Congratulations should be in order. You’ve just emerged from the Board meeting where they approved your plan to refresh the company brand.
Nobody fell asleep or took a pill to stay awake. The retired Secretary of Commerce – alas, under Carter — liked your vibrant new color, Ligurian Sea Blue. The one-time Managing Partner of a Big Four accounting firm said the square around your logo was far better than the old rectangle. And only one board member grumbled that your “entertainment portion” of the meeting was a distraction from real business.
You didn’t get your scheduled half-hour, but you did squeeze in 13 minutes before they moved on to serious matters: the financial forecast, operational review and strategic update. It should be good news they approved your budget for balloons, banners and a video for the launch party, even if it was just to make you go away.
So why are Sonny and Cher singing a doom loop of “I Got You, Babe” in your brain? Because you know it’s Groundhog Day for your company brand. Like the movie, your company has been playing this day over and over again, never getting the brand right, despite a succession of whiz-bang taglines and adjustments in logo colors, shape and typography. It’s a scenario that will continue in perpetuity until there’s a significant change in understanding what the company brand is all about.
It’s not about the blue. Colors, graphics and taglines are important expressions of the brand, and the best of them will impart a deeper meaning that’s apparent to your key stakeholders. If, however, the promise is not backed up by the full faith and commitment of your company and its key partners, your brand will deflate faster than a launch party balloon. FedEx has one of the best logos in the world, but what would that mean if the company didn’t deliver the goods?
Break out of the “brand box.” If the extent of your company’s brand effort is limited to the marketing, sales, communications and customer-facing aspects of your business, its chances of success are poor. A brand that works is one that’s supported by the entire organization from the functional areas to operations. That means the folks in HR, Logistics, Finance, Product Development – everyone.
Commitment starts at the top. Leadership alignment and support is critical, which means that all the people in the C-Suite have to see how brand success is directly tied to the advancement of the business plan (and not, coincidentally, their compensation). Every top executive with a significant span of control in the company must support your brand effort. If any of them think this doesn’t concern them, you’ve got a weak link in your brand delivery chain. You need air cover from the top – meaning a CEO who understands and believes and acts accordingly.
Employees must find the brand credible. Some brand managers like to have an element of surprise in launching internally, which is fine as long as the surprise isn’t that the brand you’ve created belongs to a different company. A brand that’s unrecognizable to employee understanding of the company’s real capability and aspirations is a brand they’ll never own. Bring employees into the brand creation process long before the launch if you want to see it fly.
Everyone needs to know their role. By everyone, I mean not only your full-time employees but all the other people who are critical to brand delivery, such as suppliers, business partners and contractors. Any component of your product or service that fails can kill your brand reputation in a flash. Involve your suppliers in brand creation and the odds are better you’ll get their best people, technology and service.
I remember once asking a top executive at a Fortune 10 company why the business didn’t reduce the many brands it had that were in competition with one another, why it didn’t knock down the silos surrounding various fiefdoms and why it couldn’t achieve economies of scale. His sardonic answer: “Because it’s hard.”
Well, yeah. It is hard getting a company moving strongly in one direction. But a powerful brand is an essential component for that effort – a point-of-view about the business and where it’s going, a rallying cry for key stakeholders, and an inspiration.
That’s a lot more fun than waking up to another Groundhog Day.
– Jon Pepper
Jon Pepper is co-founder and partner at Indelable, a strategic communications firm that helps companies with change management, employee engagement, competitive positioning, corporate citizenship and brand activation through stakeholder involvement.