Unleash the Power of Brand-Culture Fusion for Maximum Growth

fusion

Having read more books than I can name about leadership, branding, and culture, I am surprised at how rare it is to see one that combines the power of all of them.

But that’s just what my friend Denise Lee Yohn did in her exceptional new book, FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Great Companies.

As one of the world’s leading authorities on brand-building, Denise tackles one of the most important and overlooked aspects of a strong brand: company culture.

It’s the FUSION of brand and culture that creates organizational power.

After reading the book, which I also proudly endorsed, I followed up with Denise to talk about her research into brand and culture.

 

The Importance of Culture

Denise, you are well known for your work on branding. This book takes a different turn as it is as much, if not more, about organizational culture. Tell us about why you decided to address culture.

FUSION actually came out of my work with clients on strengthening and/or repositioning their brands.  I found that our efforts were sometimes held back from making as much of an impact as they could have because of cultural issues inside the organization. If the culture of the organization wasn’t aligned with the brand, some leaders wouldn’t want to include culture as part of brand-building, or they didn’t appreciate the need to align and integrate their brand and culture — to create brand-culture fusion — and that prevented them from realizing the full potential of their organization and their brand.

 

“Great brands are built from the inside out.” -Denise Lee Yohn

 

You say that a key leadership responsibility is the integration of culture and brand. Has this always been true? What are the best ways to accomplish this?

Brand-culture fusion has always required strong leadership from the top of the organization, but it has become more important in recent years, given the corporate culture crisis that has arisen. Leaders can no longer assume their organizations will have a healthy culture if they’re nice and decent people — it takes deliberate effort to cultivate a unique, valuable, sustainable culture.

 

“You must accept the challenge to lead your organization to greatness.” -Denise Lee Yohn

 

Drop Your Mission Statement

Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition

dna

Branding that Gets to Aha!

Andy Cunningham played a key role in the launch of the original Macintosh. Which I think qualifies her to say, “Hey, I’m kind of a big deal!” I mean, Steve Jobs level big deal.

But she doesn’t say that at all. Instead, she helps other organizations with branding, positioning and marketing.

She’s just released a book, Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition. It’s a framework to help you understand and position your company. I found it intriguing and asked her to share some of her experience with you.

 

“Perceptions today are grounded in and sustained by authenticity.” -Andy Cunningham

 

Branding Gone Wrong

You recently surveyed 100 North American CEOs, and fewer than 1/3 felt that the brand strategy they had commissioned had been effective. Why do we so often get it wrong?

Branding campaigns fail or fall flat for several reasons: resistance to change, uncertainty around how to implement the strategy, too many competing ideas—maybe even business strategy that has moved beyond a recently completed brand initiative.

But there’s another big reason: branding is too much fun. (Yes, really!) Branding is the part of a marketing campaign that gets a lot of attention—the eye candy that the senior leadership is quick to notice. Why? Because it speaks to the emotional side of a product or service and is a great distraction from the day-to-day, boring details behind that product or service. But when you launch straight into branding before parsing those “boring” details—before you understand the exact space in the marketing landscape your company is uniquely qualified to fill—you’re putting the cart before the horse. A sexy or fun brand package is great to look at, but if it doesn’t capture a company’s role and relevance in the market (its position), then it’s little more than a pretty face without any substance to back it up. That’s where my DNA-based methodology comes in. It offers an actionable framework for using your company’s genetic makeup to determine competitive advantage.

 

 

The 2 Most Important Questions

Prepare Your Brand for Unpredictability

Become a Free Range Brand

For many years, the big brands dominated powerfully over all. Little-known brands struggled to be noticed, hoping for shelf space or a PR miracle that would catapult them to the top.

That’s all changed now says Nicole Ertas, who argues that it’s easier for a challenger brand to gain a following even without the massive marketing budget of the biggest players.

Good news for the smaller players and for personal branding, too.

With little money and recognition, how do the challengers gain traction?

And what must the big names do to respond?

 

Nicole Ertas is the founder and president of The Ertas Group and author of Free Range Brands. She has helped build some of the world’s most influential brands. I recently asked her to share her branding insights.

 

“Authenticity can’t be claimed on the surface, it needs to be practiced.” -Nicole Ertas

 

Design for the Unpredictable

What is a Free Range Brand?

unnamed-2The big legacy brands we’ve known forever were built in an era of one-way, controlled communication.   TV, print, radio, retail distribution were all very controlled and well planned by big brands with big money, locking challenger brands out.

But today, not only have the barriers lowered for the challenger brands, these brands are able to engage communities in ways the big brands don’t know how.  The big brands aren’t set up for this and are quickly losing relevancy.

The brands that are thriving in this new world have made the shift from the old-world model of planning for control to the new world model of planning for unpredictability.  In fact, they are designed for unpredictability.  They are set up to let go.   I call these the Free Range Brands.

 

“A brand must be timeless and trendy at the same time.” -Nicole Ertas

 

Transform Your Brand

How can a brand set itself up to navigate unpredictability and become more relevant?

Today’s consumers demand brands that embrace an unwavering authentic core, but in a hyper-relevant way.  This essentially means that a brand has to be timeless and trendy at the same time.  Unchanging yet reimagined constantly.  This is what the old-school marketing models don’t account for.

The shift to going Free Range is simple, but strategically profound.   It requires transforming your Brand Equity to Brand Currency. Free Range Brands trade in Brand Currency.  This is the new mode of engagement, and one that is true to what a brand stands for.

Brand Currency is the dynamic offspring of Brand Equity. It allows your brand to reinvent itself to become relevant without losing its authenticity. By transforming Brand Equity into Brand Currency, brands become agile in an unpredictable marketing environment where leaders need to make decisions quickly without jeopardizing brand value.

 

“Brand currency is the dynamic offspring of brand equity.” -Nicole Ertas

 

4 Consumer Personas to Understand

Free Range BrandsYou reveal 4 consumer personas who each interact with brands in a different way.  Tell us about them

The key is in shifting your mindset from making the brand the hero to creating entry points for a consumer to become the hero.  From brand purpose to consumer purpose, this is how you build community.

There are 4 powerful ways a consumer interacts with a brand – and they can be understood through distinct personas.  They are:  LORDS, LOVERS, HACKERS, and HAWKS

LORDS are the modern-day influencer.  In the past, influencers used to be celebrities. Today, everyone has some form of a following. These are the Lords.  They seek to be recognized and seen by their followers.

LOVERS:  All brands are headed towards commoditization.  This raises the bar for marketers to build a brand over a product.  Lovers connect on values.  What does your brand stand for that your audience values beyond functional benefits?

HACKERS:  Modern day consumers think if brands are for them, then they should have every opportunity to interact and co-create.  Brands that don’t let consumers “in” are missing a profound opportunity to connect.

HAWKS:  Transparency has unleashed generations of distrust of companies.  Now the Hawks are in power, and they know it.  You need to think about everything from sourcing to hiring to ingredients, or the Hawks will unleash with little warning.

 

How to Make Successful Connections in the New Global Era

How to Make a Successful Culture Crossing 

We live in an increasingly connected world. That much we all know. As a regular globetrotter, I know how easy it is to cross borders.

But it’s not always so easy to understand each other.

Often I see how a phrase in one language doesn’t translate to another. Try speaking on stage and using a gesture that is common in one country and see how it offends an audience in another. Technology and travel have moved faster than our understanding of cultural differences.

That’s why I loved reading strategic management consultant Michael Landers new book Culture Crossing: Discover the Key to Making Successful Connections in the new Global Era. It’s an extraordinary look into our differences. Michael provides insights into how we can create more effective interactions and thus achieve greater success in working with each other. I talked with him about his extensive work.

 

Leadership Tip: Be mindful of your own cultural programming when working with others.

 

Avoid a Culture Crash

What’s a culture crash?

Every time people from different cultures interact, a culture crossing occurs. When you get a culture connection, things go well, and the impact you have on each other matches your intentions. But there can also be a culture crash,  a phenomenon that occurs when someone from one culture unintentionally confuses, frustrates, or offends a person from another culture. Typically when these occur, people’s intentions are not in alignment with the impact they may be having on each other.

 

Would you share a high-profile example or two?  Some more recent culture crashes that come to mind include when Microsoft founder Bill Gates insulted the South Korean president by keeping one hand in his pocket while shaking her hand, a sign of disprespect in South Korea, or  when LeBron James inadvertently disrespected Princess Kate (and much of the U.K.) by slinging his arm around her for a photo op.

 

Recognize Your Own Cultural Programming

Can you share a few simple culture crash–minimizing techniques?

There is a three-step method that can apply in many situations that helps people to take some of the “cultural reflex” out of the equation and set themselves up for success.  It’s the same method I share with all my clients:

  1. Recognize your own cultural programming.
  2. Open your mind to other ways of perceiving or approaching a situation.
  3. Identify opportunities to adapt your response to optimize results.

The methodology is widely applicable, whether the goal is to increase sales, build strategic partnerships lead people/teams, or maximize the potential of a diverse customer base.   The more you search through your cultural baggage and recognize your own cultural programming (Step 1), the easier it will become to put the next two steps into action. Getting to the bottom of your bag won’t happen overnight. I’ve been at it for several decades, and I still regularly discover new aspects of my cultural programming.

 

Acknowledge You’re in the Dark

12 Ways Brands Get Off Track

12 Sins of Branding

Companies, like people, can go off track. A simple error compounds. The wrong attitude takes root. A poorly designed strategy is implemented. Perhaps the focus is just a bit off, sending everything off course. It happens.

What do you do if you are off track? How do you recognize the signs?

There are two branding experts that I turn to when it comes to branding and revitalizing brands: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They not only have the experience, but their advice is my favorite kind: practical and actionable. I’m not one for studying theories that I can’t immediately use.

I recently spoke with the authors about the troubling behaviors and attitudes that cause companies to mess up their brand. They have identified 12 ways that brands go awry. Their updated book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization, is a must-read on the subject.

 

“Arrogance leads to complacency which destroys innovation and leaves you out of date.”

 

The Arrogance of Success

How do you pull a culture out of arrogance, especially if they don’t realize it?

Often it takes a sense of urgency, a perception of an impending crisis. Change is difficult. An arrogant culture resists change until it seems that there is no option. Change or die. Dramatize the need for change. The most dangerous disease is complacency. Arrogance can lead to complacency. Complacency can keep your eyes closed to innovation and leave you out of date with your customers. The common expression, “Go back to basics,” is often used to defend resisting change. Going backwards will not guide marketers how to best go forward.

 

“Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone.”

 

Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone. Sometimes a leadership change is necessary. This is what happened at McDonald’s in 2002. The new leadership immediately dramatized the need for change. Jim Cantalupo, the new CEO, created a sense of urgency.

We recommend the four steps of Breaking the LOCK on Brand Troubles: Fix Leadership; then leadership can fix the Organization alignment. Cultural change is an imperative. Knowledge is a powerful force. Become a learning culture…

 

12 Branding Sins

1: The arrogance of success

2: The comfort of complacency

3: The building of organizational barriers and bureaucratic processes

4: The focus on analyst satisfaction rather than on customer satisfaction

5: The belief that what worked yesterday will work today

6: The failure to innovate

7: The lack of focus on the core customer

8: The backtracking to basics

9: The loss of relevance

10: The lack of a coherent Plan to Win

11: The lack of a balanced Brand-Business Scorecard

12: The disregard for the changing world

 

 

Is there one that is most often the culprit in brand failures?

As we say in the book, the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble are not independent of each other. These are all interconnected forces. A company that succumbs to one seems to succumb to more than one. There is no single culprit. Each of the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble must be avoided.

 

“Problem solution is the most effective way to stay relevant.”

 

Encourage a Culture of Innovation