Archive for August, 2010
In the first of two parts we explore what is a Brand Audit and why tech companies choose to conduct them.
Remember the fantastic scene from “A Few Good Men” where Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise), an inexperienced military trial lawyer, confronts a seasoned Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) about the facts surrounding the apparent murder of a fellow Marine? “I want the truth!” exclaims Kaffee in the courtroom. “You can’t handle the truth!” shouts back Jessep.
Although it is sometimes hard to ‘handle’ or swallow, the truth is the idea behind conducting a brand audit. More so than some other industries, tech companies need to know the cold hard truth of how they are perceived in the marketplace. Even if the results hurt the technology brand ego. Because the first step in strengthening brand weaknesses or vulnerabilities is learning precisely where the brand value stands now.
This year, some tech companies won’t need a full-tilt, top-dollar rebranding. They may have just finished a complete rebranding last year, or recently merged or acquired other brands. They might just need a brand audit to help them with this year’s strategy and resourcing decisions.
What is a brand audit?
A brand audit is a thorough, multi-dimensional analysis to understand a company’s brand(s), its internal and external perceptions, and their strategic implications. Brand audits often include rigorous competitor brand evaluations to deliver strategic context and recommendations to its findings.
A brand audit answers questions such as:
- How do prospects really view the technology brand?
- Which brand attributes and personality does it and its competitors ‘own’?
- How much ‘permission’ does the brand have to offer new products or enter new markets?
- How cohesive and compelling is the tech brand story and promise?
- What internal and external challenges stand in the way of developing and strengthening brand to drive business forward?
- Which touch points have the most impact for building this technology brand?
- How should brand position change to be most effective against competitors?
- Is it wise to go ‘head-to-head’ with primary competitors? Why or why not?
- What differentiators do the brand offer that cannot be easily copied?
- How relevant is the brand in today’s marketplace? How believable is brand promise? How differentiated?
In many cases, technology brands ‘lead with the tech’. They believe it will be compelling enough to drive the trial, preference, and repeat business that drive future revenue. Technology is only part of the value offered by Apple, Google or Microsoft. These technology leaders all carry brand value and associations far beyond the technology they offer: prestige (or ‘everyman-ness’), cool (or not-so-cool) ‘geekiness’, self-expression, social or economic status, values, etc.
Top technology brands also carry associations related to value delivery, service quality, and relative pricing, whether it’s their products or stock. The brand value goes far beyond a technological development.
Unfortunately, executives do not always want to hear the truth about their brands. Lack of honest insights can cause uninformed decisions and leave them wondering why the numbers or performance of their brand is not improving.
Can your team handle the truth? Let us know how you uncover the honest data that leads to informed decisions.
Next time, we’ll look at the specific elements of a brand audit, and why it can be a relatively inexpensive and extremely effective tool.
Conducting a brand creation or re-branding assignment can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a marketer. But for some folks it can be a daunting task that leaves the organization with a bad taste in its mouth for branding based on one terrible experience.
Throughout the years I have heard horror stories and experienced the good, bad and ugly of branding first hand. That’s why I wanted to give you a list to help circumvent the pitfalls so many technology brands succumb to.
Here is my Top 10 list of what not to do when it’s time to conquer brand development.
1. No commitment from C-Level suite.
It is number one for a reason. If you do not have strong support from the top a branding effort is worthless and doomed for failure. Rarely can a successful brand strategy be pushed from the bottom up. Take it from experience. It simply does not work.
2. Lack of buy-in from top executives.
Connected to the first point, executive buy-in is mission critical. You will earn the support of top execs by introducing the process, expectations and specific deliverables. Ensure the executive team understands the goal and owns the outcome to secure their buy-in. For if you do not have a nod from the top, it’s highly unlikely the initiative will survive let alone thrive.
3. Setting the wrong expectations.
Specify expectations, deliverables and budget before starting the project. Do not fall into the trap of thinking the brand development process will resolve every issue. Collaboration and coordination with key stakeholders across all levels and departments of the company is critical. For example if you cannot articulate a well thought out market strategy, you won’t be able to articulate a thoughtful brand position and vice versa.
4. Absence of a cohesive process.
The process should be your best friend. If you’re not using a proven plan of attack that involves internal and external as well as competitive insights, simply stop. A smart process allows you to weed out opinions that are not supported by validated research. Anything else is fool’s gold.
5. Focusing on opinions from legacy employees can kill the process.
You’ve got to remove opinions from the equation at some point in the process to move your thinking forward. Focus on getting a current snap shot of your customers’ understanding of the category. Learn how customers view your brand against the competition. Lastly, it’s imperative you understand what is currently owned by the competition. Creating a brand position that’s currently occupied by a competitor is not a good thing. Believe me, it’s happened.
6. Failure to know category definition.
For technology companies this is a must. Often we see companies build brand strategies that are not aligned with an existing category definition. Understand where you fit according to Gartner or Forrester. Technology buyers rely on these organizations to validate their purchasing decisions. If you do not know where you fit, develop a strategy and path. Never start the brand positioning process until your team agrees on the category definition.
7. Without a clear position, you’re dead.
Every step puts you closer to an intelligent conversation on the most important topic of brand positioning. If you don’t have complete alignment on the position do not move forward with developing the brand expression. This is where the rubber hits the road. Create a positioning statement that clearly demonstrates your differentiation. This is paramount to having your executives agree to deliver brilliant creative. Lack of agreement is just cause to stop moving forward.
8. Boring brand creative expression will not go far.
Just because you’re a technology company does not mean your brand expression should be boring. This is a time to set the bar for the industry. With solid positioning you can create better brand expression and design. Push it. People remember fresh and new.
9. Employees must not only ‘get it’, but also love it and live it.
You’re only as good as the people who represent you. The worst thing you can do is create a promising brand and not have your people understand what it means and how it effects their role. Successful branding strategies usually start from the inside out. Begin with employees first before working your way out to the external marketplace.
10. Manage your brand, or it will be managed for you.
The best technology brands in the world start with a philosophy and process on how they manage the brand. They develop a well thought out management system and standards to guide the brand. The last thing you want is to have people and marketers making arbitrary decisions on how the brand should be represented and managed. This is the difference between building a mediocre brand or world-class brand.
Before embarking upon a branding journey, consider all the things that could steer the ship in the wrong direction. Knowing what could possibly go wrong will give you a better shot at staying on course.
But this is just the view from where I sit at our branding firm. What would you add or change from this list? I welcome all comments and input for other blog topics you would like to explore.
Best of luck with your brands.
Last time we talked Brand Council, it was about who should be on it and what the Council can do to inform the strategic decision-making in a company. The Brand Council should bring a brand lens to organization-wide decisions and activities to ensure adherence to the brand promise and to protect and build brand value.
How to “turbo charge” your Brand Council
1. Define the right Mandate for your organization
I would suggest that your Brand Council clearly articulate its mandate and have the authority to hold your organization’s people accountable for decisions, actions and behaviors that align with the brand.
The mandate can be simple, “To consider corporate decisions from the point of view of their impact on and alignment with the brand.” Or it can be elaborate, “with tactical objectives and metrics to evaluate business decisions.” Your mandate should also specify the rules and conditions under which issues are brought to the Brand Council for discussion, resolution and communication to the broader organization.
“Our expectation is that the Brand Council be a stakeholder-led control and implementation of the brand against a clear set of guidelines.” – Managing Director, Leading European retailer
2. Meet regularly
Frequency and continuity are vital to institutionalize the Brand Council into your organization’s culture. To establish continuity, the Brand Council should meet at least once every quarter on strategic issues and even more frequently on tactical issues.
In addition to regular meetings, the Brand Council should have the flexibility to convene as the need arises. For example events or operations that impact the brand, responses to recent competitive and/or internal developments such as analyst report releases, new hires, customer satisfaction surveys, etc.
3. Be “brand-centered”
a. Your brand must have a high profile inside your organization. This responsibility typically lies at the door of the C-suite. C-level managers must maintain a high profile for your brand by making a business investment in the brand and supporting the investment by demonstrating a personal pride in what the brand stands for. Simply stated, they need to lead by example in living your brand.
b. Your brand lives beyond marketing. View brand building as a holistic organizational responsibility as opposed to the duty of your marketing department. The functional areas and business units within your organization need to understand, through their leaders on the Brand Council, how they contribute to brand value.
4. Inspire your organization through Brand Ambassadors.
“The key is to ensure that the Council is controlling the brand, but also that it provides the freedom to work within a defined set of parameters.”
– Managing Director, Leading European retailer
The Brand Council also guides and manages the activities of your Brand Ambassadors. Your employees can make or break your brand. When properly inspired and empowered, your Brand Ambassadors will lead your employees to make the brand thrive within your organization and, ultimately, with your customers.
Potential bumps in the road
1. A lack of consensus on the importance of the brand to the organization
The Brand Council is a holistic representation of the organization. Therefore, its members, regardless of functional area, should believe in the brand as a vital corporate asset that merits the time, discussion and collaboration of the organization’s senior leadership.
2. The absence of a clear mandate
Branding can be abstract, even to experienced leaders and managers. Part of the Brand Council’s function is to educate its members and the wider organization about the role and potential value of the brand. A clear, well defined and well communicated Brand Council Mandate ensures that the organization understands the purpose of the Brand Council and the value it can bring.
3. Infrequent meetings
A lack of regular Brand Council meetings hinders the momentum on brand-related discussions and sends the message that the brand is a lower business priority.
4. The absence of C-suite support
C-suite support of the Brand Council is critical, especially at the outset, in order to give the Brand Council the credibility and visibility it needs to enable effective strategic brand decisions. Without this support, the Brand Council runs the risk of losing relevance among the organization’s functional leaders.
5. A highly fragmented organizational culture
Structure that favors operation in “silos” over enterprise-wide communication and collaboration. Here’s a real quote about how people throughout an organization often use the brand in the wrong way, creating dilution and eroding its power:
“People want to re-interpret and re-invent things.” – Managing Director, Leading European retailer
Organizations predisposed to working as autonomous functions, divisions or markets will need to commit themselves to greater intra-company collaboration in order to benefit from creating a Brand Council.
6. Incomplete execution on Brand Council decisions
Like any organization and its functional areas, the Brand Council should be evaluated on business results. Leadership can only make this assessment if the organization consistently executes on the Brand Council’s decisions, and monitors the resulting impact on performance.
This concludes our three-part series on the Brand Council. In short, the Brand Council oversees the activities whereby the brand contributes to shareholder value. When your Brand Council guides business activities to align with the brand promise, your organization will benefit from satisfied customers. Over time, consistent and satisfying brand experiences will transform satisfied customers into loyal customers, which, in turn, helps you secure and grow future earnings and create economic value.
What are your thoughts about Brand Councils?
Does your organization utilize one and is effective?
Would you agree with or refute anything I’ve mentioned in these posts?