Monday, July 31, 2006

The Phone Books are Here! The Phone Books are Here!

A must-read for branding geeks and skeptics alike, Business Week's annual look at the Top 100 global brands is now available. As always, the article looks at which brands have gained and lost the most monetary value over the past year.

B to B practitioners will be particularly interested in Intel's drop, but they should also pay attention to the Starbucks story. The latter scored big gains in its brand value by maintaining its near-obsession with producing a consistent "culture"—in other words, promising and delivering a specific and highly-valued experience at every touch. That's the essence of a strong brand, whether consumer or B to B.

Interbrand's formula for calculating brand value is itself worth sharing with those in your company who see the brand as too soft (i.e., not quanitfiable enough) to justify sustained investment. A PDF version of the entire report—which goes beyond the abridged version in BW's Aug 7 print issue—is available here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Speak With One Voice...Unless You're Microsoft

Can't remember what I was watching on TV over the weekend, but I do remember being pounded at every commercial break by the same Microsoft spot. A new employee named Alberto starts his first day at work. He fumbles his way through a series of awkward exchanges and tasks, finally making it to his cubicle. A chat window is open on his monitor, and a co-worker says hello. The kicker is, she's in Prague. Fade out on Alberto keying in his response, and VO of the campaign theme software for the people-ready business.

So far so good.

But then I opened the August Business 2.0 and saw a spread ad for the Microsoft Dynamics software suite. The body copy reference to this sw package as "a line of people-ready business management solutions" is also the only appearance of Microsoft's new campaign theme in this ad.

If "people-ready" is indeed the nut of Microsoft's new B to B campaign, why scream it in broadcast and whisper it in print?

Or am I exposing my inner troglodyte by expecting the big guys to follow a time-tested maxim like speak with one voice?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Few Ways to Bolster Employee Retention

Last week, I homed in on the idea that employee retention efforts should be a strategic initiative distinct from recruitment.

So then, what exactly should an employee retention initiative involve?

You’ve probably heard a thing or two about Southwest Airlines’ corporate culture. The company seems to have nearly perfected a culture that attracts, retains and motivates excellent employees.

The leaders at Southwest understand that building a great culture takes much more than an annual company picnic and an occasional mass greeting from the president. It’s a sustained, multifaceted effort—a lot more than I can get into here. So, for further reading, check out this good overview from the U.S. Department of Commerce about Southwest’s culture-building initiatives.

The name of the game is instilling confidence in your most important workers—confidence that your company is making strategic moves that ultimately benefit them, confidence in their professional and financial future and confidence that they know how to help the company cause.

These are corporate-culture issues that live and die with company leadership. Therefore, building a culture that breeds the confidence and participation of your top talent requires regular reinforcement from the CEO via sustained communications with employees.

One of the most effective ways to do this—although it shouldn’t be the only way—is through a regular internal communications vehicle, which can take many forms. Short or long. Electronic or print. Weekly, monthly or quarterly. To return to the Southwest example, the air carrier publishes a bright, fun and yet strategy-focused employee magazine, LUVlines.

Whatever form your internal communications vehicle takes, it should repeatedly share insights about the challenges of your marketplace, explain your company’s vision for success and drive home how employees can support the strategy. It should be the voice of company leadership, peppered generously with examples of how all employees are participating in the efforts to win whatever game you’re in.

And it should be only one element of a sustained effort to build a culture in which your best and brightest can thrive for many years.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pay Attention to Retention: Marketing to Attract the Talent is Only the First Step to a Strong Workforce

Previously on this blog, we’ve discussed the role of branding in recruiting top talent. Last week, we heard some things that spurred us to revisit the topic.

At a Future 50 Forum—sponsored by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and its Council of Small Business Executives—leaders of some of the region’s fastest growing companies talked about their biggest challenges in today’s and tomorrow’s economy.

Time and again, manufacturing executives and professional services presidents alike cited recruiting and retaining skilled workers as a major worry on their minds. This issue is likely to weigh heavier as more and more Baby Boomers punch out of the workaday pattern. (For further study, there’s a cottage industry of books on this topic.)

Often, “recruitment and retention” get lumped together as one initiative. They’re certainly related and overlapping. But it might be time to think of them as distinct challenges—recruiting as more of an external branding exercise, and retaining as more of an internal communications and cultural issue.

As the Baby Boomers retire, the open jobs they leave behind will seduce many a young, talented worker. Retaining those people in your organization will be just as critical as luring others away from your competitors. To keep the right people on board, you had better pay attention to them.

Do your employees see that your company is headed in a strong, strategic direction? Do they know what they need to do to support the mission? Do they grasp the challenges of the marketplace? Do they understand the strategy behind the moves you’re making? Do they know what’s in it for them? Strategic internal communications help ensure that your employees know the score.

In a future post, we'll talk more about strategic internal communications, including some of the tactics you can use to help build a culture that appeals to your most important people. The more confident your top employees are that your company is making strategic moves that ultimately benefit them, the more they’re reassured about their professional and financial future working for your company. And the more likely they are to stick around.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Deadly Sins of B to B Branding: Death By Description

This post continues a series of entries focusing on the most common missteps we see in branding initiatives in business-to-business enterprises.

In the course of presenting our branding recommendations to a client earlier this week, we talked about the perils of settling for a brand position that merely names the game a company is in. Doing so often results in a brand position that describes rather than differentiates. So how prevalent is this deadly sin in B to B?

In some segments, it's rampant. Consider the following manufacturing industry example I've used in my guest lectures at Marquette University's MBA program. Each company uses its tag line to say what business it's in.

You could make the argument that with the exception of Chiswick, each of the above tag lines does indeed say something about how each company does what it does, and thereby positions the brand.*

You could, I guess. My point to students, though, was that a company misses a big opportunity by positioning its brand based on what the company does rather than on what's uniquely valuable about the company. That's strike one. Strike two? Each brand is positioned in territory that's already occupied by competing players.

The net is, each of these companies has made it harder than it should be for a prospective customer to start the process of determining preference and affinity. As noted in an earlier post, the tag line part of the equation is particularly critical because it announces a company's brand promise. It's also the creative expression of a company's desired brand position.

An October, 2004 study by Marketing Sherpa suggested that 64% of B to B buyers begin learning about potential suppliers by doing a Web search. My guess is, that number has gone up since. Today, prospects are vetting and evaluating your company based on what they see on your Web site. The fact they've found you means they already know what business you're in. If the announcement you make about your brand from the home page on is simply that "we do this," you've left it to the visitor to figure out what's special about you.

Yes, "Death By Description" is hyperbole. From the looks of things, the above companies have built sophisticated, successful operations. My point is simply that all of these companies are missing an opportunity to use effective brand positioning to put distance between themselves and their competitors.


*You may have also noticed that all of these companies brand themselves as "solutions providers." More on this in a future post. For now, suffice it to say that in the Church of B to B Branding & Positioning, this transgression calls for more than a few extra Hail Marys.