January 13, 2010

Why branding strategy and change management are inseparable

Happy 2010! I wish you all the best, health, success, and prosperity this year and beyond.

I’ve been quiet over the past few weeks mostly because of the holidays, but also because I’ve been insanely busy with strategic branding projects for two clients. People think of a brand in terms of a name and a logo – generally a visual look along with a name that’s recognizable, like Coca Cola or IBM. But Coca Cola and IBM didn’t become what they are from their names or logos.

Here’s how I define a brand: an identity. And an identity is a lot more than a name and a logo. It’s how the company operates, how it’s perceived, how it sees itself. It’s an all encompassing exclusive idea that is embodied in all the offerings and communications, and has the power to change perception and preference. It switches rational analysis to an immediate emotional reaction.

Case in point I: Apple. An all encompassing brand, provoking immediate emotional reactions.
Case in point II: Enron. An all encompassing brand, provoking immediate emotional reactions.

See how powerful a brand is? (yes, a brand can be negative – remember, it’s an identity)

In order to strategically brand (or rebrand) a company, i.e., discovering its identity, three criteria need to be examined:

1) Where is the company at?
2) Where does it need to be?
3) How is it going to get there?

The reason for the breakdown is that the business world is non-static: companies change, product offerings evolve, executives (and therefore their strengths) move around, new markets develop, old markets get commoditized. And sometimes in a short amount of time, a company can find itself in the wrong space in the market with little customer traction and downward revenues.

Where is the company at?

This is probably one of the more difficult exercises for companies to perform (I compare it to therapy). It involves taking a deep look at your strengths and weaknesses in the product line, the service offering, the staff, and the operations to answer the question: who are we and what is our purpose? How an organization identified itself, say, 5 years ago, can be drastically different from its current position. And because of the dynamics I mentioned, this exercise often uncovers surprises along the way (that shouldn’t really surprise anyone).

Where does the company need to be?

This involves taking the binoculars and taking a far and wide look at the market and where the company needs to be. Two major mistakes are made in this exercise:

1) Going after a busy space with a lot of competition (if they’re all selling red balloons, we should be doing the same). This can be the topic of several blogs on its own, but the idea is to move into an empty space: less competition = more money.

2) Not moving far enough from the current position. It’s easy to stick around where you are, but if where you are is such a great space, why aren’t you making money? This takes a lot of guts and ambition, but sometimes where the company needs to be is far away from its current position. As long as the expectations are reasonable and realistic, it’s best to be honest about where the company needs to be regardless of how hard it’ll be to get there.

How is the company going to get there?

Believe it or not, this falls into place faster than most people expect. Once the picture is clear as to where the company is and where it needs to be, the actions that need to be taken become very clear, very fast. This is where change management comes into play: shuffling the staff, redoing the product line, repositioning the company, and communicating internally and externally. This is an emotional process that I’ve written about it in the past, but it is very rewarding with the right tools and processes in place.

The visual identity, corporate messaging, product naming, and a host of other activities that are typically considered “branding” are the result of the changes that occur as the company defines its identity and its place in the world.

This is a scratch on the surface for branding/rebranding companies – there’s so much more that comes into play which makes our jobs more interesting and rewarding. But I want to leave you with this: if someone tells you they are a brand strategist, the first thing you should find out is how much they know about change management. It’ll save you a lot of headache down the line.


  1. Kat - I'm there with you! This is what I want. Looking forward to our meeting on Wednesday.

  2. Thanks for sharing this useful info. Keep updating same way.
    Regards, AshishChange Management