A new client asked me a good question today. “You talk Kay about helping us find our value promise, but my communications agency is totally focused on our brand platform. What’s what and why does it matter?”
The answer rests in understanding communication challenges.
The internal communication challenge
Employees need a shared and actionable aim that advances the company’s success. It must be actionable so that employees and teams know how to go about their work. The aim must also be shared or else actions by one part of the organization hurt another part’s success, creating distrust and silo-mentality. (These two requirements are why “Grow profits and revenue” as the only aim fails.)
The best internal directive is a value promise. It’s the promise the company makes to its target customers and the basis on which it wants to win business. Internally, it tells everyone the ultimate goal of his or her work. I recently interviewed ten employees of Tasty Catering, a business caterer in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. They each knew their job was to exceed their customers’ most demanding expectations. The entire company’s business practices, including its values, are aligned to deliver just that.
Great companies build annual operating plans to advance their value promise and make it hard for competitors to copy. (To learn more about value promises see Value Promise and Profit Potential, Part One and Value Promise and Profit Potential, Part Two.)
The external communication challenge
The external communication challenge is to grow awareness, consideration, trial and purchases. Clearly the value promise is a key part of this, but effective communications must also be emotional and tell a story. The brand platform captures what’s needed for winning marketing communications.
- The brand promise – which is the value promise discussed above
- The foundation story of the company – how it became what it became – revealing the deeper values of the company
- The brand personality – which captures for example whether a company’s qualities are more like Lexus or a Ford Truck
- The brand essence – a clear list of what the brand is and is not
- The message strategy – target markets, key message and key word in the message, and reasons to believe
The brand platform drives marketing and sales, the two external facing parts of any organization.
Alignment issues are at the core of every business problem
When the brand platform is not backed up by a strong value promise that internal operations are designed to fulfill, ads, brochures, sales reps and web sites make false promises. Marketing communications become spin and customers defect. In addition, the company creates new products and services that fail to support the brand promise, diffusing brand equity.
These problems arise because all too often inside-facing employees have no idea about the basis on which the company is trying to win business. All too often, companies have not defined their value promise, much less their business model. (See Harvard Business Review’s “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?”.)
Another mistake companies make is creating a brand promise that lacks any functional differentiators around which employees can relate how they go about their work. Brands without tangible, functional legs of differentiation easily fall down. Companies that keep changing the brand promise also create havoc when internal operations are forced to follow flavor-of-the-day priorities. While business models must change to remain relevant and differentiated, value promises should evolve, not totally disconnect from the past.
A different set of issues arise when the company has a great business model and a compelling value promise, but fails to communicate it effectively to outside audiences. Awareness rates, consideration rates and attitude towards the brand remain weak, hurting sales and margin growth.
The value of the value promise is that it aligns internal and external communications. At the same time, it aligns internal operations with front-facing marketing and sales. The net result is growth and higher margins.
It sounds so simple. Why do so many companies muck it up?
(Thanks to Scott Cooper of Marketing Engine Group, my colleague in helping companies build their brand equity and discover profitable growth opportunities.)
For insight on business model strategy, read my recently released book, Beyond Price.
Brad Shorr says
Kay, I think you may have answered your own question at the end of your post. “It sounds so simple. Why do so many companies muck it up?”
Could be they muck it up because it’s so simple. Organizations have a way of complicating things (have you looked at the Tax Code lately?) Because of this one of my primary roles as a content strategist is to be a simplifier. And it’s not easy.
The problem of internal- external disconnects that you raise is very important. Branding and marketing today is more transparent than ever. If internal and external values are misaligned in an organization, it just can’t be hidden anymore. With all the social media platforms we have, customers are talking, employees are talking, industry experts are talking. Inconsistencies will be exposed, and I think you are right – those inconsistencies can destroy brands. Public relations must give way to public relationships.
.-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Twitter for B2B Starts with Strategy =-.
Kristin Girvin Redman says
I suspect that folks muck it up for for one or both of these reasons and relates to internal communications more than external communications:
1) It’s so easy to focus on results of the value promise than the actual value promise itself. When companies live the value promise the results are loyalty and financial reward – and those are great things. So great that it becomes really easy to become complacent about the money and the security and lose focus on the value of the work we do and how we do it and why that’s so important to our success. That complacency hijacks our value promise when we least expect it.
2) We aspire to our value promise but we’re not actually there yet. So we as companies need to hone in on the value promise and work like heck until we deliver to get into alignment with the external communications.
Kay Plantes says
I fully agree Kristin. Many companies have used a new brand platform to rally internal troops to deliver. British Air did this very successfully in their last transformation. What is important is that the brand promise captures the essence of truth about the company — around which all will build an even stronger story. I’ve oftentimes told marketing people their most important communication role may be internal.