Rejuvenate Your Brand with UnderBranding

by Bruce Kasanoff on November 19, 2013

Let’s face it, conventional branding practices are no longer enough. For several decades, the foundations of branding efforts have been eroding. Gaping chasms have opened between companies and their customers, as the former use new technologies to automate old business practices.

UnderBranding is a potential solution. It’s not a technology, company or app. It’s a logical approach to a widespread problem.

UnderBranding begins with three assertions:

1.) The underpinnings of a brand are the culture, conditions and compensation a company provides for its employees. Unless these three synch with a brand, no amount of advertising can create a brand that resonates with customers. They also have traditionally been far outside the purview of the marketers and agencies that manage brands. I’m not suggesting that agencies start deciding the compensation of its clients, but rather that UnderBranding must become a key priority at the highest levels of a company.

2.) Branding efforts are far more important to employees than to customers, and they should be designed, built and measured with this understanding in mind. This is becoming increasingly true as disruptive technologies simultaneously makes it harder for a company to control how customers perceive it but easier for the company to communicate with and among its employees.

3.) Above all else, the core qualities of a modern brand must be flexibility, responsiveness and intelligence. For example, the intelligence of a company’s (dynamic) voicemail system says more about its brand that the amusing nature of its (static) television ads.

Let’s consider showrooming as an example of the challenges marketers face today. Best Buy has a strong brand, it attracts plenty of customers into their stores, but growing numbers of customers use smartphones to interact with friends, reviewers, social media sites, apps and even other vendors… all while they stand in a Best Buy showroom.

A stronger brand isn’t going to fix this problem. A brand that changes Best Buy’s culture, conditions and compensation might. I don’t just mean changing these elements for front line employees; I mean changing them from the CEO all the way down to the newest employee. Why? Because companies like Best Buy have to reinvent their very reason for existing, and a process based on UnderBranding can create a foundation strong enough to support such a reinvention.

At many firms, branding efforts nurture the image of a customer-friendly company, but the inside reality is that executives and divisions are paid to compete, not cooperate. Customers don’t come first. Brands are spinning the unpleasant reality into a pleasant outer shell.

Social media is steadily chipping away at such veneers. The truth is becoming obvious. Most corporate cultures are based on zero-sum notions that in every transaction someone has to win and everyone else has to lose. Such cultures can’t support meaningful customization, but that is precisely what customers are starting to expect.

Why? Every time you interact in an intelligent way with another person, you are customizing the interaction. Try saying exactly the same thing to 20 different people and by the end of the day you’ll be locked up in an institution. Real people don’t deal with other people this way, and companies can no longer get away with it either.

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