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Do you really know who we are Mr. CEO?

The importance of understanding what your brand stands for and what it’s messages mean.

Brands proudly exclaim ‘Empowering your potential’, ‘Be a leader’, ‘The Future’s Bright’... etc. I am sure we have all heard these mantra over the years? Many millions of dollars are spent by brands of all sizes in determining what I call their Corporate Character. I have written about this previously, but to me, building a consistent Corporate Character, especially in large organisations is one of the single most challenging tasks any organisation faces.

Often, a new brand, or a brand re-fresh is driven by a CEO, his Senior Management Team or Head of Marketing. Branding Agencies such as ours will follow a similar, well trodden path in delivering a product that encapsulates the companies vision or re-positions it precisely where it wants to be. However, can you see the problem here? Brand creators simply cannot engage the whole organisation in a transition. Sure, we select a few key stakeholders, and try to cover as many diverse opinions as possible but, if the Brand is really going to have an impact, if customers and staff - your most important audience - are really going to understand what the Brand stands for, every single individual in the organisation needs to understand and live the Brands character. It’s application has to be consistent and seamless in all channels. Sounds simple? It is not.

Organisations that win, are those that take their customers and employees on a journey, identifying key touch-points where their relationship is inseparable. In creating winning Brands, we think about this and carefully define the how, what, where and why... so let’s fast forward a few phases. Your new Brand has been created - it’s perfect... you have printed your new business cards, you have a new Head Office environment, a new web-site and the new Brand Launch Party is being planned. When a young member of staff comes up to you, the CEO and... bold as brass, asks you - ‘so what does ‘Empowering Your Potential mean?... I just don’t get it... I have spoken to my manager and he said one thing, my SVP said something else, my colleagues are confused and so I am - I hope you don’t mind me asking?’ You take a deep breath and are lost for words... you know it means something about customers, something about staff, but are not really sure what it specifically means. Call in the project champion who gives yet another explanation of what our new Brand mantra means... Can you see the problem here. It is all very well having a great looking, feeling, sounding and smelling Brand, but you also have to focus on the cultural piece - to educate your staff and customers on the journey you have been on in creating your new Brand - or loose them.

There are various terms that are used by consultants to explain this phase of work - we call it ‘Brand Activation’. In other words educating you and your teams to speak with one voice, understand who you are and how to behave ‘on Brand’.

Some organisations do this really well. Three come to mind:


This organisation believe in a strong internal culture - they believe that by employing like minded people who are ‘Passionate about Coffee’, they will create something really special. Starbuck’s, as an organisation believe in ethical conduct, they believe in ‘doing well by doing good’ and each and every employee knows what this means. The culture is so strong in Starbuck’s that it is not uncommon for staff to challenge management decisions if they believe they are not in-keeping with the organisations values. So what kind of environment does this create? One where Starbuck’s, because of it’s emphasis on education, learning and the precision with which it selects it’s staff, are able to build an organisation where their Brand becomes a lifestyle choice, not only for the people that work for Starbuck’s - it’s greatest evangelists, but for customers who, when they buy from Starbuck’s, do so because they know precisely what Starbuck’s stands for and why.


This telecom Brand shifted this paradigm in the 1990’s and 2000’s. By creating a lifestyle Brand that did not talk of tech and band width, Orange became the peoples choice. You were never a customer of Orange, you were part of a large family of likeminded people who had made a purchasing choice based on lifestyle, not on product - although sure enough, the products and services were cool too. What was brilliant about Orange, was the internal culture. I used to laugh with my clients when I visited them that their culture ran so deep, I was sure that most of the staff had orange blood. The results are evident, Orange was a leader, the best Brand, with the largest number of loyal customers... and now that Orange is not what it was, it is not uncommon to find ex-customers and employees mourning the loss of the Brand - like one would mourn the loss of a friend.

Southwest Airlines

For many years a struggling business in a competitive market, Southwest Airlines decided to work on their brand, to develop a profound understanding of what made them who they are... and what a dramatic turn around. With a clearly aligned culture and guidance on behaviours and service, Southwest Airlines became an overnight success. The business grew and the organisation posted record profits.

So, what is the common thread that runs through all of these companies - it is that the company clearly understands who they are. From the CEO downwards, each and every person in these organisations understands what the brand means and has pledged their support to delivering on it’s promise. I heard a story recently that the CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally, a people person, carries in his pocket a small card that explains precisely what the Ford Brand stands for. It explains in simple English the meaning and purpose of the Brand and why things are the way they are. It is not uncommon for Mr. Mulally to wander the offices and production lines at Ford and for him to be heard asking staff about the Brand. Staff are not castigated if they answer his questions incorrectly, they are given a small card and helped to understand. If the CEO believes, if the CEO is evangelical about Brand, then so will the staff be. Alan Mulally turned Ford around, he did it because of his brilliance and the brilliance of those around him - every single man and woman from the top, right to the bottom, and the reason for this - a common culture, a common purpose and a common mission - a consistent brand - the meaning of which is understood and committed to by every single employee.

If you are currently undergoing a Brand refresh, or re-Branding exercise, please remember this, invest in your people and your customers - educate them and you will reap huge rewards. Don’t, and you will create disharmony and misalignment that will loose you market share and give your competitors advantage over you.

For more information on Brand Activation and the profound impact this has on business, please contact us.

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