Marketing Leadership Toolset #9: Building Core Brand Values – Jerry Kathman

Feb 14, 2013

Vya Staff

Part of the Marketing Organizational Leadership Series

Jerry Kathman is President and Chief Executive Officer of LPK, the largest independent brand design agency in the world, with offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Jerry is the Chair of the Board of the Design Management Institute, and his global experience has provided Fortune 500 companies with insights into both the opportunities and pitfalls of taking a brand beyond national boundaries. Jerry has appeared on CNN and CNBC and has been quoted or published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Brandweek, Design Management Review, Die Welt, and the Hong Kong Economic Times. DocuStar is honored to welcome Jerry’s expert leadership perspective to the DocuStar Marketing Organizational Leadership blog series.

2-14-13_thumbBuying into Branding
“A brand is a promise of an experience,” says Jerry. “Especially for service brands, internal stakeholders are part of defining that experience. Stakeholders at all customer touch points are integral in delivering the brand promise, and there needs to be consistency between what we say we’re going to do and what we actually deliver.” The benefit offered by the brand, says Jerry, needs to match the perception.

Historically, consumer product companies were the ones focused on branding more so than service companies. But today we find that an increasingly diverse set of companies and people in general are accepting the idea of branding. In fact, it is an ever growing part of the vernacular.

“The idea that the people in your business or organization are the brand – for example government, bank, utility or healthcare employees – is something that people would traditionally have railed against, but this is changing,” says Jerry. “Generally, people now accept the idea of branding and this could be at least partly due to the current state of the economy.” During challenging economic times, more people throughout the business understand the urgency of attracting customers. Today, most people understand that brand share, market share and financials are important.

Indeed, branding has gone mainstream.

Defining Core Brand Values
“While branding is now widely accepted, defining the core human values that everyone can line up behind is a lot of work. It requires engaging people during the creation stage, coordinating with multiple stakeholders to define and pre-test the values with your core constituencies,” says Jerry. Despite the effort involved, it is essential to identify your core brand values because the environment and buyer behaviors have changed:

• Modern brands have become so commoditized that it’s harder to differentiate brands based on efficacy or pure product performance.
• Today buyers don’t purchase a brand; they join a brand.
• Buyers purchase the value that the brand represents.
• Buyers purchase because they want to learn more about the ethos of the company.

Making Your Brand Values Connect
But what does it really mean to create a brand with a values-based inspirational purpose? “It’s not just cause marketing. It’s not just supporting breast cancer as a cause. [Your inspirational purpose] has to be something linked to supporting the brand,” says Jerry. He recommends Jim Stengel’s book,Grow, to better understand how to connect a brand to an authentic purpose. In the book, Stengel and his researchers found that the ideals that drive leading brands could be grouped into one of “five fields of fundamental human values”:

1) Eliciting joy

2) Enabling connection

3) Inspiring exploration

4) Evoking pride

5) Impacting society

These are human values that inspire beyond the characteristics the brand is promising. For example, Walmart has gone beyond being known for low costs by making a profound twist in their brand. Their tagline, “Save money. Live better”, directly links their brand to their impact on society.

Inspiring Internally
When your brand promise really makes a human connection, it can be very motivating and empowering to employees. As Jerry points out, “there is pride and honor in working for a brand that has a purpose.”

When your brand provides inspiration internally, the benefits are multifaceted. First of all, recruiting becomes easier. There is not much difference between recruiting a customer versus an employee – thus if your brand is effectively attracting customers, your brand is likely having a positive impact on potential employees. Secondly, inspired employees are highly effective brand ambassadors – it’s likely that the entire workforce is going to encounter a brand user at some point.

Of course, social media has the potential to increase this impact exponentially. Employees are communicating about the brand and external constituents can even end up seeing communications that were intended to be internal. “There needs to be absolute transparency between internal and external communications. If you’re doing a good job managing the brand internally, you’re also influencing what your employees are saying about your brand,” says Jerry.

This can be a challenging time for brands. There is less money in the system and the spend pool is smaller as consumers settle into a new post-recession baseline for spending. Those brands that rise to the top will be those that successfully differentiate themselves with authentic core brand values delivered by an inspired workforce.

Branding Values DOs

1. DO consider the questions Who am I? and What do I do? when defining your branding values.

2. DO identify the core human values you can build your brand around.

3. DO pre-test your core brand values first with your constituencies.

4. DO link your brand to a values-based inspirational purpose to differentiate your product or service.

5. DO communicate why your brand is a good match for your target segments in your brand messaging.

6. DO use rational arguments nested within a creative emotional appeal.

7. DO be completely transparent and authentic in your brand communications.

Branding Values Don’ts

1. Don’t allow inconsistency between what you say you’re going to do versus what you actually deliver (Remember, your brand is the promise of an experience, and you need to deliver against that promise).

2. Don’t disconnect your values-based inspirational purpose from your social media strategy (Become the brand that your customers/constituents want to JOIN).

What is your experience with Building Core Brand Values? Submit a comment below or join the discussion in the LinkedIn group, “Marketing Organizational Leadership.”

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Tags: branding, Marketing Organizational Leadership

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