Much has been said about how brands confer a competitive advantage to companies and differentiate products or services, but amidst the noise and clamour of the marketplace today, I wonder if this is indeed true.
I am sure businesses are tired of reading the research reports which indicate the obvious:
“There are far too many brands in the market fighting for attention…”
“This is a fragmented and highly competitive category, with too many brands vying for the consumer dollar…”
So whilst differentiation continues to be an important function of the brand, I would venture to say that the key role of a good brand today is to overcome indifference.
This is as true of corporate and institutional brands as it is of consumer brands. I would go as far to say that this indifference is not just external or customer related, but also internal inertia.
With so much marketing speak these day about excellence, quality, integrity and teamwork – or even more ambitious qualities like dynamic, transformative, inspiring, – these values have become part of the verbal clutter that has invaded the corporate world.
The result is that these have become the very attributes which breed indifference because they have lost all credibility and meaning. Their value has become commoditised and therefore, ignored.
So how do companies overcome indifference? I would venture that at least three qualities are needed – and these not in any order of importance are:
Who said that corporate strategy should be completely rational? It should certainly have aspects which were arrived at through hard data and logic, but these should just tell us what the status quo is.
Overcoming indifference means that to be sufficiently galvanising, the strategists would have had to make creative leaps in arriving at the solution.
This is not just about “thinking out of the box” but knowing what your particular “box” is, because many organisations are perfectly comfortable in the “boxes” that have been created over the course of their history. These boxes could include industry rankings, or a reasonable financial performance.
However, some leaders can just SENSE that the market or organisation is heading towards stagnation, and these intuitions of choppy seas ahead should not be ignored. This leads me to the next quality required to overcome indifference.
This does not refer to the courage to act, but the courage to THINK about change and to manage the attendant risks of a bold strategy.
So often when we are asked to “re-brand” a company or service, all the client is really looking for is a better aesthetic. Even with supporting research, many organisations would rather take the research findings at face-value to “fix” small problems than to ask if these would be sufficient to move the marker.
If brand differentiation is the ability to change the category debate in a manner that is relevant to customers and stakeholders, then having the vision and courage to change the status quo, is the path less taken in the corporate world – thereby conferring differentiation in the market place by shattering currently held illusions.
It takes courage for CEO’s to stare in the face of a bold strategy, and decide to take it to the board and to sell it to shareholders. Presumably he or she would have done the requisite due diligence about the soundness of the strategy, but as with any transformative strategy, you can expect considerable resistance.
The rewards of overcoming indifference and inertia are great and once the transformative strategy creates ripples within the organisation and market, the momentum of change will start to become “second nature”.
However, this does not happen overnight and leaders need to recognise that this they need to commit to strategy in the long haul. So more than them being committed to the strategy of change, they need stakeholders to be committed to it.
This means more than a rational acceptance of the strategy but an emotional connection with what the strategy will deliver in terms of loyalty, trust, enthusiasm. The last desired attribute being one that is the hardest to win but the one that will give the strategy momentum internally and externally.
Enthusiasm is the opposite reaction to indifference because it means that the customer or staff is sufficiently motivated to take action and ACT. Many leaders are misled into thinking that just because their people have not objected to a change in direction, it means that they are “on board”, when the reality is that they are not only not “on board” but will not be “rowing”. They will drag their “oars” in the water through sheer indifference and the inertia will become a real drag on the company, by making it expend energy and resource on taking baby steps forward.
At the end of the day, if leaders started seeing INDIFFERENCE as the single biggest drain in corporate resources, they may START considering far more radical strategies for business and organisational change. This is why we believe that activism is a viable strategy for transformation because it involves a sense that something is not right, and the courage to make a difference.
It is also the ability to manage change without ever losing sight of purpose, and any CEO who is able to do this, is well on their way to overcoming indifference within the organisation and beyond.