There are many different ways that leaders value brand strategy. Through the work we’ve done with leaders at companies of all types and sizes, across all kinds of industries, we’ve been particularly inspired by those who view brand strategy as part of their overall outlook on business. So inspired, in fact, that we decided to sit down with some of them to talk about how they see this sometimes elusive notion of brand and how, in their view, it informs their approach to business. Other conversations can be found here, here and here.
We continue our Leaders on Brand discussions with Mary Lynn Fayoumi, President and CEO of HR Source (formerly Management Association), a century-old membership organization that employers turn to for on-call, on-demand HR expertise. Mary Lynn has been leading the association for nearly two decades. She shared with us her views on the meaningfulness of brand, the importance of pulling from diverse perspectives and the importance of emotion and humanity in business. Wisdom that leaders in any kind of industry can learn from. And, a conversation that just so happens to align perfectly with Simple Truth’s upcoming journey to the House of Beautiful Business conference in Lisbon this November.
Q: Let’s start by having you define brand in your own terms.
A: Brand is defined by your customers. In our case, our members. It’s ultimately what they take away—from a service perspective, as well as that internal feeling they get when they work with us. So, it has much more to do with their experience than our menu of member benefits or services. It’s “I always feel so much better when I get off the phone with them,” “I feel like someone cares about me,” “My challenges don’t seem as tough because I have someone that listens to me.” They walk away with a feeling of confidence, and they have a value they attach to our relationship.
Q: Would you say that brand is more strategic or emotional?
A: I think for the organization, it’s strategic. I know a lot of business leaders who wouldn’t want to say that their brand or their organizational decisions were led by emotion. But from the customer side—the audience who’s confirming that your brand is what you strategically believe it to be, or not—it’s mostly an emotional experience. Which means, brand is really where the strategic and the emotional meet. I’ll give you an example. Going into the brand work, I specifically chose the team I brought together, to get a diverse collection of personality types, and perspectives (on life and work), and backgrounds. I did this because I trust them all on a strategic level to speak their mind and evaluate things the right way for the organization, but, as importantly, I wanted to have a similar emotional diversity to the kind we face with our customers. The team had to work where those two things came together.
Q: Talk a little more about that. What do you think the role of emotion is in business?
A: Look, if humans are in business, there’s emotion in business. Emotion is how we make decisions in our own lives, why shouldn’t it be part of the workplace? One of the things I’m most happy to have seen in business is that it’s become more and more acceptable, and even desired, to bring your real self to work. It just makes sense. It’s how we shop, how we travel, how we value the things in our lives, how we relate to each other. It’s all based on emotion. To say, then, that emotion doesn’t have real value in business, I think is ridiculous.
Q: You underwent a comprehensive brand exploration with us recently, and came out of it with a brand platform to guide your organization’s brand strategy. Do you have a key thing you took away from the process?
A: I have to say, I didn’t know exactly what the process would be like. But throughout the uncovering phase, the amount of input and feedback that you got, and the way you guys took us through it, allowed us to get so much more out of it. In fact, our members said their favorite Advisory Council meeting ever was the one your team facilitated. Personally, I love our simple truth. I love it because it’s so easy for our team to get, and to measure themselves by. A lot of strategic or business performance goals are more challenging to evaluate, but anyone on my staff knows if they’re being an “invaluable ally” or not. We’ve never had one simple truth that’s so specific to who we are and what we’re here to be.
Q: What about the naming process?
A: I knew that would be a challenge. Naming is serious and also so personal. Everybody has their own set of issues they bring to the table. I appreciated the rigor of your process, understanding the different kinds of names—descriptive, associative and free-standing. And while we knew free-standing would not be right for us, it was helpful to have so much discussion about everything that the name Management Association wasn’t doing for us, and about what we wanted a new name to do. I think where we wound up is just right. HR Source links to our mission. It fits into messaging and the way our members talk. And it’s clear to prospective members.
Q: There’s often discussion about the difficulty around putting ROI to brand efforts (efforts to invest in brand for organizations, internal activation, etc.). Do you have thoughts on that?
A: Our board expects viable results more than strictly quantifiable ones, because as CEOs themselves, they understand the realities ROI measures. But they also know the value of how this can impact membership growth, employee attraction, PR opportunities, consistency of our look and feel across media, talent performance, and so on. I can tell you the impact it’s already had, which is huge. It’s given us a way to bring the idea of what our brand is back into the conversations we all have internally. Back into the work everyone’s doing on a daily basis, back into how they do it, and that experience they’re creating for members. Having those conversations be about the same thing, something so true to the work they do? That’s the value.
Q: What advice would you give a business leader/leadership team that may be considering investing more in strengthening their brand, but who may be debating the value of it?
A: Just do it! As someone who has been a CEO at the same place for a long time, I can tell you one of the things I try hard to do is act like I’m new on the job. Because new CEOs are always associated with making bold moves, shaking things up, and bringing fresh energy to the business they come into. But we all have to do that in our roles constantly. So there are times you just have to trust your instincts and take the leap. Trust me, if you get the right team and commit to it, you will get so much out of it.