Friday, May 22, 2009

The Little Memo That Does Big Brand Things

I was reading an article in the NY Times the other morning at my favorite little coffee shop. It was about how companies are creating these new positions focused on intercepting chatter via Twitter, Facebook, etc., and leveraging social media opportunities. The new PR/publicity I guess. Anyway, the article focused on a young woman who does just that for Southwest Airlines. But what jumped out at me wasn't the social media implications. It was her quote about how employees have the "freedom" to try new things.

I didn't get the sense she was merely spitting back the company line. Rather, I surmise SW employees are truly empowered to live and innovate through the brand. All of my experiences with Southwest, limited as they may be, have always been the same, and mirror its external messaging. One thing I do know for sure is that you can only authentically innovate, and meet customer expectations with such consistency, when you build a brand from the inside-out.

The article also got me to thinking about an organization I worked with and
how it fosters brand focus, compliance and creativity internally. Once a month on average an email is sent around to all employees with an attachment called, @#&%Watch (I've disguised the name because the entire strategy is self-contained in it). But what @#&%Watch does -and what something similar can do for any organization - can be revolutionary.

Credit where credit is due: The news director created @#&%Watch almost two years ago. And he's stuck with it (he is also responsible for coming up with the actual brand mission, the most unique, memorable and strategic one I've seen yet for a media organization). As smart as he is, I'm not sure even he initially knew how this little, single page (on average), reoccurring memo would have such a big impact on focusing a culture and shaping audience expectations.

Getting down to the nitty gritty, @#&%Watch contains its share of atta-boys/girls, lauds team efforts, highlights when creative solutions are devised, points out missed opportunities, and provides constructive feedback and tangible ways to attack in the future. Most importantly, every pat on the back, praised team effort, creative inspiration, missed opportunity, and fix, is about one thing and only one thing: Delivering the brand mission! What you'll never find is anything that doesn't speak to, support, nurture, grow, or deepen the brand. I've yet to see a subjective claim of superiority or anything about marketing or advertising. It is always focused on delivering on the brand mission.

I offer eight reasons why a tool like @#&%Watch is such a powerful brand-building, culture-changing weapon:

1. It constantly signals that the brand is every one's responsibility.

2. It reinforces that the brand is what they do, not just a part of, or an "in addition to" thing, that they do. It's the focus, period.

3. It reinforces that the product is the brand.

4. Expectations are clearly set and defined. Essentially, you will be judged by, and held accountable to, the brand mission.

5. It fosters healthy, brand-based competition. Who doesn't like to be singled out, recognized and even rewarded in front of peers? And, if it's your name frequently popping up, it can do wonders for your career (or help you keep your job in this economy).

6. It singles out who really is working for the brand, and who is working against it (the latter part of that statement doesn't necessarily reflect intent). You'll know who to target for additional education, training and mentoring.

7. It's the equivalent of an ongoing creative brief, used by advertising agencies to communicate a strategy to the creative department, to ensure you're "talking the walk" while you're simultaneously "walking the walk."

8. Most importantly, it helps ensure that every time a customer or prospect comes in contact with the product, a stakeholder, brand mission communication, etc., its what they've come to expect and trust.

What has @#&%Watch done for this particular media brand? I can argue it's had a seismic impact. It's preference has boomed from 17% to 29% in less than two years and ratings are up virtually across the board. Still not convinced? There was no external media, no advertising campaigns, nothing more than some basic sampling tactics during the entire first year after the brand mission was birthed. Focus was on walking-the walk down the narrow path of the brand mission.

Now, I do have a few beefs with @#&%Watch. It should come out more frequently, at least twice a month, if not weekly. You can never champion your brand mission too much. It would be more effective if it had an organization-wide focus, not just a product-specific bent. It's best when your CEO drives it top-to-bottom and all department leaders contribute. Ultimately, I'd like to the see contributions from stakeholders as well. It will enhance buy-in and accountability.
In this age of viral, apps, and tweets, all externally-focused channels, a reoccurring brandate (brand mandate) for your entire organization about what you stand for, what you won't stand for, who is delivering it, and by virtue of exclusion, who isn't, how it is being delivered, and ways to better deliver on it, can do wonders for your culture, including improving employee satisfaction and loyalty (nothing unifies like a great strategy), unite internal and external expectations, reposition your competitors, and turn a market in your favor.

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