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.
We continue our Leaders on Brand discussions with Lisa Cochrane, who has been a client and confidante of Simple Truth’s for more than 20 years. Now a sought-after Board of Directors professional and business-marketing consultant, Lisa Cochrane was the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Allstate, America’s largest publicly-held personal lines insurer, from 2000 to 2015. During her tenure, she led brand strategy as well as the development of some of their most recognized and creative advertising, including Allstate’s famed “Are you in good hands?” and Mayhem campaigns. Her accolades amount to a whole host of awards including multiple Ad Woman of the Year awards and Business Insider’s Most Influential CMOs in the World. Fortunately, she was able to find some time to sit down with us.
Q: Let’s start by having you define brand in your own terms.
A: For me, a brand is what you mean to others; what you do, how you make them feel and how they feel about you. Brand and experience are pretty much synonymous. Companies can have brands. A person can have a brand. A building can have a brand. But for now, I’ll focus on companies.
The people that work at a company are representative of that brand. The facilities it’s in are representative of that brand. What the business makes, provides or does is representative of that brand. How that thing looks and feels and smells and tastes are also representative of that brand. What the business stands for is representative of that brand. The brand is the whole experience.
Q: So, in what ways can a company influence or control their brand?
A: I wouldn’t call it controlling it. I would call it defining what your brand’s value is, making sure it’s relevant and then delivering on its promise. Your brand and your overall value proposition are almost one and the same. And once that’s defined, it becomes the filter for everything you do — how you work, what you invent, what moves you make, who you hire, how you package things, how you talk to people, how you treat people and your impact on the community at large.
Q: You’ve mentioned value proposition a couple of times. Can you talk more about the role of that strategically, and whether there are other components of a brand that you think are valuable? Brand positioning, personality, company values?
A: I think it’s important for marketers to define all the parts of a brand. But since I’ve been consulting, I’ve thought about branding and business strategy a little more conceptually. When I talk about it now, I’ve stopped using all those various words — brand positioning, brand personality, brand essence, etc. I tend to simplify, with brand value proposition. But even that I use in a very overarching way. All those specific brand pieces have to ladder up to a larger value proposition that is ideally just a sentence or two. It’s the kind of thing you guys refer to as a company’s simple truth, which I like. But that simple, pure value proposition is the most critical thing to understand and embrace. When you think about the companies that always top the brand rankings, that are at the forefront of our consciousness (Apple, Google, Dove, Nike, Amazon, Disney, Starbucks, REI), they each have a clear, relevant value proposition and work very hard to demonstrate it and position themselves around it.
Those companies know what it’s worth when consumers and employees understand what their brand means and does, and see its relevance to them. Especially employees. They need to know in their hearts and their minds that the brand would do this but wouldn’t do that, would go here but wouldn’t go there, would act like this but not like that. The brand inspires all their actions.
Q: How do you get employees to that point, where they know it in their hearts?
A: By telling stories, painting pictures and demonstrating what you do and don’t do. Frequently, and across the organization. It’s always surprising to me, but there are very large brands that don’t tell those stories, that don’t share those demonstrations of what the brand stands for and why — in simple language that reflects their value proposition. Or, many times they have a rational idea of what they do, but they aren’t communicating the emotional connection they’re creating. Connecting with your employees emotionally is the first step to connecting with your customers emotionally – the aim is to deliver a brand experience that customers depend on and can’t live without.
Q: Do you think there are divides that exist between marketing and other areas within a company that get in the way of embracing that kind of story sharing company-wide?
A: That may sometimes be true. But again, I think it all has to do with language. Just because another area may not call it brand, doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of that promise they are delivering. Think of it this way, Abraham Lincoln never referred to himself as a brand, but he absolutely had a brand. He knew what was relevant to Americans, what he believed in, what he was going to do, what he was not willing to do, and the impact he wanted to make on the country. You could look at this as having a purpose and positioning himself and his actions around it. He stuck to his principles even when it was really hard. Look at how he filled his cabinet with rivals, I mean talk about smart strategy! You, as a brand strategist, can read all about him as a person, as a lawyer, as a politician, about the decisions he made, and it will come across to you as brand thinking. Because, again, even though he certainly never called it that, that’s what it was.
Q: What advice would you have for a CEO or leadership team that might be considering investing in brand work, or shoring up their value proposition as you’ve put it, but they’re not sure of the value of it?
A: My advice would be that what matters more than anything is that one crystalized sentence or two that defines your relevant brand proposition. You need to get that right. It sums up everything. And it’s not going to change, by the way. When you have that, you’re going to want to shout it, and share it and put it on your front door. You’re going to get excited thinking about the next thing you’re going to do to deliver on that for your customers. You’re going to start thinking about who it means you’re going to hire to be at the front desk…and on and on. Whatever you label it, that’s what you should strive for.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series and if you have a leader whom you think we should talk with, let us know.