Kicking Off a Brand Journey

Last week one of my clients kicked off the journey to operationalize its brand with a fantastic Leadership Meeting! I thought I’d share what the meeting entailed in an effort to pull back the curtain on how I help companies operationalize their brands to grow their businesses.

Let me set the stage a bit. I’ll call the company “M” to honor our confidentiality agreement.

Earlier this year, M, a $350MM B2B company and a pioneer in its industry, introduced a new brand platform. Another firm had taken M through the standard brand research and strategy process to develop the new platform and had developed a new visual identity to express it. But then the creative firm’s engagement ended and M was left with a new brand identity, but very little else to substantiate the new platform.

The CEO, Executive Leadership Team, and the head of marketing wanted so much more. They knew they needed to integrate their new brand into the company’s culture and customer experience, in order to realize the brand’s full potential and to achieve their corporate vision and mission. And that’s what led them to me.

We’re in the midst of planning a comprehensive, multi-year plan to operationalize M’s brand. Our first step was to get the top leaders of the organization aligned and engaged with the new platform. So we turned their annual Leadership Meeting, a gathering of the company’s top 250 leaders, into an immersive brand experience.

Here’s how the day unfolded:

CEO Kick-off – The CEO started the day with a review of the company’s financial performance and an update on the corporate strategy — and then he re-introduced the new brand platform. Although many of the attendees had participated in the conference where it was first launched earlier in the year, very little had been done with it since then, so we needed to refresh everyone on the content. Plus, we had simplified the platform and integrated it with the company’s core values in order to make it clearer and give it more traction.

(That last point is significant — I’ve found that most brand platforms require some refinement after their initial launch. As more people get exposed to the new brand and as the organization begins to work through its implications, the need for some fine-tuning usually arises.

That’s why I usually advise my clients to first launch a new platform internally as a working strategy, and to solicit feedback from key stakeholders that can be incorporated and addressed before it’s finalized and fully launched externally. That way, from the beginning the emphasis is on the brand as a management strategy to focus, engage, and grow the organization vs. simply a marketing message to communicate externally.)

Keynote – I delivered the keynote address which covered the why, what, and how of operationalizing their brand. Starting with my cheeky video, “What Can Brands Learn from Lady Gaga?,” through to a quiz replete with some friendly competition and prizes about how brands create value, followed by examples of brands ranging from Apple to Zappos to IBM and GE as well as an introduction to some proven tools and approaches, and ending with a challenge to consider what business M is really in – my goal was to get participants to think differently about the company, about the brand, and about their role in interpreting and reinforcing it.

Interactive Exercise #1: Models of Success – We had assigned pre-work to everyone, instructing them to research one of 6 companies we wanted to learn best practices from. They were asked to note:

  • In a word or phrase, what does the company want its brand to stand for?
  • What are the company’s defining brand values (beliefs, ideals, principles) and attributes (descriptors, characteristics)?
  • What does the company do to bring those values and attributes to life? Look for specific practices, policies, programs, etc.

In cross-functional small groups, the participants shared the insights they gleaned from their research and identified the ideas they thought might be applicable to M. As each group reported out the highlights of their discussion, it was clear participants had been inspired and challenged by these Models of Success.

Interactive Exercise #2: How Are We Doing? — The goal of this session was to raise everyone’s awareness of the gaps in operationalizing the brand at M. The participants completed a brief survey on how the brand is currently used and perceived and then shared their opinions in cross-functional small groups.

When it came time to report out to the large group, we showed the combined results of everyone’s surveys and several small groups were selected to share the “why’s” behind their survey ratings. People learned where there was agreement on how the company was doing and where there were disparate opinions.

(The side benefits of this exercise are that we can compare the internal results to external surveys and also have a baseline for measuring our progress in the future.)

– Breakthrough Sessions – Participants spent the majority of the afternoon split into different rooms by SBU and we asked functional groups to work together to identify how they can align their work and culture with the brand.

They considered specific questions on how they could deliver on each aspect of the new brand platform and the resulting discussions were rich and rousing. We also challenged each group to commit to one thing they would start doing now to align with the brand and one thing they would stop doing, since we wanted them to walk away from the day with tangible steps they would take right away.

After comparing notes within their SBU rooms, the entire group reconvened to hear some of their peers’ “start” and “stop” commitments. The heads of each SBU talked about what their groups had learned and shared — it was clear they had been impressed by both the quantity and the quality of the opportunities that had been identified.

– Roadmap for Change – To wrap up the day, we presented the overall brand operationalization plan which includes undertaking several strategic initiatives, incorporating the brand into 2012 objective setting and performance planning, deploying a communications and engagement plan for the rest of the organization, and more.

The CEO shared the personal commitments he and the Executive Team members had made to align with the new platform and asked each participant to make one of their own. As the group made their way to cocktails, the lively discussions about the new M brand platform continued.

The results? Even though it’s only been a few days since the meeting, we’ve already gotten really positive feedback and several folks indicated this was the best Leadership Meeting they had been too. I was encouraged to see that everyone remained engaged throughout the 9-hour day and the quality of the small group discussions I monitored was excellent.

I’m working on a synthesis of the meeting to capture what we covered and the key outcomes. The working groups’ ideas and start/stop commitments, as well as the participants’ personal commitments, will be socialized through the company’s intranet and tracked via accountability mechanisms. And then, the real work begins!

As I told everyone in my keynote, this is the beginning of a long-term journey for M:

“The scale and scope of change needed isn’t going to happen in one day – but it all starts right here, right now with you.  You have the opportunity and the responsibility to lead and coach The M Way.

Thousands of men followed William Wallace faithfully into battle because he had the courage to lead them. Leaders are role models – people are watching you – your employees, your peers, and your bosses – and they’re all going to be looking to see whether or not you are going to get on board with the future of M.

By communicating your convictions you inspire people; by acting on them you demonstrate best practices; and by teaching others, you enable them to be successful.”

I can’t wait to see how the journey unfolds!

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