of his ambition is an extraordinary American city that still has the magic to stir men’s blood. Ambition is sometimes seen as a negative these days, but without it we would stagnate. You need a culture that supports big steps and powerful beliefs. You can see these qualities in cities that have transformed themselves. Cities are the most visible examples of successful and failed cultures. Bilbao and Barcelona did so and became the envy of the world and prime tourist destinations. Pittsburgh reinvented itself when the steel industry withered. But Detroit wasn’t able to do the same when the auto industry took a dive.

6. Celebrate differences
When choosing students for a program, most universities consider more than just marks. If you had a dozen straight-A students who were from the same socio-economic background and the same geographical area, you might not get much in the way of interesting debate or interaction. Great cultures are built on a diversity of background, experience, and interests. These differences generate energy, which is critical to any enterprise.

7. Create the space
Years ago, scientists working in laboratories were often in underground bunkers and rarely saw their colleagues; secrecy was prized. Now innovation is prized. In cutting-edge research and academic buildings, architects try to promote as much interaction as possible. They design spaces where people from different disciplines will come together, whether in workspace or in common leisure space. Their reasoning is simple: it is this interaction that helps breed revolutionary ideas. Creative and engineering chat over coffee. HR and marketing bump into one another in the fitness center. Culture is made in the physical space. Look at your space and ask, “Does it promote interaction and connectivity?”

8. Take the long view
If your culture is dependent on this quarter’s earnings or this month’s sales targets, then it is handicapped by short-term thinking. Passion capitalists take the long view. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can do in five years. The culture needs to look ahead, not just in months but in years and even decades.
The writer Arthur Koestler said that a writer’s ambition should be to trade a hundred contemporary readers for ten readers in ten years’ time and for one reader in a hundred years’ time. Lasting influence is better than a burst of fame. Keep an eye on the long view.
Excerpted from Passion Capital: The World’s Most Valuable Asset © 2012 by Paul Alofs. Published by Signal, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
[Image: Flickr user PurpleMattFish]

The Power Of Brands Lies In Shared Values

April 30, 2012

The Power Of Brands Lies In Shared Values

http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com

Brand Strategy Shared Values iPhone Apple

Brands, just like people, have values – bedrock principals they stand for and hold near and dear to the heart. These principals form the reason brands exist. Brand values influence two important business assets – relationships and reputation. Relationships are built on trust and reputation is built on delivering on your promise.  

In our over-crowded, me-too marketplace, points of difference that are function and feature based are no longer sustainable. Consumers today are tuning out marketing and tuning in to those brands that represent shared values. Forward thinking marketers recognize their brand building initiatives must focus on relationships and reputation.

Nothing else really matters.

Connections begin with respect and empathy
Brands aren’t human, they have no consciousness, brands are not things, nor do they do anything. Brands are nothing more than a shared idea of value– mirrors of our interactions and transactions with each other. Of course, it’s fashionable and fun to talk about brand in the parlance of our industry, brand managers and brand consultants love jargon and thinking models that they can write on a white board.

At the end of the day, we’re still talking about an idea of value in the mind. And one idea human beings value is connection to other humans and being part of the tribe. When people share values they’re more likely to hang with their like-minded mates. And so it is with brands. The power of brands lies in shared connections based in shared values.

Shared values form the basis for all relationships
Wherever we go in business and in life, we bring are own values along as well. When others share our values, this becomes a powerful and attractive force to bind us closer together. Shared values form the very basis for every relationship.

Enlightened brand owners realize in our time-compressed days, most of us have little time for things (and people) that don’t really matter to us. For brands to matter, the customer must believe the brand is bringing something more valuable to them than the cash exchanged. In effect brands have to provide more “use value” than they ask in cash value.

It is the shared experience of value that binds customers to the brand and the organization behind it. When brands deliver at this level, they lead markets and shift the culture. The result is massive financial gain for the brand owner.

Building a values-based brand
No longer can brands be differentiated on features, benefits or price. There’s just too much stuff out there these days. Customers have so much choice everything is white noise. 

Leading brands are always differentiated by their shared values. If the values your brand represents are not aligned to the values of your customer, no amount of marketing will change their mind. And never try amending brand values to line up with the customers. 

That’s a recipe for disaster. 

Trust is the foundation of a value-based brand. As in all relationships, trust is what holds things together and defines the quality of brand reputation. You’re the real deal or not–it’s just that simple. Here’s a list of things brand owners of values-based brands always do to build trusted relationships with customers: 

–       value their purpose more than their profits

–       eliminate a sales first culture

–       focus on the things money can’t buy

–       live their convictions rather than conform to markets

–       listen more and market less

–       elevate the quality of life for the tribe

It’s as simple – and as difficult – as doing the right thing
Values-based brands are always “doing the right thing.” It’s a simple principle, but one that foils many brand owners because many don’t take the time to know what the right thing is. It’s inevitable that every brand will face some form of change, controversy, and crisis. And it’s in these challenging times, that a brand’s actions broadcast its values. In a marketplace hyper-focused on the next best thing, values-based brands are disciplined focused, consistent, and credible.

The objective of values-based brand management is to do the right thing without agonizing over the specific issues. When brand owners know what values for which their brands stand, one can see choices more clearly, make decisions more easily, and serve the tribe with more humility.