Every organization has people who act or work in ways that are detrimental to the brand. Often, if these people get results (meaning they make financial targets or otherwise achieve the goals that have been set for them), they are praised and rewarded.
These off-brand people are a deadly disease. Anyone who is rewarded for working in ways that are harmful to the brand experience will damage your ability to deliver on your brand positioning.
For The Ad-Free Brand, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg let me do a sidebar about what he calls the Law of Institutional Idiocy. It does a great job showing how the disease of off-brand behavior spreads, but it also applies at a broader organizational level beyond the brand as well. Here it is:
In the beginning, your organization has a tree full of healthy employees.
If you’re not very wise and very careful, that idiot gets promoted because people tire of fighting with idiots, who also tend to be loud, ambitious, and politically savvy. And then he or she builds a whole team of idiots. Other idiots start popping up elsewhere in the organization.
Letting off-brand people continue to operate unchecked is a quick path to a brand with a multiple personality disorder. It is not only confusing to your brand community, but also can cause lots of internal disagreement and conflict and generally just isn’t they way ad-free brands like to operate.
How do you deal with those who don’t live the brand? Some organizations have a no-tolerance rule and seek to quickly eliminate those who do not live the brand. Some instead just focus on the positive, rewarding those who live the brand while passing over those who do not, even if they are getting results.
No matter which way you go, do not leave anti-brand behavior unchecked. It could make all of your other efforts a waste of time.
Thanks to my friend Jesslyn Koh for sharing this picture from the from the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Singapore. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and haven’t yet picked up a copy of the book, looks like they have a few available!
Even though I wrote a book called The Ad-Free Brand, I don’t hate all traditional advertising. In fact, sometimes, I absolutely love it. Today is one of those days.
This morning I opened the New York Times, reading, among other things, stories about the Occupy Wall Street protests. In the business section, on page 7, the top of the page featured a series of images of the protesters, from an 87 year-old man in a walker to a woman carrying a sign that says “Logic of capitalism: you cannot be rich without making others poor.”
Right beneath these photos was a half-page ad from Ally Bank. I’ve been keeping an eye on Ally for the past few years because they seem to be a fantastic example of a Zag approach—a bank that is going one way when every other bank is going the other (in my view, wrong) way. Here is a story that will give you some background on Ally’s approach, but essentially their mission is to re-humanize banking. According to their website, the bank was founded on three simple principles: 1) talk straight 2) do right 3) be obviously better.
That sounds pretty good for a bank.
Here is a close up of the ad that appeared beneath the protester photos:
But rather than building their brands exclusively through traditional advertising, ad-free brands build their brand by following the principle of esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem to be.”
Rather than talking about what the brand is through the language of advertising, they live the brand and design it into the DNA of the organization so that the brand comes through in every interaction with it.
But sometimes there is a moment in history when a brand story resonates especially well on a broad scale.
For Ally Bank, this is that time.
For the last few years, Ally has been building a brand as a different type of bank from the inside out, by being a more human bank rather than just seeming to be a more human bank. Even though Ally isn’t exactly an ad-free brand (they do regularly spend money on traditional advertising), they are investing much more money and effort getting the brand experience right than they are in spouting endless marketing messages.
Now, with a growing movement increasingly dissatisfied with the financial industry, it is a perfect time for them to dial up the volume with a few well-placed advertisements. And with a pitch-perfect, authentically-articulated message, this particular ad not only differentiates Ally from its banking competition, it serves as an olive branch—one bank willing to break with its brethren and show sympathy to the pain being expressed by a growing movement.
I mean, come on. Are the banks really arrogant enough to believe it is OK for them to screw the very consumers who bailed them out and have seen none of the benefits from that investment trickle back to them? Ally Bank doesn’t think so.
I don’t either.
If so, you can find more thoughts about how to build your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
In an earlier post, I highlighted one of the key concepts behind the ad-free brand approach: building your brand from the inside out, starting with the folks who are likely to know and care most about the brand—the employees.
When building the brand from the inside out, the goal is to embed the core positioning deeply within the mind and actions of each employee of the organization so that it comes out consciously and even unconsciously in their interactions with the external brand community.
This is very hard.
You can’t force people into “living the brand.” No one likes to be told what to do. I certainly don’t.
Ad-free brands work from the core principle that those who are not invited on the journey will usually reject the destination. So, broad participation in the brand-building process is often a prerequisite for the brand positioning to really take off. Unfortunately, the larger the organization, the harder it is to achieve consistency in the way the brand positioning is rolled out.
I like approaching the internal rollout of brand positioning by channeling the mindset of the conductor of an orchestra. An orchestra conductor is able to create amazing, complex, and beautiful music just by using a tiny baton.
The conductor’s role is to organize, motivate, and inspire a group of people to make music together. The conductor chooses the piece of music, interprets the piece, gives every person in the orchestra a part to play, and helps each musician rise to the level of his or her talent or experience.
An orchestra in which every musician plays the same notes would be boring, to say the least. In an orchestra, the diversity of instruments—woodwinds, percussion, strings, and brass—allows for the complex and beautiful expression of music. Yet many organizations attempt to roll out their brand positioning by expecting everyone to toe an explicit company line, sticking to a rehearsed speech.
This kind of approach does not play well for ad-free brands.
To me, the rehearsed expression of the brand positioning comes off as canned, corporate BS that most people will ignore. To be effective, ad-free brands take advantage of the talent and voice of each employee, allowing each person to utilize his or her own strengths, interests, and passions to explain or begin to live the brand positioning.
The goal is not getting everyone to play the same notes—it’s getting everyone to play in the same key.
Different people prefer the sounds of different instruments and types of music. One of the benefits of having many people playing in your orchestra is that you are likely to create music that appeals to all types of people, which will in turn attract even more people. When you create a situation where many people are communicating and living the positioning in their own ways, you increase the chance that other people will begin to hear, understand, value, and live it themselves.
And that’s when the brand has a chance to really shine.
This is the seventh in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
This morning, NPR ran an interesting story entitled Entrepreneurs Emerge As Cuba Loosens Control (thanks to Elizabeth Hipps for pointing it out), highlighting the rapid expansion of small, privately owned businesses in Cuba as part of Raul Castro’s broad economic reforms.
According to the story, business is booming: brightly-painted storefronts, prices that significantly undercut those at official state-owned businesses, more choices than Cuban consumers have ever seen before.
Yet at least one thing remains heavily restricted: advertising.
From the article:
“It’s not clear how big Cuban authorities will let these new businesses get as they try to build their brands and open new locations. The government’s political messages and propaganda must now compete with more and more commercial signage, but advertising is still essentially banned.”
Oh no! How can these businesses succeed without advertising? Are they doomed to fail?
Turns out they are doing just fine. Without being able to resort to advertising, some have developed more creative, albeit somewhat rudimentary brand strategies. For example, one Havana snack bar featured in the story seems to be building a budding community of fans of the local baseball team by making every item on the menu baseball-themed. While this may not seem like much, it is definitely a start toward differentiation in a country where sameness has long ruled and choice has been scarce for decades.
As Cuba begins the next stage in its entrepreneurial adventure, I wonder whether there is a chance that the current restrictions on advertising might have the interesting side effect of helping Cuban businesses build successful ad-free brands, meaning brands that are built using a community-based approach rather than an advertising-based approach.
Over the long term, will Cuba be able to leap past the advertising age in much the same way that Africa leaped past the age of land-line based telephones?
It’ll certainly be interesting to watch.
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the third in a series of tips from the book, entitled “The Community is More Than Just Customers.”
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the second in a series of tips from the book, entitled “Don’t Think Like Tom Sawyer.”
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the first in a series of tips from the book, entitled “To get the brand out, get the community in.”
My publisher recently created a series of short video segments where I discuss The Ad-Free Brand. They were filmed in our New Kind office with a laptop internal video camera and Skype connection, so keep your expectations low (and certainly don’t confuse these videos with the kind of expensive advertising I rail against in the book:)
Today, I’ll share a five-minute overview of the book itself, and next week I’ll feature three separate Ad-Free Brand tips.
In my last few posts (here and here), I shared some tips for collecting and synthesizing the brand research you will use to design positioning for your brand. In this post, I’ll share three approaches to designing brand positioning I believe will work for the majority of brands:
• The lone designer approach
• The internal community approach
• The open community approach
Each of these approaches has strengths and weaknesses, and they can also be mashed up into a hybrid that better suits the culture of your organization.
The Lone Designer Approach
Are you a small organization or an organization of one? Perhaps you are attempting to position a website or simply get a small company off the ground on a foundation of solid positioning. If you found during the research phase that you were doing most of the work yourself and don’t want or can’t afford to bring others into the positioning process, you may be a good candidate for the lone designer approach.
The lone designer approach is exactly what it sounds like: a positioning process run by one person alone or by a very small group. The advantage of this approach is that you have complete control over the process. You won’t have to spend much time arguing with others over the exact words in your brand mantra; you won’t need to conduct time-consuming collaboration sessions; and you will only go down rat holes of your own choosing. The lone designer approach can be very efficient and is the least resource-intensive of the three approaches.
The downside of the lone designer approach is that it gives you no head start on rolling out your positioning to your brand community. By making your positioning process a black box and revealing only the finished product, you are taking some risks. First, the positioning you design might not resonate or, worse, might be ignored because you didn’t include input from others beyond the initial research. Second, you may have trouble getting others to help you roll it out or take ownership over its success because they had no role in creating it.
Usually I recommend the lone designer approach only to small or new organizations with no access to a preexisting community of employee or community contributors who care about the brand. If you already have a community of supporters around your brand—even if it is small—strongly consider one of the other two approaches (internal community or open community).
The Internal Community Approach
You understand the powerful impact that engaging members of your brand community in the positioning process might have on your brand. You believe your organization is progressive enough to allow employees to help with the brand positioning process. But you just don’t think your organization is ready to open up the brand positioning process to the outside world. If this sounds like your situation, the internal community approach might be the best option for your brand.
The internal community approach opens up the positioning process to some level of participation from people inside the organization. It may broadly solicit contributions from every employee, or it can simply open up the process to a hand-selected group of people representing the employee base.
The internal community approach to brand positioning is a smart, safe approach for many organizations. It makes brand positioning a cultural activity within the organization, allowing you to collect a broad range of interesting ideas and begin to sow the seeds for future participation in the brand rollout down the road. In addition, it can become a compelling leadership opportunity, helping develop future leaders of your brand as well.
While this internal approach is still community-based, it is usually perceived as less risky than an approach involving external contributors. You might find it easier to sell the internal approach to executives who fear opening up the organization to the outside world or think doing so will give the external community the perception the organization is confused or doesn’t know what it is doing because it is asking for help.
The Open Community Approach
Even though I’ll be the first to admit that it is not right for every brand, the open community approach is by far my favorite approach (as you can probably tell by now) and is a very effective one for ad-free brands. The open community approach opens the positioning process to contributions from members of both the internal and external brand communities. Running an open community brand positioning project is similar to running an internal community one. Both approaches have the advantage of bringing in a variety of viewpoints.
Both can create valuable brand advocates who will be helpful down the road. The open community approach just takes things as step further and allows people outside the organization to contribute as well. The benefit of this approach is that it can usually form the beginning of a constructive dialogue with all the people who care about your brand—not just those who work for your organization. It can help you build relationships based on trust, sharing, and respect with people in the outside world. And it can save you money and time by revealing flaws in your positioning much earlier in the process.
The downsides of an open approach? If the project is poorly organized or badly communicated, it really will realize the fears of some executives and show the outside world you don’t know what you’re doing. An open positioning approach requires a deft, highly skilled, effective communicator and facilitator. It requires coordination between different parts of the organization that are in touch with the outside world to ensure communication is clear and consistent.
But although the risks of opening up your positioning process to the outside world are higher, the rewards can be much bigger as well. By transparently opening a relationship between your brand and the outside world, you are embracing the future of brand management, accepting the role of your brand community in the definition of your brand, and proactively getting your community involved in a positive way.
You are beginning a conversation.