Digital Transformation: Focus on People First to Achieve Success

Transformation is a long journey made up of a series of sprints, and at larger organizations it can take years for momentum to kick in. Picture a large shipping freighter changing direction. You know that you have momentum and that success is on the horizon when your team or department goes outsider status to finally having more work than it can handle, a seat at the table.

Digital transformation brings digital products and platforms front and center in helping to achieve business goals with a focus on marketing activities and improving overall customer experience. From digital marketing, mobile apps, websites, and analytics, digital experiences are more important than ever when looking to acquire and retain customers. People, process and product are three commonly used terms to describe a transformation journey and should be key elements of your digital strategy. However, two other elements should also be included: data and adaptability.

Here are five tips to enable digital transformation at your organization, with a focus on people first.

1. Showcase a vision of what the future holds

The first and most important step is to create a digital strategy that showcases the outcome of the transformation, a vision of what the future holds. Then tell your story – share your vision. Buy-in from the top-down is required, starting with the CEO, the CMO, and CTO all need to fully support the vision. With a strong vision, teams will get excited about the journey and know what they are working so hard for and trying to achieve. Setting up a strategy that allows for quick wins and momentum is necessary. Think stages within a race. Celebrate the wins.

2. Foster collaboration and nurture talent

You need to have the support to create winning teams that execute and deliver. Take the time to develop your future leaders, hire for new skillsets ad perspectives, and when needed, have the tough conversations with those who cannot adapt.

Collaboration is vital for transformation success. Expand partnerships and remove silos where possible; the more teams across the organization buy into and support the digital strategy, the greater the likelihood of success. IT and business teams need to become one team focused on the same goals and be held to same metrics of success.

3. Establish processes and adapt quickly to change

A significant part of transformation involves process change. All of the following questions must be asked and solutions put into place, but it requires people and teams to change, to grow, to try new things, to fail, and ultimately learn what works best within an organization. Technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we complete tasks, communicate, and live. In order to take full advantage of the opportunities that these technologies and process changes offer, companies need to be adaptable and implement the right process in advance to achieve its goals.

  • What are the largest customer pain points?
  • Are there effective ways to capture feedback and insights?
  • How are projects tracked, prioritized, and by whom?
  • What technology foundational work is required before adding additional functionality?
  • How are the digital projects delivered?
  • How can delivery become more efficient within the constraints of your organization?
  • How can you create a culture of innovation?
  • Are you prepared to fail, to iterate, and to learn?

4. Collect and analyze data at the beginning, middle, and end

Collecting and analyzing data is imperative to the entire transformation journey from beginning to end and helps to hold teams accountable and measure success.

By creating customer panels and platforms for feedback loops, you can ensure that the voice of the customer is heard and their input ultimately drives your product roadmap. As roadmaps are agreed upon, KPIs need to be determined. What are the measurable metrics that will be used to determine the success of the project? Is the project phased into based on the hitting of KPIs? This is one of the largest areas of opportunity in many large companies. Too often, projects are fully developed, instead of piloting ideas and iterating towards success. Results are not tracked, or delivery is the only measurable goal. Continuous tracking of KPIs to confirm the benefits of the project and regular reporting will help to drive future opportunities.

5. Leverage digital experiences to engage and delight

Digital products and services now offer endless possibilities to engage with and to delight customers. “Meet customers where they are” and “mobile first” are now commonly used to describe the digital experience. However, using analytics and creativity to personalize the experience, you can take these approaches to the next level – meeting the “right” customers “wherever” they are and at the “correct” time. This is how you differentiate yourself and win over the most important people in the transformation – your customers.

Using Customer Experience as a Catalyst for Change

Many of our clients are achieving great success using a customer experience focus and related frameworks to drive innovation, strengthen their brands and even recast their strategy. Placing customer experience at the center creates a new perspective that generates results.

1. Yields insights with big impact

Research on the customer experience can uncover issues and opportunities not identified through traditional customer satisfaction research. Using the highly effective tool of journey mapping, an organization can better identify how best to connect with its various customers at different stages of interaction. By looking at the entire customer journey, marketers get a more comprehensive view of their value delivery and can gain new insights about the individual moments of truth that define customer perceptions. Mapping the journey can also reveal inconsistencies across touchpoints that may limit customer delight. With this perspective, marketers can prioritize with confidence, devoting resources where they’re likely to have the biggest impact, either by addressing shortcomings or seizing new opportunities to foster customer loyalty.

2. Challenges the status quo

The customer experience framework revolves around customers and their experiences with the brand. It’s an outside-in approach that leverages external inputs to generate solutions based on customer needs and preferences, rather than on the company’s organizational structure or other internal factors. The mindset shift is liberating, especially for businesses in markets with high barriers to entry in which companies typically think in terms of their internal capabilities. This exploratory approach can help incumbents preempt market disruption through a more informed, customer-centric approach to product and service design.

3. Fosters cross-functional collaboration

Many companies are challenged by siloed thinking. Getting operations people to think like marketers (and vice-versa) may be an uphill battle. However, all departments impact the customer experience directly or indirectly, and have a role to play in enabling a best-in-class customer experience. The customer-focused approach is inherently collaborative, bringing cross-functional talent and perspectives together to drive systems thinking and build esprit de corps that transcends any one department’s turf. Shared goals and ownership can yield transformative innovation and results.

4. Enables the CMO to drive enterprise-wide change

With so many different factors and departments impacting the customer experience, cross-functional cooperation and execution is required for implementation. This dynamic gives CMOs broader license to manage enterprise-wide change initiatives and get leadership support to drive change through to completion.

5. Builds a sustainably customer-focused culture

The customer experience framework is inclusive and intuitive. That makes it easy for employees throughout the organization to “hear” and accept the voice of the customer, and allows the development of service principles that provide clear guidance for employee behaviors. The organization can then incorporate these service principles into its brand activation and employee engagement programs, empowering employees to provide experiences that pay off the brand promise.

The crucial role of branding in successful M&A

There certainly has been no shortage of M&A activity in the press throughout the course of the year with two significant ones taking place just this past week – AB InBev NV and SABMiller PLC and Dell and EMC.

Over the past years numerous client experiences have shown me the significant role that a re-branding program can have in the success of a merger or acquisition. This was demonstrated to me again this year by the recent brand innovation program Tenet Partners led with the executive team of two merging companies in the healthcare business services arena, Connolly/iHealth Technologies.

Reflecting on the lessons from this successful program (see Connolly iHealth Technologies partners with Tenet to rebrand the company as Cotiviti) and past engagements, I thought I’d share with you five tenets you may want to consider if and when your company is involved in a merger, or transformative acquisition.

1. The brand(s) that emerges embodies your combined future

Always be clear that your goal is to create a brand positioning, value propositions, signature experiences and identity elements that capture what is unique and compelling about your combined capabilities going forward. In concert these branding components will signal your future trajectory to both customers and prospects, as well as to employees, the investment community and other stakeholders and influencers. This is why a future view of market opportunities and close alignment with the business strategy of your combined company are so crucial in developing your brand strategy and its creative expressions.

2. Respect and understand the legacies of the combining brands, your bankers won’t

Unless running counter to type, your M&A advisors will not generally place much weight on the loyalties built around the legacy brand/brands among customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders, but your executive leadership must. First, understanding equities of the combining brands among their constituencies is a crucial source of insights on the credible strengths and defensible differentiators that must underpin the future positioning of the merged company. Second, gauging the strength and nature of these equities and audience loyalties provides the knowledge needed to craft targeted messaging and activities to affect the transfer of loyalties from the legacy brand(s) to the new brand.

3. The rebranding process is a valuable integration mechanism

One of the greatest challenges of mergers, one that often determines success or failure, is management’s ability to integrate the organizations quickly around shared vision, values and strategies. A correctly executed branding process, whether conducted before or after merger, can be a very helpful integrative tool for the executive team and broader organization. With an objective view provided by research across internal and external constituencies and markets, management through teamwork exercises can assess opportunities and strategic positioning options in the context of newly combined competencies; reaching consensus on the best value proposition(s). As part of the integrative process, employees across the organizations are queried, engaged, informed and trained in a coordinated and unifying manner. Especially today in an environment that demands continuity of customer experience across physical and virtual channels, the branding process must reach across and engage all functions to ensure a promise made can and will be delivered.

4. It is ….a rare opportunity to shift perceptions; don’t waste it

The launch of a new brand is a unique and fleeting moment of focus when the eyes, ears and minds of a company’s stakeholders and influencers are open, curious and eager to learn what’s new. A new brand by its nature signals change. Work hard to make it positive and exciting by identifying and conveying the benefits the new brand will deliver to each key constituency and by avoiding rude, unwelcome surprises. It is a moment to plant new associations and expectations in people’s minds, and perhaps remove other ones. Of course, it is also a time to reinforce continuity of valued benefits already delivered. Make the most of it!

5. The brand protects value at risk

A brand is a financial as well as a marketing asset, and the legacy brand(s) had real, measureable economic value in the businesses before the transaction. The brand that replaces must, at a minimum, achieve the same salience, relevance and monetary contribution as the legacy brand(s) to protect business value. More broadly though, because the new brand embodies and conveys the combined businesses and the underlying strategic rationale of the transaction, its success helps protect the total economic value of the business at risk.

Foundations of a Digital Marketing Strategy

It‘s 2015. If a digital marketing strategy isn‘t a key component of your overall marketing plan, it should be. There have never been more ways for your brand to reach out to customers, and with the social web, there are just as many ways customers can reach out to your brand.

Getting started can be daunting. You need to build the right foundation, be aware of the expectations of the audience and know where your best opportunities exist. Here are our five tips for building a strong digital marketing strategy.

1. Define your goals

It may seem like common sense, but some marketers tend to forget what their overall business goals are before developing a digital marketing strategy. Without a clearly defined “big picture” to drive your team towards, time and money end up being wasted on minor details. The end result of any ill-defined campaign may be measurable, but it will be a quantifiable failure.

Instead, take the time necessary to develop an integrated campaign that aligns clearly to your business strategy, then identify and prioritize tangible objectives. If you‘re convincing people to fill out a lead generation form, are you complementing it with an email campaign to drive sales? If you‘re attracting more followers on social media, how will you use that new reach to drive brand awareness? Think past the details of how to execute your campaign, and always remember the “why”.

2. Be responsive to mobile

It‘s no secret that consumers are moving away from desktops and towards their phones and tablet devices – but are you aware of how fast it‘s happening, and is your brand adapting to this shift?

According to Litmus, an email analytics company, 51 percent of emails were opened on a mobile device at the end of 2013. That‘s already up from an astounding 42 percent in the beginning of that year. With this compelling data in hand, make sure your design and development teams are working together to create fluid layouts that adjust to a variety of screen sizes. Don‘t force users into viewing a desktop version of a website or email if they‘re using a mobile device. Instead, craft your message to fit the medium. You‘re more likely to get conversions from a campaign that adjusts for the environment it‘s being viewed in.

3. Optimize your content

How are you driving traffic to your websites? Can search engines easily index them? What do you want visitors to do once they arrive? Are your web pages designed so that a call-to-action is readily apparent? If you find yourself getting nervous thinking of the answers to those questions, it‘s time to take a look at optimizing your content.

Content optimization means crafting a digital campaign that‘s easily discovered, eagerly consumed, and readily actionable. Make sure your content — old and new — is aligned with the search criteria your target audience is using. Adopt a multi-channel strategy: downloadable PDF reports, shared presentations decks and video webinars. Empower people to share your content in order to extend its reach beyond your website. And last, but certainly not least, take the guesswork out of the conversation and always guide your reader/user towards a clearly defined call-to-action.

4. Build engagement

Traditional marketing tends to focus on talking to the customer, but in the age of social media and instant communication, people expect a conversation, not a presentation. It‘s time to approach your digital marketing efforts as the enabler for real dialogue and connection with other members of the online community, especially if they take the time to reach out to you. A great example can be found in Dutch airline KLM. According to travel intelligence company Skift, 93.2 percent of the tweets from KLM are replies to other Twitter users. KLM also updates the header image for their Twitter account every five minutes to inform customers of the expected time they can receive a response.

You now have an unprecedented ability to gather data about your customer. Take the time to leverage it by customizing your campaigns based on specific demographic information. Start small by personalizing the greetings in your email campaigns with a recipient‘s first name. From there, build towards a triggered campaign that deploys emails based on important milestones, such as birthdays or anniversaries, or when a certain item a customer routinely purchases goes on sale.

5. Measure and adjust

With a host of analytics tools at your fingertips, there are more ways than ever to quantify the successes and shortcomings of a campaign. Seize on this unique opportunity to measure advertising efforts, and immediately adjust campaigns based on what‘s working and what‘s not.

Take an active approach with these tools by reviewing the data on your digital marketing efforts at regular intervals, especially shortly after the campaign has been launched. Loop back to the goals you defined earlier in your campaign, and compare them to the metrics you‘re collecting. Are your clients receiving the results that they‘ve expected on their investment? You may end up finding opportunities to cut ad spend on a part of the campaign that doesn‘t work, and shift those resources towards doubling down on what does.

There‘s no doubt that technology continues to change the way in which brands relate with their customers, and vice versa. These changes present new challenges and opportunities that shouldn‘t be left to various team members to handle in their spare time. Instead, recognize the importance of digital marketing, and capitalize on the opportunities it presents by assembling the right group of internal and external partners to execute your strategy.

Benefits of Brand Valuation

The corporate brand is probably the least understood asset in most companies, yet it can be one of the greatest tools to building value. Tracking brand health and understanding your brand’s contribution to financial performance are critical in uncovering opportunities for growth, understanding ROI, determining brand strategy, and focusing marketing investments.

Although it is classified as an intangible asset, the corporate brand can be consistently measured and valued and therefore should be held to the same demands of performance as any other business asset. Yet as hard as it can be to get budgets approved for brand and marketing activities, it can be even harder to get budgets for brand health measurement and tracking.

To help you build your case, here are five reasons brand valuation matters:

1. Identify competitive advantage and opportunity.

Understanding brand value relative to competitors can inspire change in growth strategies. It’s not enough to simply be different from other providers; you must stand out in ways that drive value to achieve business success. The only way to do this is to understand the full context of the market and how it impacts your organization. Identifying shifts and trends in your brand’s strengths uncovers opportunities to advance through product / service adjacencies, geographical growth, and M&A activity. The proper brand intelligence also gives you insight into where the market is going before your competitors do. When you ask the right questions and maintain a continuous pulse on the dynamics around you, you can predict market shifts and adjust accordingly.

2. Legitimize and optimize investments.

By understanding and defining the value brand creates, questions about brand-building investment change from whether to invest to how much to invest. If you have a solid benchmark of brand health, when you take on new activities such as sponsorship or social media – whether at the corporate or product level – you will be able to understand exactly the impact your efforts have on corporate value. You can model the impact of a projected lift in brand to determine expected financial results and compare outcomes with associated costs and identify optimal investment levels.

Companies that understand this manage their brand investment to maintain and maximize brand value. Coca-Cola, American Express and FedEx are consistently among the companies with the highest brand equity. They are each characterized as a company that communicates aggressively, shaping the landscape of its markets. This kind of presence has helped frame their markets to their own strengths and helped them reap the related benefits.

3. Enhance portfolio decisions.

Often businesses are managing a network of brands: enterprise brands, sub-brands, lines of business, and products / service brands. Consistently tracking and monitoring the health of each entity’s brand allows you to fully understand the entire ecosystem of your brand portfolio. You can understand the connections, influences and the “halo effect” that occurs between the master brand and sub-brands and vice-versa. Knowing this enables investment decisions that truly balance and streamline your portfolio.

4. Inform M&A, strategic alliances and licensing opportunities.

Understanding the value of all business assets informs negotiations in mergers, acquisitions and partnerships. M&A can be tricky, and emotional attachment to pre-existing entities can be strong. But by objectively assessing the value and dimension of all brands involved, leadership can strategically deploy those brands for maximum impact. Also, knowing the value your brand brings – and where its weaknesses may lie – helps identify opportunities for partnerships and acquisitions that may not have otherwise been obvious.

Tracking brand value can also open doors to turning your brand into a product itself. Knowing the brand’s value permits predictable revenue growth through licensing efforts. A brand on the move creates momentum that can be leveraged. Licensing is a great way to make significant income from the brand itself.

5. Validate the efforts of your team.

Measurement and metrics add science to the art of creative brand building. By utilizing a tangible measure of impact, leadership and marketing teams can be objectively evaluated for their stewardship and management of the brand asset over the long term. Creating a common vocabulary between brand and finance strengthens marketing’s position at the management table. Because the return for branding can be identified and tracked over time, the effort and results for all departments are visible. This permits all senior managers to work together for the optimum total return on investment throughout the company. When finance and marketing cooperate and work toward defined goals, everyone wins.

Signs It’s Time to Refresh Your Brand

It seems like it was just yesterday that you launched your new positioning, tagline, logo, website, signage and advertising campaign. Now your team is telling you that it might be time to give it all an update. What do you do?

First thing is to remember that a brand is much more than just a logo. It encompasses everything that contributes toward customer experience, including culture and how you deliver your product or service.

Even if, subjectively, some are unhappy with your brand expression, you have to evaluate it objectively. Rebranding is an expensive endeavor; you should only do it to solve a strategic issue. Due to the time it takes to build familiarity and positive perceptions, it is often when the internal team begins to tire of your current messaging that external audiences are just beginning to catch on. Just because you feel like you need a change doesn’t necessarily mean you do.

Nonetheless, your brand is an essential business tool. If it is not helping you achieve your strategic goals, no matter how attached you are to your brand promise or your current campaigns, it may be time to take a fresh look at them.

Here are five signs it’s time to reevaluate your brand strategy.

1. Your brand scores are slipping

Akin to servicing a car, you need to keep tabs on the functioning of your brand. If you regularly research your brand’s relevance with key audiences and periodically fine tune your messaging then you will get a lot more miles out of the brand than if you drive it off the showroom floor and never get it serviced. At a minimum, annual brand health surveys with external and internal audiences can keep you from suffering any major brand breakdowns. At best, you can solicit feedback in real-time from your customers, employees, and constituencies so you can respond quickly and efficiently.

2. The business strategy changes

Brand strategy always follows business strategy. Perhaps the leadership team has decided that doubling revenues by acquisition is the goal for the next five years. Or maybe an IPO is in the not-so-distant future. Or the opportunity has arisen to enter a new international market. As a critical tool for rationalizing your portfolio and building market appeal, your brand needs to align with, support, and reflect your business strategy. It is the story that holds your business together and it must be told clearly and consistently to have proper impact.

3. Competitive pressures have increased

Whether there are new entrants in your industry or a groundbreaking technological advance, when the dynamics of your industry shift, you need to make sure you aren’t being left behind. “Clear, relevant, believable and distinct” is the mantra we use to keep us on track when developing a brand positioning. When market dynamics change, so can your ability to stand out from the crowd and be unique. If a “me too” provider pops up with a vociferous awareness campaign, you run the danger of becoming a referential brand: “Yeah, we’re just like X only we’ve been around longer.” You need to retool your messages to stand apart, even if it is as simple as being sure to include your years of expertise in your outreach.

4. Your brand expression looks dated

Ideally your original brand strategy was both cutting edge and sustainable. But sometimes market tastes shift beneath you. Just look at all of the companies out there with the word “cyber” in their name, or, more recently, how many logos have all lowercase, san-serif, colorful fonts. Whether it’s an elegant refinement of your current logo or starting from scratch, your brand expression needs to match your cultural personality in tone and manner. You can’t credibly claim to be innovative if your logo is stuck in the 1980s.

##5. You want to signal change Sometimes you just need an opportunity to tell a new story. It could be because you have a change in business strategy, or new leadership, or you have identified a sizeable shift in your core audiences. Perhaps you have merged with another firm and together have more to offer than the sum of your two parts. A refreshed look and feel, a new tagline – even a new name – may be what you need to attract attention, build awareness and capture the market share you desire.

Whatever the reason is for reevaluating your brand, whenever possible, existing brand equity should be retained. Just as when you’re building your brand, whatever strategic and tactical plan you take on should be fact-based and built to achieve specific goals. Change should never be made simply for change sake.

Get the most out of your brand guidelines

You’ve created a clear and compelling brand. Now what? If your brand isn’t properly implemented and maintained, even the best strategy will fail, wasting the time, resources and money you’ve invested. Consistency across all touch points reinforces and turns up the volume on your brand promise. Alignment in everything you say and do is essential to building awareness and nurturing positive impressions of your organization. Flawless execution is critical not just at launch, but throughout the entire life of your brand.

While underlying strategy will shape your visual and verbal expression, it is your brand management program that ensures the integrity of your brand image. Yet many companies jeopardize their investment by undervaluing the impact of proper brand guidelines, filing them away in a drawer, never to look at them again.

Here are five tips for getting the most out of your brand guidelines:

1. Embrace brand management

Although the creation and launch of a brand can be the most thrilling part, brand management is what delivers ultimate success. You have to invest in implementation as an integral part of rebranding. We’ve seen too many companies be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to saving a few dollars by scaling back guidelines and training only to have their brand become distorted and disorganized over time. Don’t cut yourself short. If you have the business directive to update, evolve or redo your brand: do it right. Allot enough time and funds to guarantee proper execution now and into the future.

2.Train up

Learning the do’s and don’ts of your refreshed brand is neither a one time deal nor something everyone can easily grasp simply by reading a document. Don’t rely on your own memory of the strategy development or depend on your employees to readily absorb the guidelines just from print. Bring in the brand development team, including your agency, to train you and all of the communicators on the brand guidelines from strategy to usage. Have your agency meet with your internal team across all functions to train them on using templates. Many times they can share short cuts and advice that will ultimately save your team time. Furthermore, to fully guarantee maximum impact and a measurable difference in your brand, an employee engagement program should be implemented to enhance on-brand behaviors.

3. Know all the shapes and sizes

Brand guidelines can come in many different formats. Pick the ones that work best for your culture. Large, complex and global companies will benefit from having an online brand center such as Brand Ensemble, which provides a central, always-up-to-date resource for brand asset management, brand FAQ and collateral creation and approval. These types of tools are also the easiest to update and expand as brand elements are created and the system evolves. For companies where a static document is sufficient, a PDF or online flipbook can be easily distributed as well as accessed from a variety of places such as your computer desktop, tablet, or even phone for quick reference.

4. Give them the spotlight

Understanding the importance of the brand guidelines begins at the top of every organization. The CEO and CMO must endorse the brand guidelines to ensure they have the impact they should. Distribution and a cover letter should come from the CEO / CMO as a top-down endorsement of the new brand. And no one should be exempt from following the rules, especially senior management.

5. It takes a village

Your brand police should be more than just an internal contact person. Build a team that is responsible for the integrity of your brand globally. Assign staff throughout your operating footprint to monitor, approve and correct branded elements. Extend the team beyond the internal, and include your agency and your vendors in the policing process. You can even engage your entire staff by incorporating evaluation of on-brand behaviors in personnel reviews of all employees around the world. While bringing a brand to life may initially be the responsibility of a core team, sustaining it in the long term is a full-company job.

How To Get Greatness From Your Agency

It’s a simple equation: great clients plus a great agency relationship results in great work. Why? A unique alchemy that happens when a branding or marketing client chooses to work with a consulting firm that shares the same sensibilities. Can you get great work from your consultants if it’s not a true partnership? Let’s just say, it’s a lot harder. Too often, the devils of corporate uncertainty, lack of clarity, and poor communications can derail the process.

If you want to give yourself a better than fighting chance to get great work, here are five ways to get the most out of your agency relationship.

1. Start with the right chemistry.

While some companies might be dazzled by an agency’s big name clients, what really matters is how well you’ll jive with your consultant’s day-to-day team. Make sure you meet the folks you’ll be interacting with most, and especially those who will be doing the big thinking for you.

2. Know your own organization.

Great clients can be dependable guides through their organizations’ minefields. You can help your consulting partner navigate your levels of approval by inviting your company’s decision-makers into the process early on. Knowing who your gatekeepers are and helping your consultants to win them over can eliminate costly roadblocks on a project.

3. Understand what you’re buying.

When it comes to working with your consultants, remember that you’re purchasing their talent and their time. While a project may deliver a new strategy or design, you’re actually paying for the process to get there. Sure, there may be changes along the way. But if you acknowledge what’s in scope and what’s out, then you can negotiate fairly should more work be required.**

4. Be an excellent editor.

Your consultants want to deliver exactly what you need. If it’s off the mark, then being an excellent editor means being straight-up honest. Offer specific reasons why it’s not working. Your consultants can take it; they’re professionals. The more detail you can give, the better revisions you’ll get back.

5. Trust the experts.

By putting the time into choosing your consulting partner, you’ve already shown that you consider them experts. If something doesn’t resonate, ask questions first and open up the dialogue. Trust is a bridge that is anchored on both sides. Being a good client will earn you the respect of your consultants who will want to give you the best work they can. Greatness begets greatness.

The Benefits of a Mid-sized Firm

Recently, two of the biggest names in advertising announced they would merge to form the world’s largest ad firm. Under this umbrella will live a host of creative capabilities from advertising to public relations, branding to direct marketing, and media services to digital strategy. Consolidation seems to be the name of the game in the industry, as the large firms get even larger.

Interestingly, the impetus for this particular merger was less to compete with traditional creative firms, but rather to take on the mammoth technology firm, Google. The business goal of the merger is sensible and likely advantageous for the agencies. But does it benefit you, the client?

We propose a different way of thinking: Choose mid-sized instead of super-sized. Here are five reasons why.

1. Be a big fish.

Mid-sized firms have Fortune 100 accounts. They are built to service those accounts efficiently and smartly. However, mid-sized firms often have fewer of these global accounts, making you a big fish in a smaller pond. The result is dedicated attention from a team of experts whose primary goal is your success. As a result, you benefit from their heritage of having worked with clients in your space without having to worry about conflicts of interest or divided attention.

2. Secure senior attention.

Most professionals at mid-sized firms have come from larger firms. They have blue-chip expertise, but have made the conscious choice to leave the super-sized world. And with smaller staffs of experts, even the most senior professionals are active in account work every day. The team you meet at the pitch will be your primary account team. You never have to worry about bait and switch — at mid-sized firms there is no “B” and “C”, only the “A” team.

3. Pursue independent thought.

The majority of mid-sized firms remain independent. Independent status leads to independent thought, less restricted by the reins of a parent company or shareholder interests. Mid-sized firms enable themselves to stand out by developing unique perspectives, proprietary models and nimble solutions. The result is often cutting-edge, distinctive and quick thinking that will help propel you to the forefront.

4. Tailor the process (or results).

Mid-sized firms have processes in place to ensure predictable and beneficial results. However, they are also willing to tailor those processes to meet specific needs and outcomes. For instance, Discovery is a necessary part of any fruitful creative project, but the traditional process can be curtailed if you already have a great deal of relevant data. Or perhaps you have strong creative talent in house. They can be given the tools necessary to execute the visual components of the brand themselves. Ultimately, the goal of a mid-sized firm is to make you successfully self-sufficient.

5. Play well in the sandbox.

Mid-sized agencies tend to be focused experts. They know their fields intimately well, and readily communicate their self-imposed boundaries. For instance, a strategic branding firm likely won’t undertake a national advertising campaign. However, they will gamely work with your choice advertising partner – or recommend a non-affiliated agency they believe will serve you well. Mid-sized agencies play well with others.

How to Build a Powerful Brand

Recently, CoreBrand has released our annual Top 100 Most Powerful Brands report. In reviewing our rankings – and the data that supports them – we’ve discovered some consistencies among those brands in the top 100. We find it’s not about doing one thing well, but about finding a way to do implement an integrated plan that addresses awareness, reputation, confidence in management and performance.

From those that are doing it well, here are some tips for how to build (and maintain) a powerful brand.

1. Spend more

Great brands spend more on advertising and more aggressively market in general. According to a recent report from Kantar Media, while advertising expenditures declined overall in 2013, spending among the ten largest advertisers for the first nine months of 2013 increased by 6.4 percent. While not a stand-alone strategy, advertising more is a way to help increase a brand’s power.

With advertising, a brand is able to control the message and therefore has the ability to drive toward more distinctive, emotional benefits. While other companies may be able to mimic product/service attributes, the combination of an organization’s culture, personality and approach inform how those products/services are delivered – and create an inimitable differentiation. As the foundation of an advertising messaging, this more emotionally-driven messaging helps create favorability and lock-in.

2. Say less

After suggesting you spend more on advertising, simultaneously suggesting that you say less may seem counter intuitive to building a powerful brand. But bear with us for a moment to explain. Increased advertising helps you speak in more places – in magazines, on billboards, and online. But saying less enables you to focus what you are saying in those places on the pure essence of your message. Hone your communications to just a few clear, simple and believable statements. And repeat them consistently and with frequency in all outreach.

Strong brands have high familiarity, meaning stakeholders understand what a company does in totality. Consider PepsiCo as an example. Currently #7 on the Top 100 Most Powerful brands, PepsiCo was for a long time perceived as purely a beverage company, an easy mistake as the word Pepsi is in the corporate PepsiCo name. However, recent communications have made a concerted effort to communicate the company’s better-for-you strategy that in part, includes its very successful snacks division. Clearly, this powerful brand understands that familiarity must go beyond name recognition to achieve more comprehensive understanding of the organization as a whole.

3. Build trust

Our most recent Top 100 Most Powerful brands notes that while distrust in brands is “lessening,” trust has been slower to recover. This is especially true when it comes to trusting management, a key factor in helping to build and maintain the favorability necessary to becoming a powerful brand.

Nowhere is this trend more apparent that within the financial services sector. Financial services buyers indicate that what’s most important to them when making a purchasing decision are softer variables, such as trust, transparency and accountability. In an industry crippled by controversy and distrust, there has been a keen understanding of this buyer tendency and a collective effort by the industry to rebuild the trust of consumers through communications. Perhaps as a result, companies including Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and American Express all saw advances this year in terms of their brands’ power.

4. Perform well

Here, we speak not only of your financial performance, which most certainly comprises a large component of the favorability required to being a powerful brand, but also your operational performance. Strong brands are about more than communication; they are about follow-through and building the internal processes and culture that enable your employees to live the brand and to deliver it consistently to your customers. Are your employees empowered to perform well?

New to the top 100 list and improving 25 positions to rank #91, Amazon was the highest gainer in part because the company understands performance. Always known for its superior customer service and for giving employees the freedom to make the right decisions for customers, Amazon has recently topped itself. Take for example, the company’s “Mayday” feature incorporated in its latest Kindles. With the press of one button, customers can access a real person, in real time with real answers. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

5. Be transparent

In the absence of a proactive message, customers will create their own based on experience and in many instances, based on hearsay. In today’s age of social and viral media, arming your customers as brand ambassadors has become alarmingly more important. Delivering consistent and pervasive messages is the first step. Taking responsibility and offering up a track record of honesty increases trust and favorability among stakeholders – and is yet another means of building a powerful brand.

For instance, consider how Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s has approached the increasingly prevalent GMO labeling discussion. On the company’s website, customers can easily find the following statement: “Ben & Jerry’s is proud to stand with the growing consumer movement for transparency and the right to know what’s in our food supply by supporting mandatory GMO labeling legislation.” Yet, the company goes on to state that this is a process and it will take time. They will not be able to source all non-GMO ingredients immediately, but they are committed to doing so. The ultimate result is that consumers feel heard and valued, and Ben & Jerry’s has generated brand power (and respect) through transparency.

Another of Unilever’s brands, Dove, also exemplifies the power of transparency in its advertising. The company’s Real Beauty campaign eschews model perfection for the physical and emotional beauty of real women. It’s a transparent look at the company and its customers – and a powerful statement from a strong brand.

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