If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you that brand positioning not effectively communicated and embedded both inside and outside your organization will definitely not make a sound.
So how do you ensure your brand positioning exercise isn’t in vain? How do you communicate your positioning both inside and outside the walls of the organization? In these next two brand positioning tips, I’ll try to answer that question. Today, we’ll tackle how to embed the brand positioning within your organization.
So here we are. Your positioning exercise is complete. You’ve identified one or more competitive frames of reference. You have clear points of difference distinguishing you from competitors. You’ve articulated the points of parity you need to achieve. And perhaps you’ve even decided on a brand mantra. Now what?
For most organizations, the next step is to build a plan to embed the positioning internally. Unless you work in a small firm, I’d recommend you don’t build this plan alone. Instead, convene a strategically-chosen team of folks to help you build the right plan for your organization.
Who should be on this team? I’d pick a group of 10 or less people from the following two sources:
I recently finished the new book Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications, by Paul Argenti and Courtney Barnes. I must admit, I’m allergic to many Web 2.0 books. This book does have some of that social media handbook feel, but I was excited about it because co-author Paul Argenti, a professor of communications at Dartmouth, is someone whose ideas about communications have really influenced my thinking over the past few years.
Paul was one of the masterminds behind The Authentic Enterprise, a whitepaper that may be one of the most compelling looks into the future of the communications field I have ever seen. I’ve written about it previously here, here, and here.
The following paragraph highlights the point of view from which this book approaches digital communications strategy:
“The business of managing relationships– and therefore, business itself– has changed dramatically in the last decade. Stakeholder empowerment, as it’s come to be known, has shifted the corporate hierarchy of influence from the hands of elite business executives to those of their once-passive audiences, including employees, consumers, media, and investors.”
This paragraph does a nice job illustrating what we might define as the democratization of corporate communications.
Democratization of Corporate Communications:
Any person communicating about any company at any time.
A company’s own communications professionals can no longer expect to be the only communicators of the brand message. Employees are communicators. Customers are communicators. Even former employees and former customers can now communicate on behalf of brands. Scary stuff or exciting stuff, depending on who you are.
One of the things I really liked about this book is that it has an entire chapter highlighting a favorite subject of mine: the need for closer ties between the human resources and communications function. Why? Simple:
In a world where everyone is a communications person, everyone needs to be on brand.
A few weeks ago I finished the new Jim Collins book How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In. If you read this blog much, you’re probably sick of me prattling on about how much I love Jim Collins’ work (here, here, and here). Over the years at Red Hat, we’ve based many projects related to the values, mission, and other corporate-level structural thinking on ideas we got from him.
Well, it’s been almost eight years since Collins wrote his last full-length book, Good to Great (which ranked number one on my list of the top ten books behind Dark Matter Matters). How the Mighty Fall is a short book, and in it, Collins is clearly a bit on the defensive about his previous work. The issue? In the economic meltdown last year, some of his Built to Last companies didn’t last, and some of his Good to Great companies are back to good… or gone.
Collins explains it this way:
…the principles in Good to Great were derived primarily from studying specific periods in history when the good-to-great companies showed a substantial transformation into an era of superior performance that lasted fifteen years. The research did not attempt to predict which companies would remain great after their fifteen-year run. Indeed, as this work shows, even the mightiest of companies can self-destruct.
…I’ve come to see institutional decline like a staged disease: harder to detect but easier to cure in the earlier stages, easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. An institution can look strong on the outside but already be sick in the inside, dangerously on the cusp of a precipitous fall.
So this book is Collins’ attempt to discover why exactly some very good companies went oh so very bad. If Good to Great was Star Wars, this book is The Empire Strikes Back— a long, hard look into the dark side (even the cover is black).
Collins did extensive research using an interesting approach. He studied these companies, not as history has judged them, but based on what the company was saying, what the press was saying, what financial analysts were saying during the time period being studied– before we knew the outcome. And all of the research was done in historical order, almost like he was following the companies through time.
The results of the research play out like a Greek tragedy. He identified 5 stages of decline in the companies that had gone from great to… not so great:
A few months back, Red Hat rearranged a few organizational boxes, as companies tend to do from time to time. One result of this was the creation of a new department called People & Brand, a combination of the existing Red Hat Human Capital team and our Brand Communications + Design team.
When some folks hear that, their faces crinkle all up in confusion and they say something akin to “That doesn’t make any sense… brand is a marketing function, not an HR function!”
It’s true that brand is traditionally thought of as a tool of marketing, but in the 21st century company, we are going to have to rethink some things. One thing the 21st century company is going to have to do is resist the urge to put things into silos so quickly. One former boss of mine who loved to do this called it “bucketizing”– a beautiful markepoetry term.
Look at the statement above again: “Brand is a marketing function, not an HR function.”
Brand is an HR function. And a marketing function. And a sales function. And a service and support function. And a finance function. Brand should be deeply embedded in everything a company does.
The organizational structures of the 20th century “bucketize” by default. One box at the top. A bunch of boxes connected to that one. And each of those boxes has a bunch of boxes connected to it. We tend to spend most of our time worrying about which box is connected above us rather than which boxes might be connected beside us.
Have you ever been zooming in on a Google map, and eventually you zoom so far in that Google apologizes and tells you that it doesn’t have an image showing stuff that close? What do you do? You zoom back out so that you can see again.
When it comes to running campaigns, I tend to take metrics with a few grains of salt. How many times have you seen someone report metrics on how their campaign did, and they show that it drove zillions of leads and that converted to zillions of $$ in sales and was a huge success… but then you look around and can’t find anyone who saw the campaign, or heard of it. And the sales guys couldn’t ever even tell it happened.
At heart, Red Hat is an open source company.
Now that will either mean something to you or it won’t. If you aren’t familiar with open source, there are plenty of good sites that will teach you better than I will.
If you are familiar with open source, you are probably also familiar with some of the key concepts. I try not to be too precise about defining open source. To me, it is basically a DNA soup of related ideas which, when put together, make up the open source way. It is almost like a cultural map for a way of working and operating. Continue reading