Is Your Brand Vision Realistic?
Look for Proof Points and Imperatives
What does a winning brand vision look like? As I noted in a recent post, the brand vision should reflect and support the business strategy, differentiate from competitors, resonate with customers, energize and inspire employees and partners, adapt to different markets and precipitate a gush of ideas for marketing programs.
Creating a brand vision that meets these requirements is a great start to success. However, the brand vision implies a promise to customers and a commitment by the organization. It cannot be an exercise in wishful thinking but, rather, needs to have substance behind it.
Is your vision really feasible given organizational limitations, resource demands and competitive dynamics? The answer comes from an analysis of proof points and strategic imperatives.
Proof points come from existing capabilities and programs that enable the organization to deliver the promise of each brand vision element and its associated value proposition. IKEA supports its low prices with deep design expertise and functional products. Tesla supports its category changing mileage range with battery knowledge and capability. Dove supports its product expansion strategy with its moisturizer image and branded differentiators such as the “weightless moisturizer” shampoos. Patagonia supports its environmental credentials with its heritage values and its programs such as the “Common Thread” effort.
Proof points can be visible, or they can exist behind the scenes. The visible proof points behind Nordstrom’s claim of outstanding personal service are its return policy and its empowered staff. The employee compensation system, together with hiring and training programs, are proof points the customer doesn't see.
Proof points are to be leveraged, but if they are weak or missing altogether a strategic imperative is needed. A strategic imperative is a strategic investment in assets, skills, programs or people. It’s essential if the customer promise is to be delivered. But delivering on a strategic imperative might require significant investment or a change in culture.
Consider the following: For a regional bank brand that aspires to have a comprehensive customer relationship, a strategic imperative might be to equip each customer contact person with access to all of the customer’s accounts with the bank. For a premium audio equipment brand that aspires to be a technological leader, strategic imperatives might include an expanded R&D program and improved manufacturing quality. For a value sub-brand for a household cleaning product, a strategic imperative might be to develop a cost culture.
The strategic imperative represents a reality check, because it makes the critical “must-do” investments visible and thus stimulates an assessment as to the feasibility of the brand strategy. Are the investment resources available? Is the commitment from the organization really there? Is the organization capable of responding to the strategic imperative? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then the organization is unable or unwilling to deliver behind the brand promise. The promise will then become an empty advertising slogan. At best, it will be a waste of resources and at worst it will create a brand liability instead of a brand asset.
For example, if the regional bank is not willing to invest the tens of millions of dollars necessary to create the database needed to allow appropriate customer interaction, then the “relationship bank” concept will need to be rethought. If the audio components firm is not willing to create innovative products and improve manufacturing quality, a high-end leader brand vision may be doomed. If the household cleaning product manufacturer is not willing or able to create a sub-unit with a real cost culture, then the value market may be a recipe for failure.
The Haas School of Business is a good example of an organization that recognized the strategic imperatives they needed to address if they wanted to stand out as the innovation school where faculty and students “challenge the status quo.” The curriculum, the faculty, the research programs, the alumni outreach and the admission process were all adjusted to make the school realize the vision.
The best brand vision won’t win. The brand vision that actually gets implemented will.
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