Tag Archives: Evolution

Brand Strategy for the Next Generation

A while back I wrote “Brand Strategy for Entrepreneurs”, and it was a popular post. Those traits are still relevant as the business grows, but now we’ll need to dig deeper. I offer “Brand Strategy for the Next Generation”, when an organization with momentum decides it’s time to take it to the next level.

So your business has grown. Good for you. Now your organization has some momentum, a little bit of revenue, and you’ve decided that renewed attention to the brand strategy will add value. This is a smart move.

It’s healthy to want to revisit the brand strategy. Perhaps some old initiatives feel disjointed and out of sync with evolving goals; perhaps growth isn’t happening as fast as you want; perhaps the organization has grown a little too fast and the brand feels out of control or out of focus. Something is not right and you believe Brand Strategy is the solution. Here’s how I know you’re ready.

You know Brand Strategy affects the entire organization. You know that brand strategy isn’t a quick fix for a short term problem. It’s not a marketing issue or an HR issue or a logo issue; those are isolated challenges. You know Brand Strategy is a big picture effort, and it will have—must have—a ripple effect throughout the organization. We are bringing the Experience, Culture, Communications and Leadership together in a cohesive story and strategy.

You have a realistic perspective of your existing brand experience. You are ready to hear—you are expecting to hear—harsh criticism and face blunt truths. You have no illusions about the state of your business and the perspectives of all your stakeholders, or what the rest of the world is doing beyond the sanctity of your organization. You don’t make excuses or hold on to comfortable ‘sacred cows’ without a solid, strategic and big-picture defense of your decision.

You know that you can’t erase the past. You understand you will need to emerge from your past—you can’t ignore it or hide from it—to begin the next chapter of the organization. As much as we will leverage any momentum, we will have to actively overcome any past indiscretions. We won’t pretend the past “doesn’t count”, or that people should forget and move on. Authenticity (where actions meet accountability) is everything.

You know your budget and capacity for change. You’re not shopping for a Rolls-Royce strategy on a Yugo budget, and you’re prepared to invest. Your project could be $500 to $50,000,000—only you know which is more realistic for you—and the need to spend it wisely doesn’t make you uncomfortable. You’re not, however, just going to throw money at the issues and hope they fade away. You know you can’t just buy a good Brand Strategy; you’re investing in the people who are ready to make it real.

You’re thinking strategically. You’re not just bored with the status-quo; you know there is real opportunity to evolve and grow. You’re looking for a plan that reaches beyond a collection of short-term tactics and you see 5, 10 or 20 years ahead. Yeah—you’re thinking about what you organization will be 20 years from now because you’re acting on your vision and pushing forward.

You understand that Brand Strategy starts at the top. You know that everyone is looking to your leadership for guidance and direction, and your commitment—actions, not just words—sets the tone for the entire project. If you’re not comfortable with that, no one else is, either. Brand Strategy effort begins and ends with leadership agreeing that it’s important and valuable, and real change not only involves you, it starts with you.

Which leads us to the most important point:

You’re prepared to implement real change. You’re prepared to be accountable to those who rely on your leadership during uncertainty, and you’re ready to confront those who resist change. You know that real change is hard, probably messy, and sometimes scary. You’ll make tough, unpopular decisions and probably piss a few people off. You will look nay-sayers right in the eye and—without a shred of doubt—let them know you are making the right choice, and you don’t need them tagging along if they’re not onboard. You won’t let those moments derail the plan, because you know uncertainty is actually part of the plan.

And all of this excites you, because through all the chaos of change, you see the organization that will emerge as a leader, with a brand that is an asset and an inspiration to others. It’s this last one that is the most important.

Change is hard—really, really hard—and it often isn’t comfortable. But you’re ready for it.

This is how I know you’re ready to take your Brand Strategy to the next level. You’re thinking strategically; you’re thinking realistically; you’re thinking honestly; you’re thinking proactively; and most of all, you’re thinking like a leader.

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Searching for Diversity

“If we cannot end our differences at least we can make the world safe for diversity.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The word ‘diversity’ gets tossed around a lot these days. Few would argue that diversity—however it shows up in your organization—is adding value.

The dictionary definition of Diversity is “a range of different things”, and talk of diversity in the workplace always celebrates the inclusion of people and ideas that are outside of our typical circles. The concept implies a whole array of useful traits that, in theory, will make any idea a better idea: different experiences; fresh perspectives, inclusive insights, varied wisdom,  extended capacities, … well, the list goes on. Simply put, an organizational culture that embraces diversity will be better for it.

Popular wisdom encourages us to welcome new perspectives to collect and build upon our own insights. “Listen and be open-minded” is the paraphrased rally cry of the diversity bandwagon. But simply gathering ideas isn’t the true power of diversity. Diversity is exponentially stronger when it’s an active mindset, not a passive one.

Diversity is not just about letting others in. Diversity is about encouraging yourself to go out to find something bigger.

Diversity seeks out new ideas and differing perspectives. Diversity doesn’t let you get comfortable with your status-quo. Diversity craves ideas and insights that differ from our own because we are aware that we can’t see our own limits.

Yes, you have to let other ideas into your frame of thinking. But that is only half of the path to diversity—and it’s the easy path. For a full experience and benefit, you must also seek diversity out for yourself. You must make the time and effort to reach for diversity a priority, and part of your culture.

Brand Strategy thrives on growth and development. Part of the promise we make to stakeholders is that we will continue to push and evolve the brand story, rewarding loyalty with deeper experiences and new adventures.  Encouraging diversity—both welcoming and searching new ideas—is how we actively discover the potential of the brand.

Good brand strategies know they should adopt new ideas. Great brand strategies go looking for fresh thinking.

Your brand beyond your customer.

If you’re only focusing on customers, you’re missing a huge audience for your brand.

Avid readers of my blog know that I almost always use stakeholder to define your audience. I am pretty sure people read customer in those sentences—and are frustrated that I make it too complicated or buzz-wordy—but there is a good reason to think beyond the transaction when developing your brand strategy.

Your customers are only one of five distinct stakeholder groups that are influenced by your brand. And I am not convinced they are even the most important one in your brand strategy.

1. Customers are indeed important. To paraphrase Drucker, without them you simply would have a reason to exist. As a stakeholder audience, customers include anyone who is willing to trade their money, time or resources to take advantage of what you have to offer. They buy your product, support your cause, volunteer their support or contribute their skills. They are engaged.

Customers use your brand as an expression of their personal choice; you become a badge of honour in their lifestyle. They expect you to reward their loyalty with consistency & integrity of the promise, and trust that you will continue to feed the relationship with innovation and relevance.

Don’t let your brand strategy stop with customers.

2. Employees are next in this list, but when developing your brand strategy, I suggest this is the critical group. As a stakeholder audience, employees are the people so committed to your brand vision they want to create the experience for others. They enthusiastically bring their skills, expertise and passion to move the organization forward.

Employees—and volunteers who show up to help—are personally committed to delivering the brand experience, sharing the cause and their abilities to make the promise possible. This is the group that embodies the phrase  “authentic”, so consider this group first. When everyone else is judging or borrowing from your culture, this is the group who define it.

3. Shareholders are a different bunch. These are people who are intimately connected to the brand (through financial investment or personal relationship) and choose to be associated with the brand, yet they are not responsible for delivering the brand promise. Or perhaps these people are the benefactors of your organization, receiving help and services.

As a stakeholder audience, shareholders have to believe in the tangible and intangible value of the mission and the capacity of the organization to meet its promises. Shareholders support innovation and leadership’s efforts to pursue the vision, holding the operations accountable for decisions and activities along the way.

4. Vendors make it possible. Vendors supply you with the array of goods or services that you will need so that you can deliver your promise. As a stakeholder audience, vendors share in the commitment to deliver the brand experience. Their compromise is your compromise; their ingenuity is your value; they are your best and worst.

Vendors are links in the chain of the brand experience and share in the integrity of your brand promise. They work with you in your innovation, sharing the push to offer an exceptional experience.

5. A community embraces the brand. As a stakeholder group, the community has the choice to integrate the brand into the local culture, and most importantly, holds the brand accountable for the promises it makes.

Communities make it possible for a brand to flourish and prosper.

Most brand strategy focuses on the customer message first & foremost, hoping that other stakeholders will be able to infer their role in the mission; strategy by osmosis. It’s understandable why it matters—every organization needs to attract customers or supporters just to exist—and why it feels most important during the development of the strategy. But this approach runs the risk of being merely a temporary marketing tactic instead of a defined brand strategy.

Strong brands know that they exist well beyond the customer. Great brand strategies focus on all the stakeholder experiences, engaging everyone in a shared vision.

The Curse of the Accidental Brand

A brand that adds value to your organization is a purposeful effort; a strategy that supports your goals. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can’t be accidental.

An accidental brand starts off innocently and with the best intentions. A new organization launches and does a few thing right, but in all the chaos of getting started leaders neglect to consider the strategy for the brand. Perhaps they design a snappy logo and recruit a few good people; perhaps they develop a catchy promotion and have a product that generates some buzz. They collect employees or volunteers, customers or supporters, but there is no deep connection to the brand.

Thanks to a solid model behind their operations, the organization will see some success. Enthusiasm pays off. Quick profit or attention—arguably important but a shortsighted goal—makes everyone feel confident in the brand, especially the leadership team. Unfortunately, a little success is enough to be dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

Within the daily grind that every organization experiences, routine becomes a system and mediocre becomes a comfortable standard. The resulting culture and brand experience lack the direction and conviction of a brand with vision and purpose. Any passion that first launched the company is now stale. The momentum of familiarity dominates the efforts, and past successes become an irrational crutch for a lack of innovation or growth to move forward. The organization has created an accidental brand, and it can persist for years.

Accidental brands are dangerous because over time they give the impression that they are solid and valuable when really all they are is comfortable and inoffensive. Accidental brands get stale, and then they get sloppy. Accidental brands get blindsided by enthusiastic competition.

Enthusiastic competition is fueled by a passion for the brand experience, and they are hungry for success. Enthusiastic competition shatters preconceived expectations and limitations. Enthusiastic competition trusts, nurtures and rewards their stakeholders with innovation. Enthusiastic competition is relentless about understanding what sits at the core of the relationship.

Accidental brands are cursed because moderate success and familiar habits limit innovation; there’s a perceived a risk to change while blindly ignoring the opportunities of evolution. Accidental brands forget that enthusiastic competition is always possible.

Routine is never a rule, and mediocre is never worthy. Don’t let your brand be accidental.