Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Branding when there is no brand

Be aware that you will sometimes need to brand when there is no brand. To create consistency when none exists. To develop guidelines when you know they will be retracted later on. Take the Total Branding approach and accept this reality as a given. Don't get upset - take it as an opportunity to expand your skills in strategic thinking and implementation. Remember that

1. The brand exists anyway - whether or not someone "decides" that it does
2. There is never such a thing as total brand alignment; and
3. Even partial alignment is better than none.

Now get out there and do your best.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Total Branding and Social Media - Can These Seemingly Opposing Paradigms Be Reconciled?

Usually people don't think of branding and social media as opposites. They just talk about how to deliver the brand through social media. But in point of fact, from a certain perspective, branding and social media represent two completely different paradigms:
  • Branding is about delivering a consistent message to create a consistent image
  • Social media is about saying whatever you want to say without regard to image

The way I see it is as follows:

  • The goal of branding should be the creation of a message that is consistent yet authentic.
  • That way, whatever social media results from the brand (whether it's Tweets, blog posts, comments, or whatever), it will sound like you.

Don't lose sight of the importance of linking branding and social media together. If your brand is phony your social media will destroy your image.

To avoid the phony brand syndrome, here is one practical thing you can do: Think from a Total Branding perspective--maximum alignment for maximum impact--no brand is ever fully aligned.

In the real world, this means: Discover what organizational elements are getting in the way of your delivery of a consistent brand message and try to eliminate them from public view. You won't be completely successful, but you can probably get rid of some of the offending communications clutter. And some is better than none.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Total branding and the financial crisis

Total Branding is about aligning an organization's functions with its culture and communication despite the fact that achieving total alignment is realistically impossible. In an absence of total alignment you basically do the best you can.

We see this approach in action with respect to the bailout. Both candidates are trying to align their operations with their culture and communication for maximum impact in an environment where:

1. There is cultural dissension within each side about how to fix the situation (e.g. the bailout bill is contested)

2. There appears to be inability or resistance within each side to communcating about how it happened, except to vaguely blame "Wall Street"

3. The public is divided about what it wants--bailout vs. no bailout

As a result, from a Total Branding perspective, here is how I look at the candidates' approaches to the issue:

1. Demonstrate functional competence - good job on both sides but undifferentiated: Say that they are serving the people (performing their overall function) by assuring the bailout effort is done properly (subfunction). Not coincidentally, no brand differentiation there--they are in effect in the same organization (government) and this is basic competence.

2. Demonstrate a uniquely valuable culture - partial success: Claim a distinctive approach based on their record and party/peer beliefs, behaviors, tradition. Some brand differentiation there - e.g. regulation vs. deregulation - but since the Republican candidates place themselves in "maverick" (e.g. independent) territory this is a bit inconsistent on one side (they can shift culture depending on the issue).

This is where it falls apart:

3. Lack of communication clarity, credibility, and consistency. I don't know what the candidates are saying within their respective organizations, but to the outside world something is not working.

Specifically, neither candidate is credibly and clearly articulating what happened to cause this crash and how their unique approach will fix it. We hear catchphrases like "Wall Street corruption and greed" but that is not enough.

What does the Total Branding approach recommend?

1. Tell the story in a unique way: Explain the crash - very basic - what happened, how did it happen, who is responsible. Don't over-focus on any one group such as Wall Street: be fair and evenhanded, even if it means blaming the public in part.

2. Envision and communicate a happy ending: Show people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Stop calling it the equivalent of an "economic 9/11" or "Pearl Harbor."

3. Offer a unique and credible functional approach to arriving at the happy ending based on a unique culture of the potential administration. E.g., show how increased regulation will work or show how less but more effective regulation will work.