Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Any time you have a problem you are in contracted awareness....As you move into a higher level of awareness, solutions will start to emerge." - Deepak Chopra
You can't solve a problem by thinking the same old way. In the end no matter how much brainpower you apply, it is a spiritual exercise. Problem-solving means you get out of yourself, go higher, cross boundaries.

Armed conflict (war) is one of those seemingly unsolvable problems that people keep trying to solve from the inside. The Middle East conflict is just one example. One can view it from the lens of defense, or diplomacy, or development, or even purely PR. 

But as most of us realize, the answer is not going to come from any one individual perspective and it won't come from a selfish striving to be "the winner." Nowadays there really is no such thing - killing only leads to more killing, hatred to more hatred, on and on ending in a vortex that eventually sucks us all down the drain.

Music may seem "trivial" but maybe it's a part of a better answer. Everybody understands it. It goes beyond the brain to the heart. It shows us how we have more in common than what separates us. And large, powerful music brands are uniquely situated to support music that appeals to the inner desire for peace. 

In 2009 Sony/Columbia Records signed Israeli singer Asaf Avidan. His "Reckoning Song," remixed by German DJ Wankelmut, is now #1 on the German charts and as of August 19, 2012 was the most downloaded song on iTunes in Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. There are 16 million views of the various uploads of the song on YouTube.

The lyrics of the song are below. I tried to find an analysis of them online, but couldn't - I guess they're self-explanatory. He is singing about growing up in the aftermath of the Holocaust, confronting the "other side" (Germany), and realizing that things could have been so much different...if only. 

No more tears, my heart is dry
I don't laugh and I don't cry
I don't think about you all the time
But when I do – I wonder why

You have to go out of my door
And leave just like you did before
I know I said that I was sure
But rich men can't imagine poor.

One day baby, we'll be old
Oh baby, we'll be old
And think of all the stories that we could have told

Little me and little you
Kept doing all the things they do
They never really think it through
Like I can never think you're true

Here I go again – the blame
The guilt, the pain, the hurt, the shame
The founding fathers of our plane
That's stuck in heavy clouds of rain.

One day baby, we'll be old
Oh baby, we'll be old
And think of all the stories that we could have told.

Source: LetsSingIt


What the success of this song shows me is that, like my grandfather used to say, "Words spoken from the heart go straight into the heart." Music brands with an international reach have a particular power to bring people together. I hope they continue to do it, as it's not only good business but good for the world.


Monday, August 27, 2012

In a small, nondescript kosher restaurant in Rockville MD, peace.

Cafe Shawreen is certified by the local rabbinic authorities. It is owned by a Muslim woman from Iran, and two people work for her, including an Orthodox rabbi and an African-American woman.

We went in, got our Shwarma and the drank the best lemonade on planet Earth. It was calm and welcoming there. Everybody did their thing, and respected everybody else.

Like "Zohan" said, America is a country where people from every nationality, religion, race and culture can coexist.

If only the entire world could be like this place. Social marketing of retail establishments and products could make it happen.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

In a previous post (www.dannielleblumenthal.com) I tried to provide some indication of the seriousness of the current economic crisis. When you aren't directly affected it can be hard to see, because life seems to go on "as usual."

But something is terribly wrong. And if it gets to a tipping point the economic crisis can easily turn into social breakdown - chaos.

MIND CHANGES

1. Accept that the time for fundamental change has arrived. Stop trying to fit new answers into old paradigms, like political parties.

2. Accept that the well being of all people on the planet is interconnected. There is no Us and Them. Either we are all better off or we are at risk. What this means is the transition to a society where the basic needs of life are easily available at no charge.

3. Accept that there is an Omnipotent Being who gives us life, sustains it, takes it. No atheists in a foxhole as they say.

LOCAL SOCIAL CHANGE

1. Shift power to the individual level. People working alone or together, in small but loosely connected groups, identify and solve problems. This could be through innovation labs, small-group homeschooling, volunteering, etc.

2. Boost the power of small groups - hyper-local government associations - county by county, get people involved in using communal space for the public good.

3. In school, institutionalize self-sufficiency courses from growing your own food to self-defense. This is not to make us paranoid or warlike, but to increase our sense of empowerment and accountability.

4. Incorporate all kinds of volunteering into community life. Find ways to encourage people to be more than just inhabitants of an area - we need neighborhoods with active neighbors who keep an eye out for each other and pitch in during tough times.

NATIONAL CHANGE

1. The federal government can use its network of communicators better. Put us into a working committee tasked with customer response and crisis notifications at the very least. When things fall apart people look to the government for information.

2. The government can encourage the kind of technology innovation that results in feeding, clothing, housing and medically caring for the entire population at no cost. Facilitate the transition to a free and prosperous society.

3. Businesses can participate in the rebranding of commerce to the extent that there is no stigma on "free," but rather the competition for elite status (branding) is between people who all have their basic needs met.

4. The importance of the family and relationships should be embraced with more than just words. Children and the elderly should not be siloed into special places but rather be incorporated into regular community activities, including the workplace, wherever possible.

5. Freedom and responsibility go together. Make laws plain and accessible to the average person, and law enforcement a part of local and community life interlinked with the national and federal levels.

In the end we are all in it together, though we may think that we can escape the hand of fate. If we embrace change bravely, decide to take care of each other and put our faith in G-d, I think we can pull through.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chart from Phil Bartle's Community Empowerment Collective web site

In the United States, right now, we are seeing an economic breakdown that can potentially lead to social breakdown and chaos. Yet other than political finger-pointing, there is a lack of national dialogue in a sustained way about the problem. Everything is not OK, but we as a country maintain the veneer that it is, fueled by ivory-tower debates about the definition of "poor." Consider that:
  • The Financial Edge: According to various statistics posted at FDIC.gov, 43% of American households' spending exceeds income; 42% don't have enough available assets to support themselves for at least three months; and 52% of employees are living "paycheck-to-paycheck." In a survey, 85% of self-identified middle-class Americans say they're worse off than a decade ago. 
  • Joblessness: According to the most recent figures (April 2012), the national unemployment rate is 8.2%.
  • The Housing Edge: The number of people living with someone for financial reasons rose by 13% between 2009-2010, to 6.8 million. The rate of increase is more than 50% between 2005-2010. Additionally, 75% of all households composed of renters living in poverty had "severe housing cost burdens." Data is from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, "State of Homelessness In America 2012." 
  • ForeclosureAccording the Mortgage Bankers Association, via FDIC.gov: 250,000 new families go into foreclosure every three months; 1 in every 200 homes will be foreclosed; and "one child in every classroom in America is at risk of losing his/her home because their parents are unable to pay their mortgage."
  • Homelessness: According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were 636,017 homeless people in America in 2011, a slight decrease (1%) from 2009. The rate of homelessness is 21 per 10,000 people. 
  • Hunger: According to "Hunger in America: 2012 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts," a collection of statistics from various sources, 14.5% of households (1 out of 7) were "food insecure" in 2010. This is the highest number ever recorded. 
  • Lack of Insurance: In the United States, 16.3% of the population, 49.9 million people, are going without health insurance as of 2011 ("Hunger in America").
  • Poverty: In 2010, the poverty rate was 15.1%, and the number of people in poverty in the United States reached 46.9 million - the largest number since they started publishing records 52 years ago. For Hispanics and African-Americans alike, the poverty rate was more than 1 in 4. Additionally, 20.5 million Americans are in "extreme poverty," which means they earn less than $10,000 per year per family of four ("Hunger in America").
When the conditions become too much for people to bear, fundamental social change is bound to happen - whether in a nice way or a less nice way. It would be helpful if we could rely on our traditional social institutions  - government, business, religion, and so on - to facilitate a nice version of change, but this seems unlikely as long as  people are losing trust in them.

Writing at the "Community Empowerment Collective," sociologist Phil Bartle deconstructs the "Big 5" factors associated with poverty: "ignorance, disease, apathy, dishonesty, and dependency." Meaning: We don't know, we're too sick, we don't care, we steal; and we're too used to needing and taking.

Professor Bartle started his website when working in Uganda. But the factors he identifies can easily be translated to our nation. The futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard warned long ago that it is time to wake up and work together to shepherd the planet into the future. She asked then-President Eisenhower: "What is the meaning of our power that is good?"

I don't have the answer, but it's time for all of us to start thinking of solutions.




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The little-known fact about innovating is that you only need a little to get the job done. The rest is hard work and teamwork.

Yet it seems all people want talk about is innovation.

My daughter said to me the other day, "Our generation doesn't respect your generation because we already know technology."

Well, OK. I heard on the news that a 15-year-old developed an early test for pancreatic cancer. I get it.

But the downside of innovation is excessive individualism. There is productivity in following. In admitting that you don't always have a better way but are happy to help the team.

Resume culture, Hollywood movie culture, etc. encourages the innovative, the rebellious, ingenuity. But really most great organizations succeed because a group of basically anonymous people work as one.

This isn't a particularly innovative thought, that we should celebrate teamwork and followership more. But as long as we waste time reinventing a wheel that already works 80 percent well, we are distracting from the substance of work that needs to be done. And that ends up draining our precious limited time and energy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

LinkedIn-logo-mono-icon-official-professional-networking-site-lnkd.in
Photo via Flickr; no endorsement of this blog expressed or implied

Maybe personal branding is egotistical, dehumanizing, or otherwise bad. Still, everybody needs a resume, everybody uses LinkedIn, and it's free.

The platform can be daunting for people who aren't used to it. But you don't have to be a technical wizard to fix up your profile.

Here are the first 5 things to do, when you have about half a day of quiet time:
  1. Professional headline: Describe yourself briefly and uniquely in a way that will make sense to your target audience. Do not put your job title here. Example: "Seasoned Knowledge Management Professional." 
  2. Photo: Use a good close-up photograph of yourself looking happy and businesslike. You should be wearing corporate attire. It does not have to cost you money to get a good photo. You do not have to be a model or a movie star. The key is the genuineness of your facial expression. 
  3. Summary: This is a short bio written in the third person. Start it off with an expanded sentence about your professional headline. Example: "Jane Doe is a seasoned knowledge management professional with more than twenty years of experience in all aspects of the field." Then go on to say what practical benefits you bring to the organization (e.g. teambuilding, eliminating stovepipes, building consensus). Then provide substantive details that prove you are who you say you are - whether it's professional experience, volunteering, publications, blogging, or you name it.
  4. Specialties: In the summary, at the end, include a list of keywords in the summary that clarify to the viewer what specific skills you have. 
  5. Experience: Make sure that all your relevant experience is listed. Take the time to fill out the profile with a description of your duties. This will enable you to use LinkedIn as your resume, literally, either by printing your profile to PDF or using the LinkedIn "Resume Builder" (Google it, link didn't work today) to create their version of a formatted document to share via URL or PDF. Do not feel that your resume only has to include your professed area of expertise. Get everything you've done in there, briefly. You never know what a recruiter is looking for. The point of the professional headline is to highlight your greatest area of skill, not to eliminate you from the running for every potential job.
Do this stuff as a next step. Give yourself more time to tackle it, maybe one item per week. If it's annoying to sit around working on your LinkedIn, remember that your business card is not just something you print on card stock anymore but rather a living, breathing testament to your commitment to the world of work:
  1. Post updates at least twice a week to show that you are reading something related to your field, interacting with others in a professional setting, or contributing in some meaningful way. Doesn't matter if you link it to Twitter or not.
  2. Increase your circle of contacts. They don't have to be your best friends, just people you know, whether you've worked with them in a paid setting, volunteered with them, or even know them in a personal capacity.
  3. Join a professional group. You can also create a professional group. Either way, be part of something related to your professed area of interest, and contribute to conversations. A lot of people join groups and never say anything in them. Remember that your comments become part of your resume and prove your expertise. 
  4. Increase your number of recommendations. This is very difficult, especially if you are shy and averse to self-promotional activity. You can always recommend others. This may or may not prompt them to recommend you. But it shows your appreciation for others who have been helpful to you in your career.
  5. Post a portfolio. The easiest way to do this is to set up a SlideShare account, upload your presentations or documents (such as articles) to it, and then link the SlideShare account to LinkedIn (go into "Settings" then "Applications" and you'll see it - it will take a couple of minutes to find this.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In a blog post at Harvard Business Review that so far has drawn 300+ comments, consultant and author Bill Lee argues that "traditional marketing is dead" based on the following:

  1. Empowered consumers ignore advertising and find products/services on their own
  2. CEOs think CMOs (chief marketing officers) don't understand how business works - e.g. that when you say marketing is a good investment you have to prove it. (Cites a study)
  3. Marketers are unlike customers and don't understand them.
He says instead that we should:
  1. Use social media more, specifically peer networks on social media
  2. Locate customers who influence other potential customers and give them a platform

I agree with Lee's premise but disagree with the conclusions:

  1. There is a difference between marketing and branding that he conveniently disregards. Branding is the holistic act of establishing a unique position that appeals to the customer, that adds value beyond a commodity. That will never, ever go away because "it happens whether we like it or not" as they used to say at The Brand Consultancy.
  2. Social media is inherently organic and any attempt to co-opt it will be viewed with great suspicion - there is huge potential for a backlash
  3. Customers don't need brands to give them a platform - they have one all on their own, and they've established it specifically to escape corporate influence. It's called social media!
The big point of course makes sense, that traditional marketing is out of touch. What we could do to remedy that is to:
  1. Go back to brand-building - and establish literacy as to what this is.
  2. Stop promising meaningful metrics where they're not deliverable.
  3. Focus on internal customers - e.g. employees - treat them well and show them the product is good and they will deliver the brand message.
  4. Listen to what people are saying out there on social media and respond.
Self-promotional posts like this one are not as helpful as objective analysis, but at least it's good for sparking a conversation.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012


This is the paradox of government public affairs: the professionals who work in this field must work to create a positive relationship between the government and taxpayers, yet without resorting to propagandizing.

This seeming dilemma may lead public affairs officers (PAOs) to fall prey to any number of traps. They may avoid mentioning bad news entirely unless forced to by the press. Similarly, they may avoid discussing controversial issues internally just in case the press obtains and distorts their comments. 

Or, they may turn out crisis response documents that are so bland and meaningless that, although they have no value for real-world guidance, they also cannot be damaging if held up one day before the cameras on Capitol Hill. More subtly, they may conduct strategic planning verbally, to avoid leaving a “paper trail”, and in doing so leave important options unexplored.

In my own experience, I have found that public and private sector organisations alike address the paradox by being reluctant to proactively report anything but “good news”, and addressing bad news only when they feel they must. It is as if organisations believe that reporting good news, any good news, automatically creates a good impression of the organization, whereas even acknowledging bad news does the opposite. In fact, I remember one private sector client that fired my employer at the time (albeit temporarily) for merely finding out negative impressions of the company in internal interviews and then refusing to divulge the source of those impressions.

What can organisations do instead? In short, seize the paradox and eliminate it by focusing on transparency: Rather than running in fear from the truth, embrace it, even if it “hurts”. Transparency is itself a paradox that works to a public affairs advantage: by telling the truth, even when the truth looks bad, an organisation builds credibility with its stakeholders.

Here is an example. In January 2006, the New York Times reported that James Hansen, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) top climate scientist, was experiencing pressure to keep silent on his views about global warming (Revkin, 2006). In April 2006, the Washington Post reported that the pressure had spread to other agencies as well, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Interior Department (Eilperin, 2006). Clearly, these reports posed a public affairs crisis—“bad news”—for the agencies named.

NASA handled the crisis most transparently. The deputy assistant administrator for public affairs there told the Times that “we promote openness and we speak with the facts” (Acosta, cited in Revkin, 2006). He then allowed the newspaper to interview a PAO at the Goddard Institute, where Dr. Hansen works. The PAO then spoke freely, making a claim that contradicted the administrator’s assertion. The fact that the administrator specifically gave the PAO dispensation to speak without censorship gave credibility to the agency. Since that time, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin has issued new rules allowing scientists to talk to the media freely, reports the Post, even to express “personal interpretations” (Eilperin, 2006).

What lesson can we learn from this? That transparency is good public service as well as good PR. To quote one NOAA scientist’s comment to the Post, “American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to know what we’re doing” (Thomas Delworth, cited in Eilperin, 2006, last para.). So allow the press to offer both sides of the story, for it enhances credibility to have a third party speak both points of view. When bad news happens, proactively describe what occurred to the public, rather than waiting for the press to bring the story to light. (The exception, of course, is classified or law-enforcement-sensitive information, that cannot be revealed without compromising the agency’s mission.) Further, be equally proactive about conveying meaningful information to the public that underscores how well the organisation is performing its mission.

Transparency is not just good government PR, but good private sector PR as well. As R.P. Reid writes in Waging Public Relations: A Cornerstone of Fourth-Generation Warfare (2002): “Though the truth takes many forms and has many elements, there is no room in media relations for anything but the truth. Lying is not only unacceptable, it is counterproductive. You will be found out. And you will ruin your credibility and your organization's credibility for a long time to follow. Period.” 

References

Eilperin, J. (2006, April 16). Scientists say they're being gagged by Bush: White House monitors their media contacts.  Washington Post.  

Reid, R.P. (2002). Waging public relations: A cornerstone of fourth-generation warfare.  Journal of Information Warfare 1(2): 51 – 65.

Revkin, A. C. (2006, January 29). Climate expert says NASA tried to silence him.  New York Times

Copyright 2006 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
You brand the process. You NEVER brand the person. Branding people offends their humanity. Nobody wants to become like the brands they purchase. What a loss of power.

'Nobody's going to turn ME in to a robot.' And yet - there is no escaping it. To have a strong brand in a service economy, you need human beings to deliver.

How do you get that to happen? Let's take a step back before we answer that.

What makes a brand strong in the first place? If you think about it, a fundamentally paradoxical thing: the consistent personality.

  • Personality is uniquely human. People have personalities.
  • Consistency is artificial. Only a machine can be the same all the time.

Now read this:



PERSONALITY + CONSISTENCY = GREAT BRAND


So you go into, let's say, the Nike store because you will experience a certain "personality." Every single time. 

But it's also nice to know that you can leave the store without any commitment. Leave Nike, go to Reebok. Nike doesn't care. BECAUSE NIKE HAS PERSONALITY, BUT IT'S NOT A REAL PERSON.


And this is EXACTLY why you can't just 'brand people' the way you brand products. Because guess what? 

People do have feelings. Once you have formed a relationship with a person, the person does care if you leave. 

They get angry if you're rude. 

They run away if you smell. 

So how does it make any sense to try and turn a human customer service representative into a computer hologram?


Branding techniques are geared toward humanizing products. But you can't just transfer the same techniques to people. 

Just because you can lend personality to a car, doesn't mean you can freeze a human personality in time and space. Anyway, even if you could, why would you want to? Just like I don't want to become a robot, I don't want to buy things from a robot either. Neither do you, I expect.

So, assuming that you've woken up to the fact that your business is 'brand-driven', what do you want from your people, anyway? And how can you make sure they act in ways that add value to your brand?

Again, let's take a step back before we get to that. Because you are thinking that 'people brands' do exist. And do incredibly well, too. So obviously I've missed a step here.

But you forget - these brands are born, so to speak, of people who have willingly productised themselves. And it is painful to be a brand. How many icons have we watched crash and burn on the altar of their own success? 

Also, how many others would 'just die' to be a brand, if only they could get someone to demand their particular constellation of personality traits? Think of your favourite reality TV show, chock full of people-brand wannabes. Most of them will fail.

So if individuals who WANT to brand themselves have trouble being 'productised', whether they are successful or not, how egotistical are we to think that we can just 'convert' masses of people to a marketing theme? (Yes, let's be honest, it is a marketing theme, not a religion.)

OK, so now to the answer. Or at least a working hypothesis.

To build an organisational brand you have to bring people together and see what happens. You cannot plan. You cannot calculate. You cannot "move the needle." You do not tell them what to do. It's NOT AT ALL like product branding. You live there. You listen. You learn. You respect. You struggle. You wait. You get a sense of what it is they need to do, who they need to be in order to survive. And you subtly, ever so subtly, shift things into gear, using whatever tools you have. And you pray. Because you can study organisations from today until tomorrow. 

The reality is, you really never know how it will turn out.


I think that's why most of the case studies I read seem so phoney. Because really branding people is TOUGH. It's about getting the organisation to work TOGETHER in the face of immense instability, difficulty, even chaos.
Branding people is a little like being a cultural therapist. The key difference however is in the emphasis. Whereas culture looks inward, branding looks around. You want the image inside to be the same as the image outside, transparent, adaptable, compelling, and clear. You are helping people to grow, but you are influencing them to behave in ways that the market will reward.

People really want to belong. They just don't want to be brainwashed. Ever see Star Trek? One of its most powerful alien species is the Borg, which 'assimilates' individual personalities into the 'collective'. Sure it makes you feel like you belong, but at the cost of your own individuality - which is to say your humanity. Numerous episodes, and in fact an entire spin-off, focused on the assimilatee's struggle to escape and become an individual again.

So to make an organisation brand work, you take the focus off of changing people. In fact, it's just the opposite. You WANT THEM TO BE THEMSELVES. And you ask them to help, each in her or his own individual way, to build and support a living brand.

'How do we do that?' They ask. And you say: 'By using our human gifts to develop shared processes, around a meaningful purpose, that makes sense to all of us.'

'What is a brand anyway?' They will ask. 'Who cares? I don't feel like a Coca-Cola.' And you say: 'Our brand is nothing more or less than the way others perceive us. We have a brand already.'

And then you tell them, or better yet SHOW THEM (use a video) what others see when they look at the company. The moment of truth.

'How do we make it better?' They will ask after that. And then you say: 'Help us! Collaborate! Make the brand together!'

You go on to explain that OUR efforts will:

  • establish a set of consistent processes,
  • aimed at a specific purpose,
  • that define, differentiate, and add value to the organisation.

So, the organisation needs to have consistent ways to do things - consistent processes. Any employee can understand that. Having a clear, meaningful system in place makes the organisation more successful, more reputable, more unique, and more valuable. It also makes it easier for employees to know what is expected of them, what behaviours will be rewarded and which will not.


And-robots cannot build an organisation brand. Only people can. Because though any robot can mimic a process, it takes human intelligence to adapt the process as necessary to achieve the corporate purpose effectively.


Finally - the customer service representative who works at the Nike store is most compelling, from the consumer standpoint, when they act like a HUMAN BEING. Not just any human being - but one who understands what 
Nike stands for, believes in it, and helps them to achieve it. 

When the rep really believes, and acts on that belief, then the customer believes too.


(c) 2003 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
Introduction

Brands depend on people to deliver them, especially service brands, where one's impression of the 'product' is often reduced to a telephone conversation with a customer service representative. The people charged with delivering the brand image have to understand it, and have to be fully committed to conveying it as well.


In light of this reality, a sub-discipline called 'internal branding' (I call it 'organizational branding' to incorporate both people - and process-related change) has developed. This sub-discipline aims, in effect, to create an artificial society inhabited by people who act calculatedly, yet seemingly spontaneously, in the best interest of the brand.


Organizational branding is a potentially powerful way to transform a workplace culture so that it is more positive, more focused, and more productive. Yet this strength also makes it a potentially dangerous weapon. An ethics-blind company can easily see such a programme as a justification to control and manipulate employees, rather than as a tool for clarifying how people are expected to behave at work.


Further, although branders have developed a sophisticated theoretical understanding of organizational branding, this does not appear to be well-matched with an equally sophisticated set of techniques for implementation. Yet branding cannot progress without addressing both the ethical and the technical issues associated with organizational work. These can be combined into a single question:


'How can branding create organizational change that benefits the company, its employees, and society at large?'


To answer it, branders would do well to look toward the field of organizational development (OD), which focuses explicitly on both the ethics and the techniques associated with organizational change. Shortly, we will take a brief overview of that field and its potential application to branding in an organizational context. But before we do that, let us first look more closely at the difficulties one encounters when trying to take the brand experts at their word.


Why it's hard to learn anything from organizational brand experts

Brand professionals can typically make a sophisticated argument about why strong brands require support within the organization. They can argue, convincingly, that customers perceptions of the brand are affected by employee behaviors, and that one must therefore shape the corporate culture in ways that encourage brand-committed actions on the part of employees.


And yet, when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of generating culture change, the same people who exhibit a sophisticated understanding of what needs to happen theoretically, start talking in very simplistic ways about what will happen practically. Jumping on their 'magic carpet', hovering over the day-to-day difficulty of the work involved, they share fantastic 'turnaround' advice, which is often based on questionable assumptions.

'Selling the Brand Inside'1 which appeared in the highly respected Harvard Business Review in 2002, is one example of such a gloss. Written by a senior partner and group planning director at Ogilvy & Mather, the article essentially argues that organizational branding is a strategic business tool and offers advice about how to go about this process. It is typical both in the sophistication of its thinking and the impracticality of its advice.


For instance, the title implies that readers will obtain some information about organizational branding. However, the reader quickly sees a number of terms that appear to be used interchangeably with it: advertising, communications, and marketing. More, the author seems to think that external and internal messages are not at all distinctive, but rather are merely mirror images of each other:

"We have found that by applying many of the principles of consumer advertising to internal communications, leaders can guide employees to a better understanding of, and even a passion for, the brand vision...." 

Though the concept may be on target, the mishmash of technical terms leads the reader to be uncertain about whether the author knows exactly what he is talking about.

Another example is the statement that:

"Most people have limited tolerance for change initiatives, and branding and visioning exercises are no exception. But at certain turning points, times when the company is experiencing some fundamental challenge or change, employees are seeking direction and are relatively receptive to these initiatives.....Without a natural turning point, managers seeking to boost the brand internally may need to manufacture this kind of moment, perhaps by launching a new marketing strategy.'

Here again, the thinking is sufficiently advanced that branding is treated as a significant change initiative rather than a cosmetic effort. Yet the practical advice leaves us with a number of thorny issues:

  1. While a manager may indeed need a fundamental challenge or change to happen for employees to be receptive to the brand, how exactly should said manager /manufacture achieve this?
  2. Does anyone genuinely believe that the average manager can manufacture a change so fundamental to the organization that it generates wholesale receptivity to a brand?
  3. Even if they could do such a thing, is such advice really ethical? For example, what if the manager's 'cure' harms the organization more than the disease? Isn't said manager responsible for gauging the consequences before acting?

The author feebly suggests an answer to #1 'perhaps by launching a new marketing strategy,' leading to the following inquiries:


  1. Since when is a marketing strategy equivalent to a brand strategy?
  2. Since when does a fairly routine change like a new marketing strategy represent a fundamental challenge or change to any organization?

Another illustration:


"In the case of employees...You want them to have the brand vision in their minds and to consider whether or not they are supporting the brand in every decision they make. How do you do that? You need to plan and execute a professional branding campaign to introduce and explain the messages and then reinforce them by weaving the brand into the fabric of the company. The messages should be directed at employee 'touchpoints' the day-to-day interactions that influence the way people experience the workplace."

Again, this is useful conceptual material with little practical use. Certainly employees must keep the brand in mind, and behave in ways that support the brand, in order for the brand to produce maximum benefit for the organization. However, it just does not translate into real-world help.


Let us say, for instance, that the organization has authorized the marketing team to 'introduce and explain' key brand messages. Will it also allow the same team to 'reinforce them by weaving the brand into the fabric of the company' (in ways other than posters, wallet cards, short-lived 'reward programs,' and the like)? If, for example, the key idea is 'we are reliable', and a customer service representative observes a failure to keep this promise, how exactly would said representative tell the manager responsible for disseminating this message? And what would said manager even do about it?


Or, let's look at the suggestion that managers should direct their efforts toward 'the day-to-day interactions that influence the way people experience the workplace.' How, exactly, is the branding (or marketing) department supposed to do that effectively? Seems like HR, IT, and other departments would get mighty annoyed if the brand gurus tried to invade their territory and change the tone of their everyday activities.

Even assuming that everyone magically cooperated to make the brand an organizational reality - does this automatically mean employees will 'live' the brand? Unless the employee is socialized to conform without question, this seems highly unlikely.


True, the author tries to anticipate this objection by warning readers about the need to locate and manage 'a subculture of resistance'. However, the issue is not limited to a subculture. It has to do with the bulk of the workforce - adults who have learned to disregard corporate propaganda and who spend much of their time outside of work filtering out consumer marketing propaganda. As Wilson2notes, employees are not sheep, but thinking people who 'may accept, deny, react, reshape, rethink, acquiesce, rebel, or conform and create themselves within constraints imposed on them.' A recent advertisement for IBM reads, in part:

"What Bartleby the Scrivener can teach you about Bob the sales guy. You may remember the 1853 Herman Melville story about a clerk named Bartleby. One day he simply refused to do what was asked of him. 'I would prefer not to,' he replied, to that request and all subsequent ones - thereby confounding his boss and alienating his coworkers. It's the human factor. And it's critical to your success. All the mission statements and whiz-bang new processes in the world won't fly if you don't get Bob the sales guy, Doris in Accounting and everyone else to buy in."3

Further, it seems to me that it is morally wrong to discount employees resistance to branding, if for no other reason than that they are human beings with an emotional investment in the organization. Here we also see how ethical and technical issues go hand-in-hand. Genuinely listening to employee resistance might also help the manager refine the brand's key messages, remove some of them, or even add one that had not previously been thought of, so as to increase employee commitment to the 'final product'.

In summary, 'Selling the Brand Inside', like much writing about organizational branding, is conceptually logical. Yet it makes a series of questionable assumptive leaps and provides advice lacking in practical usefulness. Because of this, it fails to tell us how to make the brand a reality for employees on a day-to-day basis.


Let us now move on to see how organizational development might help.


The case for organizational development

In the previous section, a high-profile article on organizational branding was deconstructed in order to show how useless much publicly available brand advice is. Though some may argue that they possess some proprietary method of achieving results in an ethical manner, I believe that this is not the case, and that organizational branding, as practiced today, fails to accomplish the following key objectives:

  • Generate system wide organizational change that leads employees to consistently behave in ways that support the brand.
  • Address the ethical issues associated with the practice of branding (e.g. the issues raised when organizations develop 'core values' and the like)

Now, if the purpose of organizational branding is to facilitate genuine, long-term, system wide support of the brand by employees, then these weaknesses are more than just problematic. They are deadly. And denial of these weaknesses by the profession - particularly in the form of articles in which branders construct a reality that rings patently false - is irresponsible. For it leads to nothing less than an amoral, superficial sub-discipline that not only cannot do what it promises to do, but probably leaves organizations worse off than they were in the first place.


What is required in order to fix things? Aside from a collective me culpa, we need an approach to organizational branding that:

  • Eliminates the deep-rooted, counterproductive organizational defenses that block any attempts to effect productive change.
  • Addresses the ethical issues associated with the branding effort.
  • Demonstrates, through empirical data, that its conclusions are logical and that its results are tangible.

Organizational development (OD) is just such an approach. Though by no means perfect, this process of 'planned change for the purpose of organizational improvement'
4 explicitly aims to be ethical, to 'facilitate processes by which human beings and human systems live and work together for their mutual benefit and mutual well-being?'5 It is also squarely grounded in 'action research', meaning research that is not theoretical in nature, but directly aimed at producing systemic change.

It is important to note that in OD, ethical aims and technical expertise are fundamentally intertwined. Kurt Lewin, the 'founding father' of the discipline, believed that success in improving group functioning was more than just a 'good idea' but a moral imperative:

'There is no hope for creating a better world without a deeper scientific insight into the function of leadership, or culture, and of the other essentials of group life. Social life will have to be managed much more consciously than before if man shall not destroy man.'6

We can understand Lewin's perspective in the context of his biography - he fled a group of organized killers, the Nazis, in the early 1930s.


Chris Argyris, another prominent thinker in the field, hypothesized that healthy organizations promote healthy employees, and are consequently more productive and therefore more profitable:


"As long as complex organizations use people, it may be possible that they will tend to obtain greater commitment, flexibility, responsibility, and openness and thereby enhance their chances for survival and growth if they strive to create conditions wherein the individual is able to actualize his potential as much as possible."7
OD takes a scientific approach toward changing the entire organization for the better. This goal is accomplished in three distinct ways, per Waclawski and Church8:

  • First, its findings are 'data-driven'. The consultant collects empirical data expressly for the purpose of facilitating change. Findings are not based on guesswork or intuition, and the research is not an academic exercise.
  • Second, OD takes a 'total systems approach'. Work addresses the entire organization simultaneously. A segmented approach is impossible because 'the organization is conceptualized as a 'series of interdependent subsystems' that operate as a collective entity."
  • Third, OD is values-driven. 'The third concept, and in many ways the truly unique element, driving OD theory and practice is the notion that OD is or at least should be a values-driven, humanistically oriented, normative process for change. OD is about helping people have better lives at work'.

Argyris is particularly emphatic about attacking the root cause of organizational problems in order to generate real change. In his view, this root cause is more insidious than any one defensive strategy. It is, in fact, the employees themselves, because of their 'skilled incompetence'.
9 

What he means by this term is that employees routinely adapt to, live within, and perpetuate organizational defenses, even if that means losing the ability to actually do what they were hired to do. (For example, Company X hires a professional PR manager, who is then socialized not to relate the kind of information to the public that a PR person should.) Argyris is noteworthy not only for pointing out this issue, but also for providing specific tools with which to overcome it.10

What does all this mean for branding? Obviously a full discussion of the implications is beyond the scope of this article. However, we can at least begin to think about the kinds of questions an organizational brand effort should incorporate. The following are just a few questions, intended mainly to spark further thinking on this subject:

Who:

  • Who decides what the moral boundaries are in this organization
  • Who 'are the people that control whether the brand is ultimately implemented' will give out useful information
  • Who 'will not tell the truth' is considered 'relevant', 'irrelevant', 'a shining star', 'a troublemaker', etc.
  • Who are this organization's external allies
  • Who are the competitors
  • Who are the cheerleaders within
  • Who are 'the complainers'
  • Who are 'the resigned?

What:

  • What languages do these people speak, literally (for a global company) and figuratively?
  • What is the real problem here 'is it really the brand?
  • What are the key issues confronting the potential brand audience as a group, as subgroups?
  • What motivates people here?
  • What are the key features of this culture?
  • What does success mean to these people, and does that vary by rank?
  • What are the successes, and the crises, it has faced in the past?

Where:

  • Where are the people in this company
  • Where in one place or many places?
  • Where are the real communication channels in this company?
  • Where do decisions get made?
  • Where does power reside here?

When:

  • When have successful changes been made here in the past?
  • When do people get promoted, fired?

Why:

  • Why did this company call for help with branding?
  • Why are they focused on this issue, and not others?
  • Why did they pick me and not somebody else to do this job?

How:
  • How do people feel about being here?
  • How does this organization understand itself? in what terms, using what language?
  • How can meaningful, empirical data be gathered?
  • How can undistorted information be funnelled up the chain of command?

To repeat, this is only a very preliminary list, one that will undoubtedly evolve as others begin to work on integrating these two disciplines in some way.


Limitations of OD

OD is not perfect, nor are its practitioners omnipotent.

First, despite its scientific aspirations, it is widely considered a 'soft' field (as branding is), though that is changing as companies wake up to the fact that poor-quality organizations are poor investments. Also (as in branding), this factor will likely be somewhat mitigated as the field places greater emphasis on quantitative measurement and analysis.

Second, its moral positioning can make OD a tough sell. From an OD point of view, consultants are there to make life better for employees, not only as a means toward improved organizational functioning but because it's the right thing to do. Though I personally am convinced of this approach, not everyone shares this view. People who don't believe that profits and integrity go together, or people who do not have the time or authority to invest in such initiatives, or even people who are uncomfortable dealing with moral issues in the workplace, may reject the moral emphasis inherent in OD.

Regardless of these limitations, however, OD offers practical techniques not currently present in branding. And as I have tried to show in this article, glossing over branding's deficiencies - including ignoring the lessons we could learn from OD - will only lessen its professional credibility.

(c) 2004 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.



Footnotes
  1. Colin Mitchell, "Selling the Brand Inside" Harvard Business Review, pp. 99-105, January 2002
  2. Fiona Wilson, "Organizational Culture and Control" Organizational Behavior, pp. 109-119
  3. Fortune, 29 December 2003
  4. Waclawski and Church, Organization Development: A Data-Driven Approach to Organizational Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002, p. 7
  5. "Organization and Human Systems Development Credo" 1996, www.odnetwork.org
  6. Kurt Lewin, The Complete Social Scientist: A Kurt Lewin Reader, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1999, p. 334, emphasis added
  7. Chris Argyris, "The Integration of the Individual and the Organization" pp. 57-98 in George B. Strother, ed., Social Science Approaches To Business Behavior, 1987 (1962), New York/London: Garland Publishing, p. 76
  8. Waclawski and Church, pp. 12-13
  9. Chris Argyris, 1986. "Skilled Incompetence" Harvard Business Review, September-October, pp. 74-79
  10. See Chris Argyris, Overcoming Organizational Defenses, Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1990

Bibliography

  • Argyris, Chris. 1990. Overcoming Organizational Defenses. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Argyris, Chris. 1987/1962. "The Integration of the Individual and the Organization" pp. 57-98 in George B. Strother, ed., Social Science Approaches To Business Behavior. New York/London: Garland Publishing.
  • Argyris, Chris. 1986. "Skilled Incompetence" Harvard Business Review, September-October, pp. 74-79.
  • Fortune, December 2003.
  • Lewin, Kurt. 1999. The Complete Social Scientist: A Kurt Lewin Reader. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Mitchell, Colin. 2002. Selling the Brand Inside, Harvard Business Review, January, pp. 99-105.
  • Odnetwork.org. 1996. Organization and Human Systems Development Credo.
  • Waclawski, Janine, and Allan H. Church, eds. 2002. Organization Development: A Data-Driven Approach to Organizational Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Wilson, Fiona M. 1999. Organizational Behavior: A Critical Introduction. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.