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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.

Random thoughts for today - total branding and communication

A few things I don't have time to write in depth about, but want to mention and hopefully will expand on in later posts:

1. An easy way to tell if your brand is aligned is to look at the quality of your meetings. If people are disengaged, unfocused, or focused on the wrong things (like side conversation/humor), 9 times out of 10 your brand is out of sync.

2. Teamwork is an overused word but it has a critical impact on brand alignment. If your organization is experiencing turf wars of any kind, particularly when it comes to policy people not communicating with brand people or brand people not collaborating with each other, your brand is not going to work. Remember, it's all about the OUTSIDE image...the purpose of internal communication is to feed into that.

3. Communicators need to train their clients NOT to ask for immediate communication plans. Any doofus can go onto Google or get a book and create a generic comm. plan (or consult the old comm. plan and rework it into a new one.) The job of a communicator is to CUSTOMIZE each plan individually for each situation. That means research, knowledge of the subject matter, coordination, meetings, etc. Doesn't have to take more than a week, but one day is just not reasonable.

4. Similarly to #3, communicators need to be at the table when their plan is presented to senior leadership. They created it, they understand the reasons behind it, and they need to be in a position to negotiate any changes with decision-makers directly.

5. Communicators are often tempted to "cave in" to difficult clients. This is understandable. We want the business and we won't get it if our working relationships are poor. At the same time, there is a need to hold the line and insist on some sort of integrity to a disciplined strategic communications approach. One way to handle this is to develop governance processes (e.g. guidelines, templates, councils, etc.) to stand in between the communicator and the client to keep them from getting out of control. Then the communicator has an overall structure to fall back on when the client's demands start getting unreasonable or when other communicators on the team start getting creative only for creative's sake.

6. The above is particularly important in the case of internal branding, where clients seem often to feel like since nobody outside will see their communications, they can be as "homemade" and sometimes outlandish as they want.

7. Going back to the last part of #5, creativity for creativity's sake is TERRIBLE IN EVERY WAY. It's bad for the brand (because it fragments the image), it's bad for the communications team (because it undermines their credibility), and it's bad for the organization (because it wastes time and money). Do everything you can to fight this cancerous form of communication.

8. Some people confuse an official seal with a brand. Never do that. A seal is not going to get you recognition outside the organization. A brand (encompassing a logo) will. You can have a seal, but your focus should be on the brand and accompanying logo.