It should be clear by now that the CEO is the flag bearer not only of the company, but of the brands of that company as well. During the past ten years, it has also become clear that companies that become masterbrands carry the most leverage and firepower into the marketplace when they do battle with competitors.
The following are some suggested questions CEOs can ask of their people to prepare for the development of a masterbrand, and some specific actions they might consider taking to bring the masterbrand to life in their organizations. (The following is based on The Masterbrand Mandate by Lynn B. Upshaw and Earl L. Taylor, John Wiley & Sons, 2000).
Questions To Consider:
- How important is brand building to your company’s overall mission? Do all the key players use the same definition for the term “brand”? Is brand building considered central to the welfare of your organization, or is it seen as one of several important sectors of the business.
- Is it clear what your company-wide masterbrand is all about? What is the “essence” of the masterbrand, your company’s core competencies, values and disciplines? What proprietary benefits does it offer each of your supporter groups? Why is it superior to alternatives, and what does it mean for your entire company to be lived as a single brand? What is the value proposition that underlies your brand community?
- Are marketing and customer service still relegated to functions, departments or groups of “outward-facing” employees, or are they literally wired into every aspect of your transparent organization? Are you using an intranet merely to save paper on company newsletters, or are you actively managing it as the essential tool of masterbrand building that it is, informing and involving employees within the context of the masterbrand value proposition?
- How well are you measuring not only the “trailing indicators” of improved financial performance, but also the cost and time savings created by your use of the Internet? Can you identify—and do you reward—those responsible?
- Are you employing the Internet and other communications technologies only to strengthen one-way or exclusive relationships with selected customers and suppliers? Or, are you (also) creating online “ecosystems” that link you to multiple potential customers and intermediaries?1 Do potential customers actively seek you out, as well as by other organizations that want to partner with you? (Does your better mousetrap catch mice and attract cheese salespersons?)
- Do you still view relations with customers and intermediaries as a “zero sum game” (their gains being your losses), or do you operate within a brand community that collectively creates and equitably distributes value for all members? Are you willing to bend over backwards and turn inside out to serve your customers and other brand community members? Are you using the Internet merely as one more channel to promote “your” proprietary brand or have you begun to create and interactivate a masterbrand that can be owned collectively by a true brand community, whether online or off?
- Do you have an active, explicit commitment to, and strategy for, creating value not only for customers but also for the suppliers and intermediaries who are part of your brand community? Are you as open to converting competitors into allies as you are in beating them at their own (old) game? Have you created an extranet capability that allows you to protect proprietary information behind a sturdy firewall, but still permits allies/competitors to interact productively with the organization? Do all members of your brand community know and live the brand promise that aligns them in their values and actions, allowing them to create value through and for each other?
- What is the quality and frequency of dialogues between employees and customers, and employees and other members of your community, using available online tools? The only situation worse than failing to capitalize on the enormous potential of interactive vehicles is failing to use them to their full potential. What potential brand building channel is not being pursued, or only with limited enthusiasm. What effects are those shortcomings having on the business, both current and potential?
- Is there a communications and operational structure available to support an internal marketing program? Are there existing interdivisional groups that could be employed to encourage the commitment of your employee-partners on the new directions for your masterbrand? Are there communications channels that are open and free-flowing, which could be used to create grass-roots marketing efforts?
- Are individual groups, team, and divisions within your company working toward a brand-oriented goal, or are brand issues low on their priority lists? Do they see the strengthening of the masterbrand as a vital step toward gaining a stronger foothold in the marketplace, or basically someone else’s problem? Do they see the link between how a company is organized and how a brand is “lived” by the company’s people?
- Are the roles and duties of your brand builders clearly delineated within the organization, and do they extend well beyond the marketing teams? Have the terms “brand champion” or “brand coach” ever been spoken in the halls of your company? If so, have they referred only to those responsible for individual product and service brands, and not the company-wide masterbrand? Is it assumed that those individuals must have marketing backgrounds? Does a brand council exist, i.e., an interdisciplinary group of decision-makers from around the company? Are those roles possible to create, or would they generate resistance from others?
- Is the current brand architecture within the company (intentionally or not) promoting cooperation, or less-than-healthy competition? What is the relationship between the company-wide brand and individual product/service brands? Is there a firm, but flexible strategic plan for how these two sets of brand should synergistically work with one another to build total company business? How are decisions made about the role the parent and individual brand should play? How are marketing support funds allocated to each? When a new brand is introduced, what is the process for determining how it will be supported and positioned relative to the overall company-wide brand?
- What information do you have or offer customers that currently appears to give your company a competitive advantage in specific markets? What is the value to your customers of this information? Who “owns” this information and how does it create value for you and your customers? Is it “proprietary” and valuable only if you maintain exclusive ownership (zero sum game), or does its value to you and customers alike grow the more it is used and shared by your brand community and others (including competitors)? How was this information created and what value do you add to this process? In what way(s) has this information “obsoleted” preceding products and services? Who drove this process? How are you viewed by customers, allies and competitors as a result of your role in this process?
Actions To Consider
- If some or all of the above questions ring true, what are the appropriate actions for CEOs and their staffs to consider in order to create the strongest possible masterbrand community? Here are some starting points:
- Appoint a marketing-led, multidiscipline team to accelerate the creation of a working online masterbrand community. It is important that this team be led by marketing so that the needs of the masterbrand remain paramount, and to ensure that the customer’s needs are equally adhered to. This group, if fully endorsed by management and cooperatively supported by others in your company, may also determine how quickly you can move operations online, and which areas of your company should commit first.
- Establish a firm, but realistic timetable for your company to be fully committed to its online business. From backroom ordering and distribution to customer service and relationship building, your company must be online and fully prepared to capitalize on its potential, or fall behind at an exponential rate. Consider what strategic alliances might be useful in constructing a fully robust online community. Gauge the masterbrand ramifications to your business if you were not to fully engage an online model, set next to the risks involved in changing what may be a successful current operating model.
- Launch a full best practices study to determine the degree to which your company is keeping up with the online capabilities of similar companies. It should not take long to discover what other, non-competing, firms are accomplishing online, and how those practices are creating stronger masterbrand companies. If it does not already exist, proclaim yourself the founder of a cross-industry best practices group, and establish formal dialogue with non-competing companies facing similar challenges.
- If your company has successfully created a brand community, search various components of the community to determine which are most likely to respond to fully robust interactive initiatives. Are your distributors willing to invest in online marketing and selling facilities to make your community more efficient? Are your customers willing to go online to expand their information about your products and services, and to participate in brand community-sponsored activities? Sit down with your best thinkers and envision what the ideal brand community would look like if all interactive channels were fully employed, then use that as your target model.
- If your company is not yet at the hub of a healthy online brand community, reach consensus about how augmenting online capabilities could bring your vision to reality. Frequent, relevant communication is at the core of any thriving brand community. Design creative online communications vehicles that could pull your community members together, and help them to become more familiar with your masterbrand, and its constituencies. Interactivating your masterbrand means engaging your customer in a dialogue.
- Allow, encourage and assist customers themselves to create opportunities to interact among themselves and with the suppliers and intermediaries that make up your wider brand community. Don’t just offer customized home pages or “eavesdrop” on prospects who browse your Web site, surreptitiously building up a series of “one-to-one” marketing databases. Similarly, don’t just use traditional market research to target customers in (clay) pigeonholes.
- Assemble one or more cross-functional teams to “reverse engineer” the internal links in your value chain to see how they might be re-assembled and deployed as masterbrand assets. A masterbrand has to be sold on itself before it can sell others and create a brand community. Here are some of the ways you might begin to grow the seed crystals of your transparent organization into a brand.comm.
- Identify all current and potential points of contact between employees and your customers, intermediaries and trade allies. Don’t limit yourself to points of contact related primarily to marketing and sales, fulfillment or customer service. Look for informal and “unofficial” ones, as well.
- Determine the ways these contacts project impressions of your organization—outward to potential customers and intermediaries and inward to employees.
- Select a manageable few such points of contact to assess their potential to become masterbranding leverage points.
- Avoid “digitizing bad habits,” turning a boring internal newsletter or parts catalog into their online equivalents. Brochureware destroys fine minds.
- Analyze the ways customers and others can or could use your extranet and other windows into your transparent organization. Can they see your masterbrand at work and want to join in? Or will they end up merely window shopping? Can they do so without divulging their proprietary information, or learning yours?