A Vision for Living the Brand10 years, 8 months ago
In an extract from his new book The Global Corporate Brand Book, Michael Morley offers guidance on successful branding.
The corporations that sustain a successful brand by living it – in short, by their behavior – have certain defining characteristics which, for the sake of memorability, I classify as the six “V”s. Each “V” in turn – Vision, Values, Vitality, Veracity, Victorious and Volunteerism, has a number of independent components.
Many companies nowadays have statements of vision, mission and values and many have been through a VMV process in which these were defined and expressed and communicated to the corporation’s internal audience. How much the process affects the strength of the brand through employee behavior depends however on the level of commitment on the part of all levels of management in sustained education, communication and motivational activities.
• Clarity. The vision must be easily understood by all employees and expressed in simple language.
• Inspirational. It should have the power to inspire employees and make them allies in its attainment.
• Aspirational. The bar should be set high (but not so high as to be clearly out of reach). The wording should express how the corporation wants to be rather than how it is now, thus motivating employees to strive for the goal.
• Broad. The vision should be expressed in terms that are broad enough to have longevity, taking into account the dynamics of society and economics. But at the same time not so broad as to be generically useable by any other corporation in any other field (eg “ Our vision is to help create a world in which poverty is a distant memory”, will not do).
• Employees. The critical importance of employees as engines in the attainment of the vision should be recognized and stated. They should be regularly reminded of their role.
• Principles. The values are the principles of behavior of the corporation and like the vision, must be expressed with clarity. These values should drive corporate decision making and actions by individual employees of the corporation. Commitment to values drives corporate culture, and corporate culture is an important contributor to the brand. Permanent. Core values should be permanent and should not change. They should be the same this year and next; they should be identical at units of the same corporation in Indiana and India, in Britain and Bangladesh.
• Respectful. A hallmark of the finest corporations is the value of respecting local customs and traditions. They achieve this by adaptation of procedures where appropriate but never compromise principles. This can sometimes mean hard choices –for example, deciding not to work in a market if the only way would be to breach a principle.
• Vigor. It is insufficient to declare “mission accomplished” when Vision and Values have been established. To have meaning and an effect on the brand the declarations have to be translated into action by the employees. Ways have to be found to enlist them in this ongoing quest through effective communications, events and incentives.
• Refresh. It is hard to ensure continued commitment to “living the brand” and there are several ways in which it can be derailed. Common among them are: the arrogance that comes with success when employees feel that no more needs to be done; the despair that comes with lack of apparent results; the inertia that comes when repetition leads to boredom with the process.
• Reinterpret. Brand Sclerosis is my name for a disease fatal to brands whose arteries have become clogged. Brands need to be periodically reinterpreted or reinvented to show their relevance to the present –and the future – world and society. Also corporations themselves are in a constant state of change. Some use a core business strength to build a much larger portfolio of offerings organically or through acquisition. Others decide to do the opposite and shed non-core businesses. Some change their business entirely. But the brand image does not move in step and always lags behind the reality. So corporations must choose either a gradual brand evolution or a less frequent revolution. Each small or major rebranding event is an opportunity to remind employees of the evolving brand attributes and encourage them to live them day-by-day.
• Truth. Tell the truth. This is a good rule in normal times and builds confidence in the brand. It is especially important when dealing with issues or in times of crisis when the attempt to conceal or bend the truth is a temptation. Work on the basis that the truth is known by a number of people internally and will eventually come out; then there will be secondary damage to reputation.
• Honesty. It is better to be honest than merely truthful. Truth can mean bare facts sufficient to satisfy the legal definition, whereas honesty involves a full explanation. It might, for instance, explain the various options considered by the corporation and the possible consequences. Honesty means the provision of enough contested information for an informed judgment to be made by employees and in turn by external audiences.
• Distortion. Truth does not always travel well so global employees must think carefully about how messages will be received in different countries and different cultures. Statements can get refracted or distorted as they pass through international borders. Two kinds of mistakes are possible. The first is to ignore differences of perspectives and beliefs and to push ahead with conviction that right is on your side, so no explanations or translations are needed. The other is to try and curry favor by modifying the truth for different audiences.
• Survive and Succeed. These are the two commercial requirements of every corporation. Without commercial success all the other “V’s” become moot or can be compromised as managements become increasingly desperate. But remember, in great companies the “V’s” are the foundation on which success is achieved. They are not a reward or luxury for companies that have made money through unscrupulous practices.
• The Edge. Brand leading corporations have an edge over competitors, the result of innovative products and policies.
• Winning Team. Employees are inspired by being members of a winning team.
• Citizenship. Volunteerism and corporate philanthropy have long been distinctive features of commercial life in the USA and have played an important role in animating “living the brand”. As commerce becomes increasingly global, corporations rooted in other countries are increasingly integrating these two elements into their wider commitment to corporate social responsibility.
• Support the Firm. A corporation can dramatically amplify the awareness of its efforts to be socially responsible and charitable by informing employees of initiatives that are being undertaken and philanthropic donations. They can in turn relay this information to others and might also donate their own time and money to augment the firm’s contribution.
• Support the Employee. Employees each have their own causes which they support with time and money. Enlightened firms can encourage “living the brand” by supporting their employees through matching funds or other schemes.
Michael Morley is President of Morley Corporate Consulting, Senior Counsel at Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, and Chairman of the Senior Advisory Group of Experts at Echo Research. He has counselled the world’s largest corporations on reputation and branding and is a highly regarded international public relations expert with first hand experience of working in the US, Europe, South America and the Asia Pacific region. He is author of the successful and influential book, How to Manage Your Global Reputation: A Guide to the Dynamics of International Public Relations and is an Adjunct Professor at New York Universitymail the author
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