3 Ways to Mitigate a Brand Implosion

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A brand implosion is when a company or organisation collapses due to poor implementation of brand-based cultures. In fact, we’ve seen a semblance of this recently with Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan coalition. Here are three fundamental approaches to assimilate an organisation with a brand to avoid any potential misalignments.

What an eventful leap year Malaysians are having thus far albeit for all the wrong reasons. Over the last 3 weeks, Malaysia has been fraught by political turbulence which we shall not belabour here. I extended my thoughts here. However, there are some relevant learnings out of this ongoing political saga and I will draw some degree of comparison to it.

Last month, I shared the idea of weaving one’s brand into the very fabric of a company’s culture and that the company’s largest brand advocates are the employees themselves.

If we take the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition as a brand example, this is where they didn’t quite get it right. What they did right as brand advocates was to generate excitement around the brand and promote their thoughtful commitment to it. They also presented a persuasive and convincing argument about the value of the brand. What they didn’t do was to ensure that their individual party members understood the impact of the coalition brand and its positioning on their individual activities. If they had done this well and reinforce it consistently, over time their members would have begun living the brand philosophy, instinctively, naturally, and with an ever-increasing fervour. Instead of defending and protecting the coalition, they became fractious and consequently, imploded.

The same can be said of a company. The companies with strong brand-based cultures have many employees operating out of a “living it” mindset for long periods of time. These companies are good at maintaining those brand-driven behaviours, with careful monitoring and periodic refreshment and reinforcement.

They also had several fundamental pieces in place before getting started:

1. High-Level Commitment.
Leadership buy-in is crucial. The impact of a chief executive’s endorsement for brand-building activities should not be underestimated. If employees think that the executives believe brand building is a priority, they will embrace it as a priority as well.
2. Clearly Articulated Brand Strategy. 
In order for brand assimilation efforts to succeed, it is critical that the company develops a long-term brand strategy that is aligned to the company’s business strategy. This strategy must be a stand-based future position that would allow for the brand to grow over time. This allows the brand to support overall business objectives in order to identify near-term organisational imperatives and, more specifically, to carve out well-defined roles for employees. Having a campaign line isn’t enough. It must be interpreted into an action that is able to deliver value to the brand and business objectives.
3. Companywide Cross-Functional Team. 
The chief executive must utilise such a team to accelerate buy-in of brand concepts and facilitate sell-in of these concepts to the rest of the organisation. If the company is on the precipice of delivering a transformation agenda, these change agents may reside anywhere within the organisation. As such, limiting brand assimilation efforts to only senior level people will reduce your likelihood for success.

A Three-Phased Approach

Despite the temptation to jump directly into the tactical aspects of brand assimilation such as workshops, events, company intranets, newsletters, and the like, the most successful organisations take the time for considerable strategic planning prior to executing their brand assimilation program. 

There are three key phases to a structured brand assimilation program: strategic development, foundation-building, and implementation.

This focuses on setting the strategic direction. Key activities during this phase include defining the scope and objectives of your program and segmenting your company’s internal audience. It is critical that you use this phase to identify the people, processes, systems and other resources that will enable you to achieve your objectives and to anticipate potential roadblocks. At the end of this phase, you should be armed with a detailed roadmap that delineates, by segment, your initial hypotheses around key objectives, messages, vehicles, timing and tracking for your program.

The second phase is where much of the heavy lifting occurs. This is when the appropriate level of brand education for each segment is determined, and “train the trainer” sessions take place among key employees who can serve as potential change agents and leads. By holding a series of brand workshops with these individuals, you are securing buy-in for the initiative and increasing understanding of the brand assimilation initiative and its benefits. These workshops also provide the opportunity to understand what the brand may mean for each employee’s respective area and how the brand can be used to guide behaviour. Based on this discovery, you will then be able to identify key vehicles and develop appropriate materials for a company-wide rollout of your program.

The third and final phase is where the rubber meets the road. This phase is critical in that efforts will now expand beyond the relatively safe haven of the leads and advocates to the larger employee audience. The emphasis is on leveraging the insights gained in the previous two phases to execute key communications materials, events and other supporting experiences that will garner buy-in and change employee behaviour throughout the organisation. 

As with all business and branding initiatives, it is important to be vigilantly recursive – monitor the reaction and response to the program and make adjustments to it as necessary.

How do you know if your programme is successful?

You will know that you have been successful if employees are aware of the new brand initiative, understand “what’s in it for me and the company”, and know how to deliver on the brand promise. Your employees should also understand their role in deepening relationships with clients, have the practical knowledge and tools to excel, and be able to leverage your brand to help overcome business challenges.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Changing behaviour and maintaining those changes requires considerable time, resources, and diligence. A poorly planned or implemented programme may, in fact, be worse than doing nothing at all. An attendee at a recent brand marketing conference related to us that his company’s misguided brand assimilation efforts ultimately created more brand skeptics than advocates. His company held a huge brand kick-off event, but then neglected to support any meaningful implementation programme to employee behaviours or the way business was conducted. 

Employees can make or break a customer’s experience with your brand. Taking a strategic approach to brand assimilation will ensure that your brand-building efforts create deep and lasting relationships with customers.

If I return to my point at the beginning of this article, the PH campaign is a classic example of such a short-sighted effort. They launched a campaign that was designed to elevate customer (the rakyat) expectations of the PH experience. Because PH failed to be clear in their leadership transition, they also failed to inspire or equip their members to deliver on the brand promise conveyed in their manifesto. Ultimately, what could have been a differentiating experience for all Malaysians could not be delivered in the field and arguably denigrated the coalition’s brand.

At COMMUNICATE, we have a long-standing track record of providing robust strategic communication counsel to many multi-national clients (and governments). If you have a need to cultivate the right brand advocacy programme within your organisation and would like for us to share some of the possible challenges and associated resolve in implementing a successful internal brand exercise, hit us up!