Bringing brand strategy to the forefront

April 22, 2013

Inevitably, we brand strategy folks always ask our clients one key question: “You’re at a cocktail party, how would you describe what your company does?” Ironically, when I’m at a cocktail party (which is almost never) the same question results in one of two scenarios.

Scenario A
Stranger: “So, what do you do?
Me: “I’m a brand strategist.”
Stranger: Silence. Followed by, “It was nice to meet you.”

Scenario B
Stranger, “So, what do you do?
Me: “I’m a brand strategist.”
Stranger: “Oh, so like advertising and stuff?”

This is why I’m so excited when I see a brand launch emphasizing the strategic verbal shift of an organization and the more apparent visual (identity and logo) shift. Most recently, ING U.S. is proving to be an excellent case study for how to successfully conduct a strategic brand re-launch, as well as a prime example for bringing brand strategy to the forefront, offering a transparent look at what often occurs “behind the scenes.”

Go to the company’s homepage and you are immediately greeted by, “ING U.S. is on a path to become Voya Financial.”

What grabbed me — and I assume many others — first was the name change. And ING U.S. could have stopped there. They’ve attracted attention, foreshadowed a name change and implied it will be a bit of time before the name change is implemented. Job well done.

Yet, ING U.S. goes much further. In addition to the name change, the company offers the What, When, Why and How of the process. In doing so, ING U.S. opens the kimono not only to its strategic shift, but also to strategic branding overall by offering insight into the large and small details that have so far gone into the process.

Voya Financial was not an idea that a marketing person brainstormed one afternoon and said, “Why not? Sounds good to me.” Rather, “the selection of a new brand for ING U.S. took months of extensive research and testing. We started with a list of 5,230 potential names. After conducting multiple rounds of creative refinement, 390 legal prescreens and testing it in nearly 60 different languages, we believe the new name best reflects our company’s mission, values and personality…”

And how does the name best represent the company’s mission, values and personality? “It reflects momentum and optimism, while bringing to mind a view towards the future…closely aligned with what ING U.S. has always been known for and will continue to be focused on — proactively and optimistically guiding customers on their voyage towards retirement readiness…”

A straightforward paragraph, but one that I’d venture took nearly as long to develop as the name “Voya” itself. We brand strategists most often tell our clients that our work — the brand platform — will never be used externally. It is meant to serve as a guide for marketing, advertising, PR and all who will bring the brand platform to life with their public-facing work.

Yet, we spend months painstakingly searching and testing for the perfect word and the perfect combination of words that clearly, believably, relevantly and distinctly convey what an organization does — and how it does it. We ensure those words align with the organization’s internal culture and processes, and external communications. And ideally, we explain each word to every employee in an effort to build a strong cadre of brand ambassadors able to “live” the brand in their every action.

All that time spent and most often, what the end-user sees is a new name, a new tagline or a new logo.

Rarely does an organization provide such transparent insight into the process, as ING U.S. has. I find it fascinating. I also believe the transparency serves as a key trait of the brand’s personality, building customers’ trust and assurance across all touch points from brand development to asset management. See how that works?

Perhaps at my next cocktail party when questioned about my profession, I’ll say, “You know how ING U.S. became Voya?” That’s what I do.

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