Managing for Disruption - Lessons in Building Brand Clarity

March 18, 2016

Disruption and innovation are the mantras of the day. This is not just a management fad. These have become cornerstones of competitiveness. Technology—in particular the digitization of the enterprise—is having a profound impact on today’s businesses. It is accelerating market shifts, enabling the creation of new business models.

That’s catching many companies off guard.

Increasingly, forward-thinking companies are redefining themselves to remain relevant. They’re focusing on their core, and shaking up the organization to allow it to evolve organically. That is what is enabling these companies to thrive in the face of rapid technological change. By breaking free of old paradigms, they gain clarity of purpose and can better understand their path to the future.

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, summed it up nicely in a recent interview, “A company like GE has to be all about change. It has to be all about picking what’s next, getting the company focused, making the company accountable.” Immelt goes on to elaborate on a critical point, “What we’ve tried to do is narrow our focus as a company, to be only those things that have significant core competency. Being only as broad as you are deep is the way that you have to think about running your company today.”

The journey that GE has signed up for is an uncomfortable one. Change is always messy and unpredictable, requiring new ways of thinking and doing. Distilling the company and all it represents down to core ideas is no small task.

How Can A Brand Enable Transformation?

Today’s companies need a ‘True North’ to guide them as they evolve—a platform to articulate a vision for the future, and a roadmap to achieve defined goals. For marketers, that means reaching more broadly across the company to help coordinate activities, and designing tools that can ready an organization for the changes that lie ahead.

The brand is one of the most powerful assets marketers have to help the company drive change, because it can enhance understanding of the company’s scope, differentiators, target demographic and core competencies. That insight allows a company’s leaders and employees to target challenges, discover new business opportunities introduced by disruptive technologies, and take more directed action to effect real and lasting change. To be effective in this role, however, the brand must have a clear definition and purpose.

While brand clarity is crucial to success, it cannot exist in a vacuum. It is inextricably tied to business strategy and the environment. Before redefining the brand to reflect the company’s new focus, leaders must step back, study the world around it, and craft a solid business strategy on which an evolved brand can be built. By doing so, the company will be better equipped to make the critical business decisions that lie ahead.

Companies that fail to proactively develop their business strategy are more vulnerable to shifts in market dynamics and may find themselves blindsided by new competitors. Operating on outdated business strategies, they become irrelevant. A case in point is Kodak. Despite being the inventor of digital photography and driving most of the early innovations, Kodak failed to capitalize on new disruptive technology and lost relevance in the marketplace.

According to Tenet’s CoreBrand Index, Kodak still has a fairly solid brand, which is something of a surprise. On the other hand, it’s hard to erase such an iconic brand. In our collective consciousness, Kodak is forever tied to our most deeply held and emotional moments—photographs.

SEE ALSO: No Brand Is Safe in the “Age of Disruption”

While a strong brand like Kodak can insulate a company from a few bad decisions, it can only do so much to save a failed business strategy. In hindsight, it is easy to see that the film business had strategic control of the company and that everything else, including robust digital imaging assets, were ancillary activities that were not properly leveraged. Even with a late start, Kodak had the means to disrupt its own business and save itself. And, they had the brand foundation to do it. Unfortunately, Kodak did not have the leadership or the strategy needed to make the shift.

Read the full article on Branding Magazine.

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