Posts Tagged ‘architecture’
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.
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?
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.