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.
A key theme we’ve returned to over and over in this blog is the idea that the corporate model for communications is rapidly changing from one where communications leaders keep tight control of the message their company is putting out to a model where these same folks are instead the catalyst for the ensuring the brand message is delivered well– whether by them, by other employees, or by brand evangelists.
Control to catalyst.
It’s happening whether we like it or not. So it is a good time to heed my friend Tom Rabon‘s advice: “the train can’t run you over if you’re on it.”
How do you get on board? I keep coming back to the fabulous report by the Arthur W. Page Society, The Authentic Enterprise, which lays out this change in great detail. If you are in the communications field and haven’t read it, please do. It’ll help.
As formal communications channels like advertising and press releases become less relevant and things like social media and reputational capital become more relevant, marketing folks are simply going to have to make changes to where they put their money and effort if they want to continue to be successful.
A new study out today from The CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton (and reported on CMO.com) suggests Chief Marketing Officers are still running behind in moving their marketing dollars from the old model to the new one. According to the study, 84% of these folks spend less than 10% of their budgets on social media and non-traditional communications channels, and over 1/2 of them spend 5% or less.
That means they are still spending a lot of money on the old tools of the trade.
A quote from the CMO.com story:
The communications profession is in the midst of a revolutionary change (you might have noticed). In my mind, it boils down to a simple concept:
Old model = company has one voice
New model = company has many voices
Ah, the good old days. It used to be easy to go to the “official company spokesperson” to get the scoop on what “the company” was thinking. Now, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and a bunch of other stuff that probably hasn’t even been invented yet, and the blurring lines between people’s personal and work lives (damn you, Google!), it’s a lot harder for us communications folks to stay in control of how the corporate message comes out.
If you are the head of communications for your company, what should you do? Lock all the doors, scare the employees into online silence, and continue the status quo? This is what some companies are doing. There are very real concerns with how and when employees use social media tools in a work setting.
But ultimately, the shift toward a company of many voices rather than one voice is going to happen whether you like it or not. As Bob Dylan said, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”
So rather than forcing yourself into a sucker’s choice of “Should I communicate my corporate story well or allow my employees to be using social media at work?” perhaps there is a better question:
On Twitter yesterday, my friend Chris Blizzard mentioned to someone that I often say “brands are like sponges.” When I saw this, I realized that a) I haven’t said this in a while and b) I should say it more often because it is a freakin’ awesome way to think about brands. So I’m saying it again right now. Right here.
It’s actually not my line. I got it from the Scott Bedbury book A New Brand World (one of the top ten books behind Dark Matter Matters). Near the beginning of the book, Scott, who is one of the masterminds behind the good ol’ days of the Nike brand in the 80s and the Starbucks brand in the 90s, provides one of my favorite definitions of what a brand is:
A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee– the shining star in the company who can do no wrong– as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when they are placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such, you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you can only guide and influence it.
Those last two lines have stuck in my mind since I first read them. First, the idea that a brand is a sponge, soaking up everything, both good and bad. And second, that you cannot control a brand, you can only guide and influence it.