Mean Something If You Want To Matter
Any brand that endures and stands out from the pack does so by connecting with a fundamental human need.
Professional services firms, which deal with abstractions and intangibles, can begin to build and leverage this deep human connection by first understanding what they stand for – what they intend to mean to their clients and employees.
A powerful, authentic brand captures and signals the underlying human meaning in your business – the thing that sets you apart and makes you matter to your marketplace of potential clients and recruits.
Your brand is therefore a strategic business issue, way more profound than issues like name, logo, tagline, or visual style. Those are symbolic expressions of the brand, shortcuts to the meaning in the business: they are not the brand itself.
One of the key challenges for a professional services firm is how to encourage clients to have a committed relationship to the organization, not just to the individual consultant. Brand offers a way to do this, by building a shared sense of the meaning in the business, while at the same time enabling individual professionals to express that meaning in a way that is authentic to them.
Our experience helping professional services firms to differentiate and market themselves effectively has helped us identify three key factors that set professional services brands apart:
- Relationship is the envelope that wraps the client work. Professional services firms need to understand and leverage the emotional value of the client relationship as a key differentiator
- Attracting and developing talent is as important as attracting and developing clients. Aligning the internal and external brand is crucial
- Vision, values and beliefs drive the behaviors that convey the brand. Understanding and clarifying these areas is essential to building a meaningful professional services brand.
Take McKinsey and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the top two global strategy consulting firms. They each recruit similar people from the same set of elite schools, and they each address similar business challenges with similar intellectual tools. And yet clients see real differences and make choices between the two. How and why?
The answer lies in the meaning that both firms have built as they have developed their respective brands. McKinsey has come to mean power and control – the stability and order that enables prosperity. BCG on the other hand, has built its brand meaning around understanding and transformation – the insight that empowers you to change your circumstances for the better. Both are compelling meanings that speak to fundamental human needs, but each appeals to a different client mindset.
These two iconic consulting brands have used narrative and story to create meaning and differentiation as they compete for clients and talent. Our next post will explore how to use story as a tool to differentiate your firm, and to create meaning that attracts the right clients and the right recruits.
July 1, 2015 1 Comment
Wherever you look these days, mainstream brands are engaging in initiatives or taking a stand on issues that were once considered “social or environmental causes of fringe groups”. Social media has given activists a voice and platform to reach the masses like never before. And whether or not there is enough hard data or scientific evidence to categorically support their causes, there are most certainly enough unanswered questions around issues such as the safety of GMO’s, artificial ingredients such as aspartame, red dye 40, and the prolific use of pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate, to name a few. Consumers are no longer in the dark and are asking questions, reluctant to blindly believe the safety claims of corporations. As such, many iconic brands like McDonalds and Pepsi find themselves directly impacted by this growing sentiment. And more than ever before, it is a case of “adapt or die”. There are many examples of brands that have been proactive, or at the very least, quick to respond. Yesterday Chipotle announced that 100% of their ingredients are now non-GMO. On the same day, Pepsi announced that they will no longer use aspartame in Diet Pepsi. And in January 2014, General Mills announced that Cheerios will be GMO free.
April 28, 2015 Comments Off on Chipotle does the right thing…as the mainstream tide turns
High growth globalizing companies often find it difficult and unprofitable to enter the U.S. and other developed markets. To achieve the turnover and ROI they seek, they are finding that it is the brand asset that differentiates an offering and drives higher margins and profitability. Particularly for companies in China, India, Brazil and other high growth countries, successfully expanding their global footprint is an enviable objective, but more difficult to achieve than ever. Many seek to minimize risk and expand with a price entry. However, unless corporations recognize and act upon the importance of building strong “brands”, they will most likely fail to achieve their U.S. objectives.
The mega-trend shift towards high growth market-based companies who have been successful in their home countries trying to expand to the U.S. is based on sound logic:
- Drive for greater revenues and profits
- Appeal of the large middle class with strong per capita income
- High number of diaspora living in the U.S. that often become the first wave of “acceptors”
- Recognition that the U.S. ensures a stable government and significant economic incentives
- Access to skilled labor forces, technology, and strong distribution channels.
October 3, 2014 1 Comment
I was asked by a friend about the Washington Redskins name issue, which was so eloquently written about in the New York Times Opinion Pages on June 24 by Michael Lewis and Manish Tripath.
Here is essentially what I wrote as a reply….
This is an interesting branding question on many levels. I am in complete agreement with the Michael Lewis and Manish Tripath conclusion.
1. Money aside, (changing the name) is the right thing to do.
2. The “model” they used (have not seen it) indicates no significant loss in revenue. My experience with name changes would bear this out. In fact, the opposite is often the case. I understand the argument about existing brand equity, but there are other important factors.
3. We would advise that the team owners look at a new name as an opportunity to re-energize the fan base. What if it attracted more fans and advertisers? Looking at the upside might help all involved think about a different and better brand and future for the franchise.
4. Lewis’s idea of involving the Native American community leaders is a brilliant way to move forward in a positive manner. It could result in an even larger upside, albeit the process might be complex so as not to disenfranchise anyone.
Change is scary for many, but, in this case, necessary. Not only has the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office voted to strip the team of trademark protections, but changing the name is the right thing to do.
June 26, 2014 2 Comments
Intel just created its own proprietary corporate font to be easier to read in the global digital world. They call it “Intel Clear”. A smart move in a number of ways. First, it gave them the opportunity to assess the equity in their existing font and think through whether and how much to change. Second, It caused them to think about how their critical audiences, internal and external, national and international, should perceive Intel as the communications media evolve so dramatically and rapidly.
April 8, 2014 Comments Off on Updating Intel’s Font for the Mobile Future
The acquisition of Beam Inc. by Suntory Holdings of Japan, has created a storm of concern about whether the heartland American brands, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark will change. With enormous heritage, both brands have very loyal franchises and passionate consumers.
And despite the fact that they have been around for a long time – Jim Beam was founded in 1795 and Maker’s Mark in 1958 – these brands continue to enjoy organic growth, and are benefitting, possibly even contributing to, a resurgence in the popularity of bourbons and whiskeys globally. [Read more →]
January 17, 2014 1 Comment
Ad Age reported that Velveeta inventory is running low, just as Superbowl parties are only a few weeks away. This has created yet another media feeding frenzy. The Chicago Tribune calls it “Cheesepocalypse”. But the underlying reason is quite deep. Velveeta has earned our trust as a brand that hasn’t changed, and in the confusing world we live in, anchor brands are very important. Moreover, anchor brands like Velveeta often become part of a national tradition, a cultural touchstone that has meaning and value beyond the functionality of the product.
Velveeta was invented in Monroe, NY in 1908 at the Monroe Cheese Company. By 1923, it was spun off into the Velveeta Cheese Company and subsequently sold to Kraft Foods. In the early 1950’s, the product was reformulated into a cheese spread, and has not wavered since. Used as a base for dips, and in sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, it has been a staple in homes in North America and Canada. It is also an ingredient in dips at Superbowl parties everywhere. [Read more →]
January 10, 2014 Comments Off on “Cheesepocalypse” and the Importance of the Velveeta Brand
Inertia is an amazingly powerful force, and “reason” often proves inadequate to overcome it. Think about how hard it is to get people to move their bank accounts even when it is clearly in their financial interests. Or why nearly three-quarters of all corporate change initiatives fail, no matter how well argued, or how compelling the business case.
Human behavior is hard to change, and this is one of the biggest obstacles facing businesses selling sustainable products and services. We believe that brands are uniquely well placed to help, because they can speak two languages – reason and story. And they can leverage the unusually powerful relationships they have with consumers.
November 12, 2013 Comments Off on How Brands Can Put Us on Our Best Behavior
David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist at the New York Times writes a very interesting article about the differences between the use of and understanding of brands between the Americans and the Chinese. His premise is that the Chinese are not good at building brands that connect with consumers in the West despite the fact that they have the largest economy in the world. This will hinder their achievement of global economic dominance. He is right.
However, one of his notions is only partly correct and flies in the face of what great brands work hard at every day. Brooks believes that “People who create great brands are usually seeking some inner longing of their own…”. In this he is thinking about romantic notions of founder-led brands like Nike or Ralph Laruen.
What he is missing is that great business leaders spend a great deal of time and energy to understand their customers and their needs, and then address them in a way that builds an enduring relationship that can last a long time. In most cases it is the diligence and hard work requiredto build stronger relationships with consumers than competitors in every category that leads to sustainable market leadership.
Much of what Brooks writes about is very true, and he is astute to recognize as much as he does. Where he misses the mark is realizing that there is a process and method to establishing and building a strong brand that connects with key audiences that works on it’s own and is not necessarily founder led. Just look at a few minor brands like IBM, General Electric, BMW, New York Yankees, Mayo Clinic, etc. Sure each was founded by great thinkers and leaders, but they have evolved into very strong brands generations past founder longing.
Congrats to Brooks for recognizing how brand have become an engine of the Western economic growth. His basic premise is more than correct.
May 31, 2013 Comments Off on Why David Brooks Almost has it Right about Brands
Significant changes in the outsourcing industry in the past few years mean that outsourcing companies must re-evaluate their branding if they want to succeed in the new environment. These changes are the result of many converging dynamics. Understanding the nature of what is changing can help companies reposition themselves for growth and greater profitability.
The good news is that the continuing growth of the global BPO and IT services market makes it look attractive to new entrants. Current industry projections suggest a global market size of over US$900 billion. Unfortunately, this creates a wide and more confusing playing field.
Despite a languishing global economy, several reports and studies from different BPO sectors project a continuing growth rate of 4-6 per cent, possibly increasing further as the economy stabilises. But growth creates a new set of challenges.
Convergence of factors has caused the problem
The irony is that category growth puts new burdens on providers to stay competitive in a dynamic marketplace. Several issues form a foundation for new brand thinking.
• Price shopping. One of the unfortunate fallouts of the global recession is an emphasis on low cost, which has in turn resulted in an increase in price shopping, with buyers driving to the absolute lowest prices from providers. This isn’t unexpected, but with new competitors entering the market, low price bidding becomes an even tougher hurdle. The implication of this trend is for brands to communicate their unique value in new and compelling ways.
• Providing greater value. Further, while price is a more important decision driver, buyers are, at the same time, looking for more than tactical support and are leaning on providers to bring new services and solutions to the table while keeping process costs low. Naturally all providers are looking to find a competitive edge so it is more critical than ever for providers to position themselves with clarity to differentiate, ensure understanding and secure engagement.
• Shifting labour costs. The past decade has seen a continuous shifting of global labour costs, so that some regions and countries that were once attractive sources of labour are less so today. Among other things, advances in technology have enabled new regions to be competitive. This has led to new perspectives about onshoring and rural shoring as viable alternatives, and keeps buyers up at night hoping that their outsourcing partner can satisfactorily meet their business needs. This is where the brand can act as an assurance of quality and service.
• Increased scepticism and need for transparency. One of the negative fall-outs of the global meltdown, lead by the financial services industry, is an increase in scepticism in what providers promise. This manifests itself in many different ways, one being the need for increased transparency and openness. Buyers approach relationships very differently post-recession, and this places a burden on providers to develop and sustain these relationships in new ways. Brand can be the beacon to show how open and transparent your company is in the new environment.
A consequence of these intersecting dynamics is that outsourcing companies must develop very strong brands to differentiate, attract new business and garner higher prices than competitors. This is easy to say, but requires some rigorous work to get there. What follows are the key elements necessary to define and strengthen an outsourcing company brand in the new environment we face today.
Keys to creating and shaping a unique and compelling brand
1. Create a unique and compelling brand idea that is different from your competitors. Stand apart. Spend the time and energy to really uncover why your company is different and better, and then make it part of how you communicate, what you communicate, and how you shape customer relationships.
2. Build the brand outwards from the DNA and culture of the company. This should be the foundational starting point. Unlike decades ago when a company could shout something and customers would line up, today strong brands have to be built upon the foundation of a company’s culture and DNA to have any resonance at all. Every organisation has an internal ethos that guides decision-making, service philosophy, and general behaviour. The most important starting point in building a brand is to uncover this unique character, and build it into the final brand idea.
3. Express the brand idea in unique language that telegraphs, in a nutshell, what your company is, what it believes and the value it provides. In most engagements we begin, our clients are often using generic words as tag lines or primary marketing messages that could be used by anyone. Here are some expressions being used in the outsourcing industry today:
“Innovative Solutions. Exceptional Service.”
“Shifting the Sourcing Equation”
“Extending Your Enterprise”
“Ready for Real Business”
“Helping Business… Process.”
“Leading the Process”
“New Ideas. More Value.”
“Love the Way You Work”
“Passion for Building Stronger Businesses”
“Premier Technology Services Partner”
These types of generic messages create a real opportunity for an outsourcing company to really focus on what makes it special, and then find a compelling expression embodied in a short number of words that can be used as a primary marketing message. Strong marketers find different ways to express the underlying idea so it telegraphs a lot about the organisation and does much of the heavy lifting to create understanding and engagement.
4. Be open and transparent in your communications. The events of the past five years have driven customers and consumers to be very sceptical of messaging. Thus, smart business leaders now understand that they need to become more transparent in all communications. By being more open and candid, companies are able to establish stronger bonds with their customers. In branding terms, a company needs a “brand voice” that is honest and true to how it behaves and conducts business
5. Use brand architecture to make your products and services very easy to understand. One of the front lines in creating customer engagement is to make your business clear and easy to understand. That means developing a brand architecture that is built from the “outside-in”. In many cases, this mean reorganising how you communicate what products and services you provide from the customer’s perspective. In that manner, new customers will understand you better, and be willing to engage further in building a relationship. This may sound surprising, but all too often, outsourcing companies presume that customers understand them. Not only can this be false, but in a highly competitive marketplace, clarity is an essential tool to secure new and expand existing relationships.
Developing and building a strong brand does not happen overnight. Identifying the need for it is the first step…one that can no longer be ignored in the evolving complexity of the outsourcing marketplace.
This article appeared in Outsource Magazine http://outsourcemagazine.co.uk/
April 24, 2013 Comments Off on Branding Tactics for Outsourcing Companies to Accelerate Growth