Making Your Mark: How To Build and Maintain a Values-Driven Brand

Throughout the early 1980s, IBM enjoyed marketplace domination, having been viewed as one of American's most admired and best-run corporations. Its balance sheets demonstrated consistent growth in revenue, stock price, net income and number of employees. But history repeatedly has shown that what goes up must come down, and IBM was no exception. By the early '90s, all four metrics on its balance sheets that, a decade earlier, had been pillars of strength, began to show marked declines. By 1994, BusinessWeek reported the company's brand valuation to be -$50 million--a clear sign that whatever had been working previously was most certainly broken. The brand was not being managed smartly, and failing to reverse that trend would lead to big trouble. IBM, though, did manage to rebound, as the company has gone on to become a global leader in innovation and stakeholder engagement, with a brand valuation at $59 billion in 2008. But, especially in the context of a devastated economy, many other organizations are finding themselves in the same position IBM was in 15 years ago: Their brand valuations are at all-time lows, and they must make drastic changes or perish. Fortunately, though, they can take direction from IBM's brand about-face, as well as from other organizations that have turned challenging environments into opportunities for growth. It all comes down to aligning corporate values with the brand to create relationship-driven experiences based on stakeholder loyalty. "Historically, we have focused on values and brand as two separate thoughts," says Lee Green, vice president of Worldwide IBM Brand and Values Experience. "We [needed] to simplify and bring clarity to this discussion. An integrated focus is both logical and powerful." With that, consider the following steps that help facilitate a values-driven brand that can withstand today's turbulent business environment. *Understand what values-driven brands have to offer. Green identifies the following benefits of "being a values-driven brand and activating our values cross-constituency": Developing a values-driven brand stimulates growth and provides competitive differentiation (awareness, preference, desire to do business with); increases brand valuation; helps attract and retain employees; helps attract shareholders and influence analysts; and, helps mitigate risk and inspire trust, in turn making stakeholders more forgiving of missteps. *Identify your organization's specific values and brand attributes. Before successfully aligning values and brand attributes, you have to know what your organization currently has to offer. Robert Stecklow, director of Advertising and Media for the National Football League (NFL), works in an organization with a very different set of brand attributes than a company like IBM, which therefore required a uniquely customized approach to establishing a rock-solid brand essence. "Brand essence is the heart and soul of a brand--a brand's fundamental nature or quality," he says. "The NFL is the premier sports and entertainment brand that brings people together, connecting them socially and emotionally like no other. But how do we harness that passion and emotion to continue to market to fans and build the brand?" To answer this question, Stecklow's team participated in an exercise to identify the NFL's core brand in the eyes of various stakeholders which, ultimately, was defined as "intense, meaningful and unifying." Once you know your own company's specific brand strengths, the journey toward alignment can begin. *Eliminate redundancies. In this vein, Green says, IBM's approach focused on "lowering the center of gravity through increased local decision-making and delegation"--strategies that help reduce redundancies. *Involve all stakeholders in the alignment process. For IBM, Green says, "Our values are manifest through our behaviors and the experiences that all constituencies have at every touch point." Including all of these experiences and behaviors in the values-driven brand-building process, then, required "identifying insights and unarticulated needs," Green says. He describes a phrased procedure that led up to implementation, which included: Understanding: What is the context for change? Observing: A day in the life of the user/client. Conceptualizing: Scenario modeling and identifying best practices. Demonstrating: Developing prototypes, models and pilots. The ultimate manifestation of IBM's value-driven, universally engaging brand experience can be seen in its widely publicized "Jam Sessions," in which different stakeholder groups worldwide are invited to participate in a dynamic exchange of ideas, the best of which are funded and implemented. From July 29-Aug. 1, 2003, IBM hosted a ValuesJam, which was a global conversation about IBM's values that took place in online forums. The level of participation was extraordinary: The site had 1 million views during a 72 hour period, and more than 45,000 IBM employees participated. It's just one of many examples that demonstrate the company's aggressive approach to building and maintaining a values-driven brand that resonates with all stakeholders. For Stecklow, this point in the brand-development process involved very different goals. His team needed to build brand assets and opportunities for its partners, which would hinge largely on marketing activities. The approach: Develop an annual theme, a "strategic concept that sits atop all marketing activities and events," Stecklow says. "It's an expression of the brand, derived from the authenticity, passion and emotion of the game. It serves as a strategic starting point for partners when developing NFL-themed creative, and it gives partners the opportunity to leverage the NFL's brand expression that we support all year long." *Monitor the relationships that develop. Finally, as these relationships between stakeholders and the brand unfold, monitor and nurture their development. Doing so in the digital space is particularly easy, as the very nature of the Web helps visualize connections outside of geographic constraints. Gaston Legorburu, chief creative officer of Sapient Corp., recommends these strategies for monitoring the environment: Identify the location where the relationship develops; Segment enthusiasts; Highlight the right connections; Identify seed locations; and, Try to identify and impact the speed at which messages travel. Ultimately, keeping your brand viable is a matter of forging emotional connections. PRN The Brand Relationship Trifecta In a time when anxiety and emotions are running high for internal and external stakeholders alike, a values-driven brand is made even more resonant when it establishes emotional connections with its audiences. This creates an overall brand experience based on loyalty, but it's important to note that not all brand relationships are the same. According to Gaston Legorburu, chief creative officer for Sapient Corporation, executives in his organization "think in terms of three types of brand relationships--bought, owned and earned--where experiences are designed across all three." Based on this model, he says, the consumer lives at the intersection of the three types. Below is how he describes the breakdown of each: Bought: Awareness and outreach Distribution points for content and assets Conversation "fire starters" Relationship triggers "Fuel injection" for social activation Owned: Branded destination types Owned content Partner sites and landing pages Earned: Validation by touch point Consumer generated Co-created Conversations Social networks

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