Look at it This Way

Observations on Strategy, Branding, Leadership and Culture

You don’t have to ask the toothpaste how it feels when you want to change its brand identity.

But when organizations are involved, the brand stands for people. Yet, so many corporate branding programs fail to consider how branding an organization differs from branding a product. Product brands work when the customer experience matches the packaging, advertising and product performance in the hands of the consumer. Brand managers and the agencies that support them are used to controlling and modifying each of these elements as they choose. Corporate brands are built by countless interactions of people with other people – customers and clients, suppliers and distributors, shareholders and communities, and one another.

Successful corporate brands come from understanding, defining and in certain cases changing the countless daily decisions and actions of people as they interact with other people – customers and clients, suppliers and distributors, shareholders and communities, and one another.

> If your brand does not reflect your people in a way that makes them proud and passionate, they will not deliver the brand experience in the marketplace.

So in that spirit, I offer some do’s and don’ts for branding your company:


  • Don’t fret too much over the name – Companies love to worry that the old name isn’t hip enough, descriptive enough, or relevant enough. I always caution companies not to discard their names too blithely. The heritage associated with the original name is often more valuable than you think; importantly, it’s often much less of an obstacle than you think. Of course sometimes you must change your name. Mergers or spin-offs often require a new identity. A shift in the core of the business might make your old name misleading: if your name is We Are Widgets and you no longer make widgets, you probably want a new name that fits better. But even if a name change is inevitable, remember that the most important thing is just to pick one – try to find something easy to say and spell – and stay with it. Over time, the company name will become identified with the character of the people it stands for.
  • Don’t settle for the price of entry – Professional, ethical, intelligent, trustworthy. These and other attributes like them always score high in research. That’s because they really define the minimum qualities no chttp://tgriese.com/blog/wells_fargo_proves_boards_need_to_broaden_definition_of_riskly to find that you have staked out a permanent also-ran position that inspires neither passion in your employees nor loyalty among your customers. Of course, sadly, there are categories where "trustworthy" is a differentiating attribute. But if you want to position your company as a trustworthy partner, you'd better make sure you are running the company to promote trustworthiness (see Make it true below; see also my earlier post on Wells Fargo
  • Don’t overreach –Some companies long to be more than they can be. Executive recruiters want to be organizational consultants; ad agencies want to be marketing partners; technology companies want to revolutionize everything everywhere. Aspiration is important to a strong brand, but it’s also important not to move past what the client is prepared to believe or buy – or what you can deliver. At best, you wind up looking presumptuous or silly. At worst, an overreaching strategy leads to investments in capabilities and infrastructure that never pay off.
  • Don't forget the soft stuff – Contrary to many assumptions, it’s the fuzzy part – culture and values, reward and recognition, myths and heroes – that create the firmest basis for a successful and durable corporate brand. “How things get done and who gets ahead around here” communicate more powerfully and consistently than any brand print or design guidebook, however carefully written.
  • Don’t confuse business problems with branding problems - Many organizations undertake brand strategy initiatives, not because the brand is in trouble, but because the business model is in trouble, and it seems easier to work on the brand._


  • Think about how your mother would feel - When your mother tells her friends where you work, how do you want them to think about you? That you are a creative innovator? Dynamic and hard-charging? A valuable member of the community? A company's brand reflects on the people who work there, as well as on the people who do business with it. They want to be associated with companies whose brands match and project their self-image.
  • Make hard choices – Branding is choosing: Who we serve; what’s the most important thing we do; which employees will be successful. But when people are involved, it’s hard to leave out anything or anyone. By focusing resources and investments on the things that count, clear choices sharpen the brand.
  • Dare to be bold – You don’t have to overreach your industry to redefine it. Ask of yourselves: What would it take to be the Best? The Most? The Only? How could we do that?
  • Live by it – Your brand isn’t what you say, it’s what you are and what you do. If your business model doesn't line up with your corporate brand position, your people will be cynical and disillusioned and your customers will figure it out and go elsewhere. So if you want to be known as an innovative risk-taker, take risks and reward risk-taking in your organization. If you want to be known as the most responsive and service-oriented, provide great service and invest in the infrastructure that makes super-responsive service possible. If you want to build long-term partnership relationships with clients, build them and don’t compensate for transactional business.

Living up to your brand can challenge everyone’s understanding of the business and the industry. But the organizations that demonstrate the courage of their convictions are the ones who transform their industries and change the competitive landscape.

And remember: You can’t enforce the brand, only inspire it: Companies – and their branding consultants -- like to focus on those aspects of the brand that can be drawn up into guidelines and enforced: the logo, the colors, the look and feel. And they do all play a role. But if the leadership doesn’t live and die by the brand every day, inspiring people toward the values and behaviors that deliver the brand experience and drive performance over the top, the brand will not stick -- or worse, it will fall apart. If you want your branding investments to pay off, put them into Leadership, not logos.