Employees have to “get” your brand message first

Internal branding is a hot topic these days, probably because branding experts have discovered that if employees don’t understand and support the brand message, it’s doubtful anyone else will either. And more than just understanding and supporting, employees have to bring the brand promise to life. Either they do or they don’t–your branding program will live or die with this reality.

Internal branding is even more important for business-to-business companies because customer relationships tend to be deeper and have more touchpoints. It’s not unusual for b-to-b customers to have regular contact with sales, customer service, shipping, R&D, senior management, even the safety or training departments. Many opportunities exist to build a convincing brand personality, or one that’s full of holes.

Getting employees onboard starts with recruiting the right people in the first place. Some branding consultants suggest that marketing and human resources are jointly responsible in this regard. If you have taken the time and effort to paint a detailed picture of how employees are supposed to behave, it’s much easier to find new employees capable of doing that.

The next step is to create an action-inducing brand strategy. Most people want too much. They want the mission statement, and You can’t be the mission statement. Most mission statements promise all things to all people and that just isn’t gonna happen.

If you have a simple, action-yielding brand strategy, the next big trick is to align your brand personality with corporate culture. There are no quick-fix solutions here; this is a long-term objective that requires top-down and bottom-up executions.

Top-down, of course, starts at the very top. The CEO is (or should be) the No. 1 brand champion in any organization. Some companies take it a step further and form an executive brand council that includes all of the senior managers. If rank-and-file employees see senior managers only paying lip service to brand initiatives, they will too.

Your internal branding program should reward employees for brand-supporting behaviors. Employee recognition in the form of awards or mentions in newsletters and Web site postings is always good. Compensation and profit-sharing programs that provide monetary benefits for walking the talk are even better.

The other side of this coin is to root out behaviors that are inconsistent with core branding values. Some companies have executive coaching programs to help managers understand how their individual management styles might interfere with brand-focused employee performance. It helps to add brand-related metrics to employee evaluation programs, too.

Bottom-up tactics begin with new employee orientation. There’s no better time to start painting the picture of what desirable performance looks like. You might show a video of current employees talking about the brand image and why it makes sense for the company.

This overlaps with another favorite strategy involving the power of storytelling. Consider starting a tradition of encouraging employees to tell brand-related stories at staff meetings and regional or annual meetings, as well as through postings on intranet sites and in printed newsletters. This forum could easily be linked to modest cash bonuses or special award programs using brand symbology. A variation of storytelling is to regularly publish success stories that show the relevance of brand-focused behavior.

Somewhere in the middle (between top-down and bottom-up) is an internal brand-building strategy to work with human resources to identify change agents in each department for special training. Change agents are people who are respected by others in the department and can influence their behavior by words and deeds. When these people gain extra insight through in-depth training, the resulting daily personification of the brand personality will most likely rub off on many of their co-workers.

None of these internal branding strategies are magic wands, and you can’t expect overnight results. Several of the case study subjects in my new book, The Case For B2B Branding, spent more than a year working on internal branding issues before they went public with external branding programs, and that was just to lay the foundation. Internal branding is an ongoing journey, just like external branding.

That brings up another subject: loss of momentum. New branding programs are often launched with great fanfare, only to be forgotten six months later. Even programs that are consistently executed over a period of years might experience problems. Things are humming along, and suddenly you hit the wall. Enthusiasm wanes. Interest shifts. Results start to decline.

It’s time to inject some new excitement into the program. You should budget for freshening activities and events each year. Just because your external branding program is starting to bear fruit is not a sign you can afford to lose focus on your internal brand champions. They will bring the program down in a hurry if their behaviors change.

All the more reason to take frequent measures of employee branding attitudes and related actions. Look for situations in which employee behaviors are inconsistent with brand values. Try to assess the gap between brand promise and people delivery.

The ultimate goal in internal branding is called brand operationalization, or bringing the brand to life. You’re seeking to align brand personality, company values and corporate culture. Not an easy task, to be sure.

But companies that successfully accomplish this are the ones everyone wants to work for. Morale is higher. Turnover is reduced. Employees are more productive because they know what’s expected of them. It’s definitely a goal worth striving for.

Before you launch your branding program to external targets, you need to make sure your internal ones are onboard. It’s a critical first step in any branding initiative.

One ad might be enough if you do it right

I recently discovered a delightful and somewhat rare book called The Book Of Gossage in one of the used bookstores I like to frequent. I didn’t realize what a find this was until I went online to order another one for a friend and found only two copies, one for $175 and one for $200. (This is one of those occasions when a book hound like me gets positively giddy. Luckily, I never mentioned to my friend I was planning to send him a copy.)

At any rate, The Book Of Gossage is about the life and times of San Francisco ad legend Howard Luck Gossage, who practiced his trade in the ’50s and ’60s out of a restored firehouse on Pacific Avenue. Some of you may remember Gossage as the man who came up with the Great Paper Airplane contest to promote Scientific American magazine, or the kangaroo giveaway for Qantas Airline.

We can also thank Gossage for recruiting the dry wit of comedian Stan Freeberg to the world of advertising, producing wildly successful campaigns for clients like Contadina tomato paste (“Who put eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can? You know who. You know who.” After an awkward silence, the announcer would finally give the client’s name at the very end, just in case you didn’t know.)

Gossage was also ahead of his time on the subject of media commissions. His policy was to rebate all commissions to his clients because he worked on retainer. I’ve always liked retainers because they put you “on the team” and remove the necessity of selling additional media buys or projects that might not be necessary. If you want objectivity, why put your agency in the position of having to sell you things to make enough money to provide an adequate staff to handle your account?

Last month I wrote about the importance of stickiness in advertising. Gossage’s ads were always sticky because he liked to use coupons. Sometimes the stuff he gave away had no value whatsoever, like the “shirtkerchief” for Eagle Shirtmakers, which was merely a way to demonstrate their quality fabrics and stitching. Or the free “Pink Air” coupon for Fina gasoline, which was a total hoax built on the idea that since everything else at a Fina station had already been perfected with additives, making the air that goes in tires pink was the only additional improvement they could think of.

Every time Howard Gossage ran an ad with a tiny coupon in the lower right corner, thousands of people would cut it out, put it in an envelope with a stamp and mail it in. This idea of involving the reader in the message was one of Gossage’s primary contributions to our craft, and sadly, it appears to have faded from the landscape.

The Book Of Gossage includes another book called Is There Any Hope For Advertising?, which consists of many of his speeches to ad groups. It was published by the University of Illinois Press, posthumously, in 1986. (Gossage died in 1969 of leukemia, a disease he said his doctor described as “fatal, but not serious.”) This book-within-a-book describes many of his unique views on the nature and state of advertising, which Gossage obviously felt was badly in need of improvement.

One of his more salient observations had to do with the demise of our “free press.” Gossage’s point was that we lost freedom of the press at precisely the same moment that newspaper and magazine publishers quit raising their subscription prices to cover the cost of publication. When they decided that subscription costs only needed to cover a portion of the total expenses, with advertising revenue making up the difference, the decision about whether that publication was worth publishing was taken from the reader and transferred to the advertiser.

Even more disturbing is the idea that many publications have folded in recent years, not because the readers felt the publications weren’t worthwhile, but because advertisers didn’t like them as advertising vehicles. If readers had been accustomed to paying the full cost of production, those publications might still be around.
As advertisers assumed a more important role in determining which publications were worthy of ad support, many readers decided to take their eyeballs elsewhere. Gossage noted that while advertising was still like shooting fish in a barrel, “there is some evidence that the fish don’t hold still as well as they used to and they are developing armor plate.” Sounds like the dilemma of television advertising today, doesn’t it?

It bothered Howard Gossage a lot that many advertisers were solving this problem by throwing huge sums of “big stick” media money at it. His favorite phrase was, “using a billion-dollar hammer to pound a 10-cent thumbtack.”

Gossage asked us to consider how often you need to read a book, a news story or see a movie or play. He joked, “If it is interesting, once is enough; if it is dull, once is plenty.”

So when he created print ads, he often did it with the notion that you were going to read each and every ad, and get the intended message without needing to run that particular ad again. One famous low-budget campaign he is known for was a series of ads for the Whiskey Distillers of Ireland in which he ended each ad in mid-sentence with copy picking up right where it left off the next week.

This is revolutionary stuff to a b-to-b guy like me. My concern has always been about how many times we can run an ad before response drops off. The problem with this, of course, is that most b-to-b ads are puffy, self-absorbed exercises in chest-thumping.

Maybe if we started thinking about ways to involve our readers and viewers in the message, once would be enough.

Be sure to make your ads sticky

In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes three rules of epidemics–three things that cause minor curiosities to become major trends. One of these is called the “stickiness” factor.
Stickiness is what causes messages to be interesting and memorable. I’m reasonably sure most b-to-b advertisers don’t spend much time thinking about stickiness as they prepare their trade magazine ads because most trade ads are neither interesting nor memorable.

To illustrate his point about stickiness, Gladwell tells the story from the 1970s about legendary direct marketer Les Wunderman and his Columbia Record Club account. (See also “Up close, personal,” Marketing News, Feb. 15, 2005, page 15, for more information on the DM icon.) Wunderman had been handling the account, which was already the world’s largest mail-order club, for 20 years when the client decided (as clients always do) they might be missing something. They decided to hire the hottest Madison Avenue ad agency of that era, McCann Erickson, to create and place some prime-time television ads to boost awareness.

Naturally, Wunderman wasn’t thrilled to share his prize account with a competitor, nor was he convinced the McCann approach would be worth the client’s money. So he proposed a winner-take-all shootout involving regional issues of TV Guide and Parade magazines, plus regional spot TV advertising.

In McCann’s 13 markets, they would create the magazine ad and place TV spots in prime time. In Wunderman’s 13 markets, his agency would create a different magazine ad and run TV spots in dayparts they felt would be most successful, like the wee hours of the morning when their ads normally ran.
I’ll let Gladwell tell the story from here:

“The key to Wunderman’success was something he called the ‘treasure hunt.’ In every TV Guide and Parade ad, he had his art director put a little gold box in the corner of the order coupon. Then his firm wrote a series of TV commercials that told the ‘secret of the gold box.’ Viewers were told that if they could find the gold box in their issues of Parade and TV Guide, they could write in the name of any record on the Columbia list and get that record free.”

The gold box created a connection between the TV spots and the magazine ad order coupons. It made them sticky. The results were spectacular: In the McCann markets, responses were up 19.5%. In the Wunderman markets, responses were up 80%. His reward was he got to keep the account.

As I have been thinking in recent weeks about the importance of stickiness in b-to-b advertising, naturally I started looking for examples. At first, I didn’t find any, but I kept trying. I looked in obscure verticals and broad horizontals. I looked in inexpensive special interest trade pubs and very expensive thought-leader business books.

The more I looked, the more frustrating it became, because it ought to be a basic law of b-to-b advertising that you must strive to make ads interesting and memorable, read: sticky. But I’m telling you, the examples I found were few and far between.

In the May 15, 2005, issue of Marketing News (“Edgy ads generate buzz, attract customers,” page 7) I told you about a Canadian company called Peloton that created a bogus Web site called itworkersagainstwellview.com to call attention to the many ways their WellView data management system improves oil field drilling efficiencies (and reduces a company’s dependence on IT support). That was definitely interesting and sticky.

Lately, I’ve noticed a similar approach from Tokyo-based Toshiba Corp. pointing out how competitive printers rob you blind with hidden costs and inefficiencies. The ads direct you to a Web site called endthestealing.com where you can download white papers on document management and case studies on possible savings with their Encompass program.

Even big oil company Chevron Corp. based in San Ramon, Calif., perhaps trying to minimize the sting of higher gas prices, is running spreads in such prestigious publications as Fortune and BusinessWeek promoting traffic to a Web site with the URL willyoujoinus.com. While one may experience some skepticism in anticipating a visit to that Web site, you will be quickly won over by a plethora of helpful information about the current world energy situation and a robust blog of reader comments on key issues.

The only irritating thing about the Chevron site is a distracting counter on the home page that shows how many barrels of oil were consumed during your visit. It soared past a million during my brief stay.

In another business magazine I discovered an ad for DHL International Ltd., based in Plantation, Fla., offering a free 180-page handbook on global business practices called “Bridging The Culture Gap.” The ad’s headline was, “We’ll make importing from China so easy, you’ll call it the Near East.”

By itself, that headline would come off pretty empty, but combined with the handbook offer, it was a lot more believable. They even included a Business Reply Mail card to make it easier for me to order the book.

It used to be commonplace for b-to-b advertisers to offer white papers, case studies, technical bulletins and other printed pieces that helped prospective customers make informed decisions. For some reason, this is no longer the case. If you’re concerned about accountability (as most marketers are these days), being able to count “documents requested” by prospective customers is a nice metric to have.

And when you consider the ease with which we now search for information on the Internet, why wouldn’t you pay off your ad with something compelling on your Web site? It serves at least two purposes: You enhance and reinforce your selling message from the ad, and you cause them to visit the Web site, where they might discover other products and services they can use.

Stickiness should be a required trait of all business-to-business advertising programs. It’s not the final question you should ask, it’s the place where your creative brief should start.

Who knows? You might set off an epidemic of sales.

Ad greats still speak to us if we will only listen

I was recently cleaning out some old files over a rainy weekend when I discovered a mishmash of articles and book excerpts containing wisdom from many of the founding giants of our industry. Even though these people have long since passed away, they still have much to say to us if we will only slow down enough to pay attention.

For example, consider famed ad man David Ogilvy’s famous quote, “What you say is much more important than how you say it.” It’s not that Ogilvy felt style was unimportant–he had much to say about that topic, too. It just seems that too many ad makers today latch onto a creative concept and then try to force-fit their message into that approach.

When I was starting in this business 30 years ago, we had a discipline that required us to work on the basic message statement before we ever began working on creative ideas. Often there are several competing messages and your first assignment is prioritization. You have to rank the messages in order of importance and get everyone to agree. As Ogilvy said many years ago, getting the what right is a lot more important than the how.

On the other hand, Bill Bernbach of DDB fame was quoted as saying, “We’re too concerned about the facts we get and not enough about how provocative we make those facts to the consumer.” Creative people, at least the good ones I have known, are always frustrated that you’re only giving them part of the story. They know the more facts you give them, the more likely an “a-ha” revelation is apt to appear.

Bernbach admonished his creatives to not worry about that. His assumption was the facts you are given are the facts the client wants to have emphasized. Your job is to deliver those facts in a memorable, provocative manner. And you can’t argue with the success his agency has had all these many years.

One of the first advertising giants, Albert Lasker of the famous Lord & Thomas agency, told the story about the day he was sitting in A.L. Thomas’ office when a message was delivered from the downstairs saloon. The note was from aspiring copywriter John E. Kennedy, whom neither Lasker nor Thomas had ever met. Kennedy promised to tell them what advertising is.

Lasker took the bait, invited Kennedy up for a visit and was told that “Advertising is salesmanship in print.” Today, we have many more media options than just print, but this still sums up the essence of advertising. It is all about salesmanship. Kennedy’s definition nicely combines the two quotes from Ogilvy and Bernbach: Make sure you know what the key message is, and deliver it persuasively.

Many people regard P.T. Barnum as the father of modern advertising, and I can certainly see reasons why that title fits. So many tactics employed by Barnum to generate interest in his traveling shows were ahead of their time. Barnum would intentionally create controversy regarding the legitimacy of his featured acts by writing letters to newspaper editors in towns where the circus was soon to appear. I guess that’s a different form of “provocative” than Bernbach had in mind.

But Barnum was also ahead of his time on the subject of media exposure. His famous quote was, “Advertising is like learning–a little is a dangerous thing.” He told the story of the scrounger who asked a gentleman for 10 cents, saying that he wanted to save himself a dollar. When the man asked for an explanation, he said, “I started out to get drunk, but I have not quite succeeded even though I have spent a dollar. Another 10 cents should do the trick.”

Probably the most famous copywriter of all time was Claude C. Hopkins. In his classic book, My Life In Advertising & Scientific Advertising, he said, “Argue anything for your own advantage, and people will resist to the limit. But seem unselfishly to consider your customers’ desires, and they will naturally flock to you.”

Hopkins said the two greatest faults in advertising were boasts and selfishness. The key to persuasiveness, he said, was telling customers what your product will do for them. It seems terribly obvious, but how many ads do you see every day that fail to do this?

For 22 years (from 1948 to 1970), Fairfax Cone, co-founder of Chicago’s Foote Cone & Belding, issued regular memos to his staff on special stationery with a blue line across the top. They became known as “blue streaks.” (By the way, FC&B is the same agency as Lord & Thomas, but Albert Lasker decided to retire the name when he left the business.)

Anyway, in 1948 Cone wrote, “An advertising agency cannot be better than its clients. It may be weaker, or it may be equal, but it can’t be stronger.” Those of us who have spent time on the agency side know how true this is. Some clients allow the agency to do great work–some even insist on it. But most lay down obstacles and barriers in the form of impossible deadlines, inadequate budgets, insufficient direction–or even worse, they tell you exactly what they want you to create.

Fifteen years later, Cone added this: “An advertising agency that refuses to sit in everlasting judgment on its clients is headed inevitably toward failure. When one bad client kicks up, the result is like a toothache–only one tooth may have anything wrong with it, but the pain rages all through the mouth.”

How many agencies have ever fired a bad client? Not many, I’m sure. But every agency practitioner can name at least a half dozen or so clients that should have been fired.

The wacky, unpredictable advertising business attracts all kinds of people, to be sure. But most of them have one thing in common: They are bright and very insightful. If we take the time to listen to their observations, we can all learn a lot.

It’s time to get serious about brand valuation

The hottest and most perplexing term in branding these days is so-called brand valuation, or how to measure the contribution a brand makes to a company’s overall performance. I caught up with branding pioneer Jim Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand (Corporate Branding LLC based in Stamford, Conn.) recently, and asked him about the subject.

Why is brand valuation such a hot topic?

Because financial people are finally starting to accept that brands are among a company’s most valuable assets, and it bothers them that they can’t put a specific number on the size and relative importance of that asset. People can’t even agree on how to define brand equity, let alone how to measure it.

So how do you define brand equity?

We say that brand equity is the percentage of a company’s total market capitalization that is directly attributable to its corporate brand.

It’s nothing like home equity–the difference between what you owe and what your asset is worth?

CFOs would laugh you out of the room with that analogy. There is a difference, of course, between book value and market cap, and brand equity is part of that difference. But there’s a lot more to it.

How important are brands in influencing a company’s performance?

Very important. We have tracked more than 1,000 companies since 1990, and our top quintile companies exhibit more than three times the brand equity measured as a percent of total market capitalization vs. midpack companies. The ratio is roughly the same when you compare market cap to book value of a company’s stock.

How do you calculate your “BrandPower” ratings?

Each year we interview approximately 10,000 management-level people from companies generating the top 20% of U.S. sales revenue. We ask them to rate about 40 companies on familiarity and favorability issues. Then we compare those ratings to each company’s financial information and third-party data.

What do you mean by favorability?

We look at three aspects of favorability: company reputation, perceptions of management strength and investment potential. Then we combine those scores and weigh the total response based on how familiar they were with the company. We normally end up with about 400 individual scores for each of the 1,200 companies in our BrandPower rankings.

How does the CoreBrand approach differ from other brand valuation methods?

Well, I can’t really speak for all other methods, but we look at two significant results in our ranking system: how brand power affects stock price and market capitalization and how brands influence revenue generation.

Everything in our methodology is objective and quantifiable. We try to take the subjectivity out of brand valuation. It starts to be a slippery slope if you have to apply “expert opinion,” no matter how knowledgeable the expert.

How important are financial performance factors?

We think they’re critically important. We look at everything from cash flow, expected cash flow and expected cash flow growth to things like dividends, earnings and projected earnings. We also use third-party ratings of financial strength.

Can you demonstrate the ROI for a branding program?

Absolutely. Many of our long-time clients receive quarterly updates. Others prefer annual scorecards. Almost all want to see how they performed relative to a small group of key competitors.

Can you isolate the contribution that advertising makes?

Yes, we can. Advertising is the single biggest factor that impacts brand image. Historically, we attribute 30% of a company’s brand power to advertising.

What makes up the rest?

Company size is next, followed by public relations, investor relations and employee relations. The final 25% of brand power can be traced to such factors as low dividends, sales growth rates, market volatility and other considerations.

How important is branding for business-to-business marketers?

Almost as important as for business-to-consumer companies. Our top quintile b-to-c companies demonstrate an average brand equity as a percentage of market cap of 15.6%. The top b-to-b companies have 13.3%.

So what does that mean?

It means that more than 15% of the top-performing b-to-c companies’ total worth can be linked directly to brands, and more than 13% of b-to-b company value is the same. By the same token, the bottom quintile companies in both categories can claim brand equity of only 0.6% of market cap. If you’re truly interested in maximizing shareholder value, you need to ask yourself what you’re doing to build brand strength.

Can we expect an apology from the budget-cutters anytime soon?

Probably not, at least not a public one. But we are seeing a lot more acceptance of the idea that advertising is an investment vis-à[left-leaning accent]-vis discretionary expense, and that’s an important step in the right direction.

How did you get started in this business?

In early 1990, I was challenged by Richard Costello, who was manager of marketing communications for General Electric at that time, to come up with a way to quantify the financial impact of corporate reputation on stock price. Later, when Richard became president of the Association of National Advertisers, it became an ANA project. We started studying relationships between various financial and image factors in late 1990, and by 1993, when we felt the results were provable, we presented our process to attendees at the ANA national meeting.

What would it cost to add a corporate brand to your database?

We don’t have an introductory rate per se, but for less than $100,000 we can conduct the calibration research, comparing your brand to your closest competitors and produce a 60-page deck analysis (a presentation of the results plus potential ROI of advertising investment) with an executive summary that shows how you are doing. That would also include a formal presentation to your company’s senior management.

Does your system provide a numerical rating or a dollar value amount?

Both. The BrandPower ranking is a composite number that is useful in comparing your brand strength to major competitors. But we also provide a brand equity dollar amount, so if you wanted to add it to your balance sheet someday, you could.

Do you see that day coming?

I hope so. Assets should be reported and scrutinized. Brands are among any company’s most valuable assets, so why wouldn’t you want to proudly feature them in your annual report?

Why not, indeed.