I am fortunate to live and work in Portland, Oregon, one of the “friendliest” cities in the country according to any number of surveys and polls. (It also helps that Portland beat New York, San Francisco and Chicago to be named the best food city in America by Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.)
Brand Strategy Portland Style
When it comes to brand strategy Portland style, I’ve found that projects are characterized by a general “niceness” that mirrors the personality of not only Portland but also the entire Pacific Northwest. Brand strategy projects are a chance to listen to customers’ voices and to gather input from employees and other key stakeholders to make sure the brand is capable of delivering on the promises that it makes.
Case Example: Working with an insurance carrier in Seattle, I conducted nearly 50 in-person interviews with executives, employees, and independent insurance agents to understand the history of the company’s century-old brand and to gather insight and input to help keep it fresh and to accommodate new lines of business. In another instance, I worked with the board members of a state trade association to develop an in-depth survey of several hundred association members—the results of which led to a major repositioning of the brand.
As important as it is to give people a voice in the input-gathering stage, it’s not practical to give everyone a chance in setting the brand’s overall strategic direction. Think about hosting a dinner party for 35 guests. You might ask everyone what their favorite dish or recipe is, but you wouldn’t invite them all into your kitchen to help prepare the meal. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Too many decision makers water down the brand.
I’ve seen the outcome firsthand. Companies make significant investments in brand strategy projects, hiring experienced consultants and dedicating weeks (or months) to research. They spend nearly as much time analyzing the results and refining the recommendations—only to put things “out to committee” before moving ahead with any changes. In the end, nothing happens. Things stall. Brands stagnate. Customers and employees lose motivation.
Why? Because all branding is emotional. We all have some degree of emotional attachment to brands, especially the ones we work for or represent. But as a leader, the question to ask isn’t “Will everybody like it?” Rather, the question should be “Does the brand build the business (and vice-versa)?” If you don’t have a leader who understands this and can make it clear to the rest of the organization, you have an organization that stays forever stuck.
Brands Need Leaders
Strong brands need strong leaders. If Richard Branson had opened everything up to committee, the ‘Virgin’ brand identity would have never taken flight.
Gather feedback, involve key stakeholders, make decisions—and implement change. As a business leader, you have an overall vision that rest of the organization does not have. As a brand champion, you have the credibility and respect to give employees the training and tools they need to be ambassadors of change.