In the latest in a series of extracts from his new book, 'Brand New: The Shape of Brands to Come’ (coming out 7 April 2014) Wally talks about the role of the corporate brand in a dynamic, ever-changing world:
What Does the Corporation Stand For?
Montesquieu, or some other clever person, said: if you want to stay in the same place, you have to keep changing.
It is perfectly possible to sustain the core idea of the brand over generations, provided that you keep adapting your product range, the way you look, the way you talk, how you sell, where you sell and the way you act, to the way the world around you is changing. And the world is changing fast. The world is interested in, and sceptical about, the company. The world is poking its nose in.
On top of that, as the world is changing, so the organization is changing too. As it becomes more successful, gets bigger, gobbles up competitors, suppliers and customers in its home country, goes global, moves into allied fields, changes chief executives and other senior people, there’s always the likelihood that somewhere or other the original ideas that drove the company will get lost in the machine. New priorities and new competitors emerge; technology moves on; financial imperatives become overwhelming; and, after a bit, sometimes the organization doesn’t know what it’s there for anymore.
It doesn’t really know what it is and it may not know what it’s trying to do except, if it’s in bad shape, survive, and, if it’s in good shape, keep winning. That’s just when it needs to stop and think and try to find out, once again, what it really is and then act it out authentically for the whole world to see.
The company is porous: the inside and the outside world continually impact on each other. But let’s start with the inside. There has to be a flow of clear and distinct messages, all emanating from or endorsed by top management, which continuously underline what the corporation is there for, how it should behave, how it should communicate. Every part of the organization has to absorb this and act it out.
The core of all this – the brand essence – must be simple and clear; enshrining who you are, what you stand for and what you are trying to achieve, in a short, pithy sentence or two, or even a word or phrase which can then be interpreted and elaborated for every audience and every situation.
The danger, of course, is that writing a sentence or phrase of this kind – a sort of wish list – can too readily degenerate into banal platitudes, which bear no relationship to the reality, and are more or less identical to the kind of things all the competitors are saying. That’s why most mission, vision and value statements are so interchangeably mediocre. You have to say something that’s simple and recognizably true and doesn’t raise a hollow laugh.
So how does the company get it right? The one thing to remember is that every organization somewhere or other is unique. It may be 90% identical to the competitor in terms of rational factors – price, quality and service – but 10% is different and that’s the bit to identify, understand and present; that’s the bit which is encapsulated in the core idea, in the brand platform; and that’s the bit that has to be emphasized and made attractive in the visual and verbal presentation of the organization to all audiences, all the time.
Sometimes it’s something the corporation isn’t conscious of; sometimes it’s so obvious it screams out. And it’s unique.
In the 21st century the world is changing again and the corporation is painfully learning that it has to change with it. So if it is to continue to be successful, it has to project a clear, attractive, unique and authentic personality – and it has to be aligned in everything it does. The corporate brand matters today more than ever.
This extract is from Wally Olins ‘Brand New’ book, published by Thames & Hudson on the 7th of April 2014. Pre-order your copy here.