Telling Your Brand Story It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Are

July 17, 2015

One of our firm beliefs here at Tenet is that the strongest brands speak to customer outcomes rather than what a company actually does. At a conference sponsored by Fortune magazine on July 15, 2015, Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris echoed this view when he said “we’re a science company, not a chemical company” in the context of reinventing the brand.

This focus on what the company enables its clients to do is a key part of the brand story we’ve been helping IBM tell so successfully for many years. At the turn of the 21st century, IBM was undeniably all about hardware, software and services. But as time passed, the company shifted the discussion toward the end result, and the offerings became more of a whisper than a shout.

This fresh approach came to full fruition with the highly successful Smarter Planet initiative. It continues today, with CEO Ginni Rometty declaring that “Big Data is the world’s natural resource for the next century.” IBM has successfully made the transition from technology vendor to a smart company that finds answers.

A similar story has played out at other leading brands. Apple is one of the best examples. When Steve Jobs returned to take the helm, his key insight was that Apple is not truly a technology company; rather, it is a lifestyle company. As with IBM, the technology is the means to an end. Recall that just before Jobs came back, Apple was mired in an unproductive “chip war” with PC makers, trying to differentiate based on technology. Centering the brand on its products wasn’t working.

One of the first killer offerings under Jobs was the iPod. At the time, it was easy to overlook the fact that what made the iPod a game-changer wasn’t the device: It was the ecosystem that Apple built around it. iTunes fundamentally changed the way people think about content and how it fits into their lives, and there’s been no turning back ever since.

IBM, Apple, and now Dow, all reached a critical conclusion: that in an era of maturing technology, the widget doesn’t really matter as much as it once did. What you can do with the widget does. That’s a powerful lesson indeed.

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