Archive for September, 2009
Originally posted on B2BBrandDebate
On the surface this question presents some quick responses and initial thoughts as it relates to an external point of view. Most professionals would agree, re-brand when it becomes irrelevant or tired to the end customer, or when it loses its competitive advantage or differentiation. Certainly re-branding is critical when several companies or brands are merged together and have developed a new point of distinction–not re-branding in this situation can be dangerous and confusing. These are all obvious rational reasons, but B2B branders today need to address the current conditions and how it’s affecting internal B2B brands and their ability to stay relevant and motivated.
With the recent financial turmoil, most all companies are being forced to re-think just about everything. Will the existing business model and strategy continue work? Do we have the right leadership? How can we retain the key talent? How do we cut costs without cutting into the core? And how do we best communicate the changes that are happening? And most importantly, how do we keep our people motivated?
Whenever B2B companies and their employees undergo the type of radical changes most are experiencing it’s time to step back, re-think the internal brand strategy, re-consider the communication delivery and determine if the current internal brand needs to be freshened up, re-branded or just re-communicated.
Asking the following 5 questions to your leadership team, managers and employees can help you evaluate the situation quickly and provide direction:
1. Has our purpose changed? What is it?
2. Is our vision still relevant and inspiring? What is it?
3. Is our mission current, clear and distinctive? What is it?
4. Do our employees understand our strategy and how it relates to their role? What is it?
5. Are we communicating properly? How are we measuring?
So, when is the right time to re-brand? Depends on the answer to your questions. But most likely, the answers are inside.
Let me know what you think.
Originally posted on B2BBrandDebate
If you were asked to randomly search 15-20 B2B technology brands online, you’d probably come to the same conclusion. Most are boring. But why? You’d think innovative companies would breathe innovation into their brands. But that’s not the case. Here’s my conclusion and most importantly a few ideas for technology executives and marketers to explore.
Peter Drucker said it best: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two, and only two, basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” Well, most successful technology companies get the innovation part down, but struggle with understanding the role and expectation of marketing/branding. Let’s be real, technology companies only really start thinking about branding and marketing when they have to. And it’s very difficult to educate a technologist on the importance of branding and marketing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “the leaders of the company don’t get it and don’t know what it costs.” The result: boring brands and uninteresting branding. So, what can we do about it? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Know your audience. Talk in their language.
First of all, you’re not selling branding, you’re selling hope and future business success. So, you need to find the hot buttons of the sponsor you are trying to educate. Start by identifying the benefits. CEOs need to hear about maximizing the corporate value (get the category and story right for increased profits). CMOs want to demonstrate preference for increased pricing (smart branding can drive market share). COOs need to understand how internal branding can align the organization (increased performance). And smart CFOs need to know how brand strategy can help during M&A (eliminate risk and maximize investment).
2. Demonstrate versus complicate.
Another way to help executives understand what great brands are made of is to find relevant examples that allow them to visualize themselves. For example, if you are in the B2B midmarket software space, go find examples of outstanding work they can relate to. But make sure you link it back to a clear business strategy/brand strategy and examples of fresh marketing. Excite you audience with what’s possible. Set the bar high.
3. Have a process. Get buy-in for the deliverables.
Two quick points here: follow a proven best practice process and make sure everyone has a clear understating of the deliverables. It’s critical to have your executives on board before the creation phase begins. Building a world class B2B brand starts at the top. Don’t think you create it in isolation and expect them to buy off. This just does not work. Remember you’re selling hope and imagination.
4. Be courageous.
Lastly, great brands are created by people with courage to try new things. Don’t resort to mimicking safe strategies. Find greatness and promote it fearlessly. Remember your job is to inspire and create. And if you do it right, you’ll be rewarded for the efforts and leave a wonderful legacy.
But that’s just my point of view. What’s yours?
Originally posted on B2BBrandDebate
Geoffrey Moore, best-selling author of “Dealing with Darwin” and others, recently posted on his blog that, for B2B companies, the “impact of brand is dramatically muted,” and that “brand value…has virtually no relevance to B2B complex systems enterprises.” No doubt, Moore is a brilliant business strategist, but these statements give me doubts about his expertise when it comes to brand strategy. At the very least, I disagree with his assessment of the impact a strong brand can have in the B2B arena.
Moore touches on the idea that “nobody ever got fired for hiring…” but underestimates the power of creating a focused, differentiated brand identity. The idea that decision-makers in B2B companies somehow make decisions entirely differently when they’re choosing consumer products or business partners—even if they think they’re making the decisions based on different criteria—simply doesn’t hold up. It’s been proven wrong again and again in fields ranging from advertising to neuroscience. For example, we may think we want to do business with Siemens because of the details of their RFP response, but in fact their brand’s association with answering difficult questions may bias us in their favor, even without us knowing it.
Unfortunately, Moore’s narrow view of branding will give the wrong impression to B2B businesses, who in this economy can’t afford not to position their brands so that they create powerful connections with their customers and prospects. While achieving such a connection may not fit Interbrand’s definition of brand value, I challenge Mr. Moore to find a B2B business owner that would describe it as only “marginally” important.
Why now is the time for executives and leaders to closely re-examine the health of their organizations and brands
Face it, 2009 was over for most businesses in October of 2008. The financial crisis, capital crunch and brittle confidence of customers caused business strategists and planners to pull back any future investment considerations in 2009. Everyone froze, waited and watched. We’re still watching. Now is the time to start leading.
Most American corporations have had to seriously re-invent or re-engineer themselves operationally just to stay alive and relevant in their markets. Flat became the acceptable up. I don’t know of one CEO that hasn’t been forced to make significant changes or make fundamental shifts that may have taken them many years to complete if not for the financial crisis.
Bottom line, American businesses have been bent out of shape. We’re out of alignment. Bordering on tampering with irrelevant value propositions. The broken promises of iconic brands have driven customer confidence to an all time low.
If American business is going to re-cover or re-bound in the near future, CEOs and executives need to quickly assess what the last months have done to their business and get down to serious creative planning for 2010. Start by driving your 2010 planning process with fresh, relevant insights. You don‘t have to over complicate your thinking process. Make it simple. Start by asking yourself a couple of revealing questions:
1. What have we become?
2. What’s possible now?
And remember, think Big. Use this opportunity for positive change.
1. What have we become?
Start with the internal realities.
Here’s a mind-set to consider. Throw out most of what you have learned about your company. The most important information is about “Now,” and the current perception and ability to deliver on a differentiated value proposition. Don’t rely too heavily upon historical data to drive your moving forward strategy (too much has changed). Now is the time to get a quick fresh perspective, and you need to start with getting a handle on internal realities. If you don’t have a clear handle on the internal perceptions how can you attempt to articulate the moving forward strategy? Get current quick. You have to know where the organization is misaligned in order to repair it. It’s the major premise of this blog post, and it’s not that difficult. Start with a simple survey to understand the view of the organization as it relates to strategy, structure and execution. Create your own survey at www.surverymonkey.com or reach out to existing tools such as www.strategicbrandassesment.com. Bottom line, you need to drive the strategy from a fresh, contemporary and quantitative point of view. The results from this exercise should be your platform for developing an internal operations strategy for success and an employee communication plan to re-engage employees.
2. What’s possible now?
You’ve got to be current.
Look back at your strategic plan before October of 2008. Does it look a little different today? Of course it does. Think about the people you had then and who is supporting you now. That’s why it’s critical to articulate a convincing moving forward strategy based upon current views of what the market is giving you today and where you want to take your business in the future. Start by answering a few fundamental questions that will guide your thinking:
a) Are we in the same category of business or has it changed? Conduct competitive mapping.
b) Is the current value proposition relevant? Explore new positioning.
c) What is the market saying about us? Conduct a perception study to determine the right brand strategy.
d) Do our customers still love us? Conduct a customer loyalty study so you’re not caught off guard. Develop a specific customer communication (lifecycle) plan to insure alignment.
e) Is the sales force engaged and telling a consistent story? Just interview them, you’ll know.
With these fresh insights you are ready to enter 2010 planning with a clear understanding of the health of your organization. Remember before you can fix anything, you have to know what’s broken and what’s working well. Who knows what 2010 will bring, nobody has a crystal ball, but if you start by asking the right questions, you’re bound to find new intelligent answers.
But that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?
Ok, it goes without saying that every B2B company marvels and envies the “Intel inside” story. I can’t tell you how many times prospects and clients have referenced this B2B success, not to mention the numerous Intel employee stories and variations on how this success was created and achieved. It’s an OEM marketer’s dream to create such brand preference, demand and value. For B2B technology companies it is—– Brand Nirvana.
But somehow, throughout the 15 years since its conception, Intel’s brand strategy/architecture lost its way. The original idea of simplicity and value creation was lost in the multiple names and brands that squeaked their way into the primary brand’s strategy and positioning.
But Intel is not alone; this is a common problem that technology brands run into. Product managers and marketers think they have to have a name/sub-brand for every new product and platform they dream up. Then, all of a sudden they have brand confusion and dilution.
But why? Mostly because marketers don’t formalize their brand architecture strategy and give it the attention it deserves. Alan Brew, a colleague of mine wrote an article on this subject and nailed it perfectly.
“The problem with brand architecture is that it’s such a fuzzy term and every organization has its own meaning.” Or more frightening, no meaning at all.
This brings me back to the Intel Inside strategy. Recently Deborah Conrad, Vice President of Corporate Marketing has made changes to the strategy by reducing the number of brands and introducing “modifiers” into the core brand which signal different features and benefits. See Video
I applauded her intentions. It’s an interesting concept and you should check it out. But in my opinion, this has replaced complexity with a whole new set of issues. I’m a strong believer in simplicity and single thought. Trying to differentiate the company, the positioning of “Intel Inside”, and product differentiation might be too much for the audience to digest. In my experience, simple is better. People can only remember so much. Keep product positioning strategies separate and brand strategy pure. That being said, I’m sure Intel will do just fine. Who’s knows, maybe this is the first step towards getting back to the simplicity and originality of the idea that helped shape the company in the first place.
But that’s my opinion, what’s yours?
By Tim Price, V.P. of Verbal Strategy at RiechesBaid
Admittedly I’m late to the game on this one. Although I just discovered Cisco’s foray into The Realm, it’s been live since March. So, while this isn’t a timely review, I felt it was appropriate to review such a valiant creative attempt.
Here’s the background. The Realm is an animated saga that dramatizes enterprise threats and pushes Cisco’s security solutions. The Realm’s episodes are produced using the comic book, er, graphic novel illustration style. The storylines revolve around a cast of “Defenders”—stereotypical comic characters right down to the blonde, buxom heroine in a skin-tight bodysuit named—wait for it—Vixa. Her special talents include sound-wave manipulation and subliminal encryption, although I’m sure she possesses others in the minds of her audience. The Realm is a techie’s wet dream. It plays into their love of the genre, tells a relevant story in dramatic fashion, and it has the “cool” factor that’s lacking in so many of the industry’s marketing efforts.
My gut reaction to The Realm from a creative standpoint was one of appreciation—it’s well produced, engaging and original. But I’ve come to think that it feels just a little too easy. Meaning, the concept is a slam-dunk and the graphic novel style is a no-brainer considering the audience. I’m left with the sense this novel will soon lose its novelty. If it hasn’t already.
A quick online search for The Realm supports my theory. The top hit isn’t The Realm itself, but Cisco’s blog about it—beginning with a post from Marie Hattar, Cisco’s vice president who presumably presides over The Realm. Her initial post espousing this Web 2.0 approach is followed by only a trickle of other posts that span just one month. Even more notably, as the most recent poster points out, most of the comments seem to come from Cisco employees. So it appears that the blog was being used mostly as an internal mechanism to bump up The Realm’s search results. And The Realm’s FaceBook page? A mere 42 fans.
Not helping matters is Hattar’s claim that Cisco invented “a new genre of animation—mixing a comic book medium with 2-D animation.” That’s quite an assertion. I’m sure I’ve seen this more recently, but I immediately think of a cheeky music video created in 1985 for the Norwegian pop band a-ha and their classic 80’s hit “Take On Me.”
That little trip down memory lane brings up a good point. The music video’s concept (and intrigue) was based on the interplay between a real person and a cartoon character. In the Realm, we find only fantasy players—which lacks a connection to Cisco’s positioning as “The Human Network.” There’s nothing human about the Realm, unless it’s explained away as the imagination of humans. Using a fantasy world to illustrate (no pun intended) security threats to the enterprise has its charms, but I wonder just how effective it is compared to a real-world approach. Or maybe the combination of a real-world-meets-fantasy approach.
It’s difficult to say whether or not The Realm is a success from a marketing standpoint because I’m not privy to Cisco’s definition of success for it. But, at the very least, Cisco deserves credit for taking a different approach than the industry norm. And I’m sure it has its fans. 42 of them, at the most recent count.
If you haven’t revisited your brand architecture in more than a year, it’s likely what you’re building is a façade, rather than reinforcing a foundation. Because technology and innovation are inextricably linked, tech companies are continuously introducing new products and services, and in most cases, adding brands and sub-brands into their product portfolios. Over time, even a sound architecture can begin to crumble under the strain of too many overlapping brand layers.
It’s not as if tech marketers are trying to create brand disorder and chaos, it’s just that inattention to brand architecture necessarily results in inefficient brand structures. When I was at FileNet (now part of IBM), the company had already made a smart decision to consolidate disparate brand identities under the master brand FileNet. Nevertheless, after several years of acquisitions and a steady stream of product introductions, our branded house was in disarray, with five levels of brand architecture creating confusing and often overlapping messages to the marketplace.
In addition to the product brand (e.g. FileNet Content Manager), the company was branding specific features (e.g. ZeroClick), technologies (Content Federation Services), even the GUI which was only evident upon product installation (i.e. FileNet Workplace). After careful examination with help from a strategic branding firm, we streamlined our brand architecture to just two levels (FileNet + Product Brand), and relegated all other competing brand identities to the descriptive level to better support and maintain a coherent brand architecture. This process resulted in better informed sales and channel personnel and, most importantly, increased customer clarity over what we offered.
Take this simple test: ask three salespersons to describe your brand architecture and hierarchy (i.e. the various levels of meaning) and see what they say. If you get three different answers, it’s probably time to evaluate your brand architecture. If you get a consistent articulation of your brand hierarchy and associated meaning, congratulations, you can rest until you next major product introduction. If you are actively involved in M&A, this is an even more critical endeavor. In this challenging economy, you need every advantage you can get in driving brand consideration and brand preference, so make sure your building upon a strong foundation and not merely erecting a façade.
In the B2B technology world the question of “who is control of the company brand” would be answered traditionally in the following ways: Some experts argue the brand should be “owned” and controlled by the CEO and supported by marketing. Others believe it is the role of marketing to control the brand strategy and delivery of communications. And others might say the entire organization controls the brand. Bottom line, it really depends on the philosophy of the CEO or executive team. But I’d like offer a different point of view.
There has been a radical shift over the last several years as to who is really controlling brands. And if you guessed the customer and market, you are well ahead of the game. Think about it, the days of push marketing and market acceptance have been replaced with customers’ ability to socialize experiences, thoughts, interactions, perceptions and ultimately recommendations. You’ve seen all the facts: advertising is down, newspapers are going out of business, commercials are being passed by with digital recorders and trust with brands is at an all time low. I read an outstanding article in Strategy+Business entitled The Trouble with Brands. Its findings are sobering to say the least.
Bottom line, customers and consumers don’t trust most brands. Chalk it up to years of companies, brands and people not being honest, not delivering on their promises and the media sensationalizing every negative opportunity possible. B2B customers and consumers have now become a driving force as it relates to real time brand communication and interaction. One wrong slip up and your company or brand is spot and center. On the other hand, it also presents wonderful opportunities for brands to answer the new needs of communication and brand affection. Corporations and brands must face the fact that the ability to control their brands’ destiny must be managed a different way. So, how can B2B companies take advantage of this new era and reap the benefits of these new opportunities? Here’s a few things to think about:
1. Establish your philosophy. Let it be known.
First of all, CEO’s and executive teams need to get together to discuss this radical shift and determine a point of view and philosophy that can help drive the actions of the entire organization. Keeping your head in the sand is not a strategy. Understand the evolved Eco-System. If you haven’t mapped out the entire eco-system and how it has changed and is being influenced, you may want to step back and take a fresh look. You’ll be amazed at how customers navigate through the sea of choices and information. How you engage and respond is critical.
2. Start stretching. You’ve got to be flexible.
Just like any well conceived plan, you’ve got to have a fresh strategy that addresses these new rules. You can’t rely on traditional approaches alone. Remember, things change incredibly fast in this new world. You must develop a strategy that’s flexible and adaptable.
3. Take advantage of change. Rethink your structure and resources.
Step back and consider how you are structured to address the market. Now is the time to rethink the most effective and efficient ways to meet these new needs. Look for talent that understands this world or get your people educated. Your beliefs will set the tone for change.
4. Content is King. How interesting can you be?
No matter what anyone tells you, no program will be successful unless the content is relevant, fresh and impressive in the eyes of the audience. This is your point of differentiation. Your voice. Choose your content wisely. Pushing bad content or boring communication works in reverse. It will damage your brand.
It’s not often we experience such radical shifts in business (especially in communications). Use this opportunity to create something wonderful. It’s your role to inspire people to think about the possibilities. Put your toes in the water, create amazing things. Amaze yourself.