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.
To kick off our Leaders on Brand discussions, we welcomed three senior leaders from the global real estate investment management firm Heitman. Simple Truth worked with Heitman to solidify and enhance their core brand platform and to bring it to life through a new ad campaign and refreshed website.
Maury R. Tognarelli is chief executive officer and an equity owner of the firm. He began his career as an investment analyst at Heitman and ascended to CEO by 2002. Today, his responsibilities include the day-to-day management of the firm’s operations and its investment activity.
Lewis Ingall is senior managing director of Heitman’s Client Service & Marketing group and an equity owner of the firm. He started his career at Lehman Brothers, later joined JMB Realty Corp. and became a senior member of Heitman’s investment group in 1994. In 2001, he began shaping the firm’s Client Service & Marketing group as well as leading its global growth and development.
Tamara Solarich is a senior vice president, director of Heitman’s Global Marketing & Communications group. Previously CMO at The Northridge Group, she joined Heitman in 2015. Her team is responsible for developing brand strategy as well as the breadth of marketing and communications that support the brand globally.
From a business perspective, what are you dealing with every day? What’s most on your mind, if you could sum it up into a few categorical areas?
MAURY: One is how to control the uncontrollable: to anticipate and account for those events that have an indirect, or even a direct, impact on our business. To make sure things that may start out as a ripple in the water don’t eventually turn into something more. Second is, how do we make sure we live the talk in a way, every day, that reinforces the important points of the environment we’re trying to maintain—the ecosystem? How do we display that, and do it in a way that makes Heitman what it is? And third is, how do we make more right decisions than wrong decisions in order to ultimately succeed?
LEWIS: For me, every day is about making sure that a team of people who represent the firm have what they need to not only comport themselves in a way that we would want them to from a brand perspective, but also to remain knowledgeable about the things we do in order to convey thought leadership, to be consultative and to affirm, with confidence, that we’re the right choice for our clients.
There’s a lot of daily business-focused, operational thinking there, though you both also started to touch on brand or purpose. Can each of you define branding and how it relates to the things you just mentioned?
LEWIS: In our case, brand is a three-legged stool. Leg number one: people. The people of Heitman are the living, breathing representation of the brand. Leg number two is our product, if you will. Namely, the investment opportunities that we offer to our clients. And I would say that leg number three is the messaging we use externally and internally.
TAMARA: I agree. I view marketing broadly. It’s who you are as a firm holistically. It’s your people. It’s external communications as well as internal communications. It’s everything that you do, that you say, that you are, that you promise, that you deliver — it’s everything.
MAURY: Well, I have said before that it’s like if you take any classic song that has been sealed in your memory. Say, “Hotel California,” for example. It’s the kind of thing that you immediately have a flood of associations with and you hum and sing along with, even if you haven’t heard it in years. But if you only hear the music without the lyrics, it’s not the same. The music is fantastic; without it you certainly wouldn’t even have a song. Metaphorically, that’s your business, the music — for us it’s real estate investment management, and we do it exceptionally. But what stirs people and brings them in, what makes them sing and tap the wheel and really connect with the song is the lyrics — that’s the brand. It’s this notion of needing to have your form match your function. And I think brand is part of form. It’s the frame.
That’s really interesting because in that metaphor, it seems like you’re saying that the form has a certain character to it as well.
MAURY: Yes. And that’s ultimately what contrasts us against the mainstream industry competitors. It’s entrepreneurial versus institutional. Or boutique versus conglomerate. I’ve always thought that that was something we could take advantage of. I knew that that’s how we needed to establish our visibility. And one of the reasons why we did the work with Simple Truth was to take that first step toward turning our voice and visibility to a broader community. So from my perspective, branding is critical, because if you’ve got the right association with the brand, you’re miles ahead of anyone else. Because that association, that recognition, is a significant advantage in a competitive, complex world.
Tamara, let me ask you about joining a company with such a storied heritage. You, as recently as a year or so ago, had a sense of Heitman from the outside. And now you’re in it and you’re instrumental in managing the brand’s future. Talk about what that’s been like.
TAMARA: It’s been exciting. And I think your point about being part of the heritage and the future is really important. I think the heritage of Heitman is extraordinary. The firm has a great reputation in the industry. But as you look to the future, you see (a) marketing and branding have changed a lot, and (b) we are in a position to say more about ourselves, be more influential in the marketplace. Take the reputation, the people, the thought leadership and do so much more with it all. You can telegraph it more, talk about it more and let people engage with that — more than just what might happen organically.
Interesting. This is something else Heitman seems to put a premium on, connecting the ideals behind the brand to the work your people do and the way they do it. You talk about this a lot in terms of the environment you have here …
LEWIS: Absolutely. We have always said, “We’ve got to differentiate the Heitman brand in some way that’s behavioral, that’s noticeable and that’s communicable to the outside world. We have to demonstrate it with deeds rather than voice it with words.” I think that’s important for sustaining substance over a long period of time. Especially in the service business, where you can’t wear your product every day and see if it holds up. How could a brand be represented by anything other than your deeds?
You agree, Tamara?
TAMARA: Yes. My personal view is that everything goes together. And if it doesn’t, then at some point it falls apart. I consider great branding to be where you can see the consistency across everything that you do — whether it’s in the design, in the words, in the people, in the delivery, in the products. Everything is strategic and consistently reinforces how you want people to think about your brand and live your brand every day.
Would you say that brand strategy’s real value is at the organizational level, or is it more applicable to marketing?
LEWIS: It’s both. I think you have to have the former in order to engage the latter. To elicit and connect to the emotional side. It doesn’t just happen.
MAURY: I think it has applications in both universes that are connected. In order for you to be successful in marketing, the organization has to be glued together by a set of values that are on display and demonstrated all the time. And that’s what then gets communicated, directly and indirectly, through all the external touchpoints of the business. So, I think they have to be linked. And I’d say it has to start with the organization.
That’s great. Lastly, if there’s a CEO or leadership team out there who may be considering whether to invest more in strengthening their brand but are weighing the value of such an effort, what advice might you give them?
LEWIS: For a CEO not to believe in the brand of his or her firm or company is a giant miss that’s certain to — in some way, at some time — hamper their business objectives. I would suggest that they undertake a series of dialogues with people who are in businesses different than their own and ask them the question of what value they place on brand strategy. And they will probably walk away with a different view about it than the one they hold.
MAURY: Here’s my best advice: There have been individuals throughout my career who have said, “You’re so involved in all the details.” But when I think about it, that’s our brand. It’s who we are. It’s how we execute. It’s the culture we want to create within our organization. Those things take a lot of tweaking and constant jiggering of the puzzle piece to get it to fit just right. Those are the things that pay in dividends on what you’ve invested. That’s why I insisted we do the work on our brand. My recommendation to any CEO is: if you think it’s not in the details — that has not been my experience. I think it is in the details. And that’s what makes the difference.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series each month, and if you have a leader whom you think we should talk with, let us know.