The Cure for Stalled Transformation? Your Brand
This valuable asset can be the most effective catalyst for change.
It’s no secret that many companies struggle with transformation. A recent survey from the Harvard Business Review reports that only 20% of executives believe their efforts are working. While there are complex reasons behind these expensive flameouts, an often-overlooked factor is brand. Leaving brand out of the transformation equation can be a crucial mistake when implementing a business transformation.
Thanks to Prophet’s ongoing research into brand relevance, we’ve seen what happens when businesses get it right. Companies as diverse as Costco, Peloton, LEGO and Apple use the strength of their brand not just to sell more products but as catalysts for change. Brand continually fuels revolutionary growth in every function of the organization.
Brand–is often a company’s most valuable asset – it can drive transformative growth. And when companies fail to weave brand into the entire transformation strategy, they make costly mistakes.
For brand to play a genuinely transformative role, it requires a fusion of an integrated brand and business strategy. Brand becomes accountable for growth and investment both inside and outside of the brand function. Brand strategy doesn’t just follow business decisions, it guides them at the highest levels of the organization. In these companies – the ones most beloved by their customers – brand always has a seat at the table.
Four Requirements for Brand-Powered Transformations
A brand-driven transformation is the intentional use of brand strategy to ignite tremendous change. To reach that level, companies need to make four critical shifts.
Brands must become purpose-led, rather than product-or offer-driven
Organizations must consider the impact they want to have on the world – not just shareholders, but customers, colleagues and the broader community. Companies based on a strategic brand purpose create shared value and resonate with key stakeholders. They know why they exist and the difference they are trying to make in the world. Most importantly, they know how to deliver on those promises.
Thrivent, a financial services company, recently redefined its purpose to become much more than a business that sells insurance policies or investments. Based on the conviction that humanity thrives when people make the most of what they’re given, its brand now stands for helping customers achieve financial clarity. Thrivent believes that money is a tool, not a goal that enables people to fill their lives with meaning and gratitude. And that’s led to massive changes in how the brand shows up for customers, especially in digital offerings.
Thrivent’s shift has opened the aperture of how it can engage customers, propelling growth that isn’t available to the hundreds of competitors that simply sell annuities or mutual funds.
Brand teams must become experiential leaders, not just a communication-oriented function
Messaging to customers alone isn’t enough. To build relevance, companies need to engage audiences through cohesive experiences, including the seamlessness of how a brand integrates products, services, communications and its culture. The most relevant brands create experience innovations that deliver on their positioning, ensuring impact with both employees and consumers. They can flex and change while still standing up for their purpose, promise and principles.
T-Mobile continues to be a favorite example. Customers hated everything about the cell phone industry, and T-Mobile knew it. The weakest player in a growing category, it needed a radical strategy. Working with Prophet, it transformed from an also-ran to the Un-Carrier, helping consumers break free of contracts and credit checks, adding the freedom of unlimited talk, text and data
“Brand strategy doesn’t just follow business decisions, it guides them at the highest levels of the organization.”
T-Mobile became the wireless carrier that didn’t act like one. With then-CEO John Legere as its highly visible trash-talking cheerleader, consumers flocked to its brash branding and the simplicity, fairness and value it provided. Well-orchestrated “rolling thunder” of activation efforts added 1.1 million new customers in the first quarter of the relaunch.
The brand must ignite the passion of employees to embrace and drive change
Businesses built just for customers, with little consideration for employees, struggle. Strong enterprises fuel growth from the inside through culture, capabilities and engagement. They work from the brand’s DNA, constantly articulating the “why” of the transformation to rally colleagues.
When Plantronics, the audio pioneer, acquired Polycom, with its secure video, voice and content solutions, for $2 billion, it needed a new identity to demonstrate its combined might–not just to investors but apprehensive employees. The new brand needed to reflect each legacy company’s heritage, aspirations and passion, while signaling a unified, modern technology product suite. The Poly brand needed a look and feel that conveyed ease-of-use and accessibility with input from top leadership, including teams from mergers and acquisitions, communications and finance.
While the merger came from outside forces, the reinvention – a global communications company that powers meaningful human connection and collaboration – came from within. It gave every employee a mantra to help build this new technology brand, already generating record sales.
Brands must develop cross-functional, full-funnel activation strategy, not just serve as an internal creative team
Instead of simply approving, protecting and managing the brand, it’s time to lay a brand foundation for the entire customer journey. The most relevant companies create signature brand moments in the most fertile opportunity areas.
Nike’s ongoing success in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be a powerful example. While Nike had long led the way among purpose-driven brands, it did the unthinkable in 2018, launching a full-scale marketing campaign starring Colin Kaepernick, perhaps the most polarizing figure in all of sports.
To some, the “Dream Crazy” campaign sounded just plain crazy, sparking boycotts and bonfires of Nike gear. But quickly, it built new brand strength. Moving beyond the campaign, it empowered its many Black athletes – as well as its passionate, young consumer base – to speak out for racial justice. The company’s stock hit new highs, and engagement broke records as it gained market share. It built unparalleled relevance.
It’s this kind of transformation that can only come from brand teams working closely with top leadership. “You can’t be afraid of offending people,” Phil Knight, Nike’s chairman emeritus, told Fast Company. “You can’t try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something, which is ultimately I think why the Kaepernick ad worked.”
A brand-driven transformation goes beyond brand modernization or activation. A brand-led vision spans marketing, customer experience, product innovation, sales and distribution and much more. It embraces culture and technology as it directs cross-functional change. It’s the kind of substantive direction that allows companies to transform while staying true to what they stand for. And it leads to new customers, more revenue and uncommon growth. If your transformation is stalling out, make sure to recalibrate your brand at the center to drive your own success.
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