Branding-An Analysis

It is no doubt that a good leader, who is at the same time a skilled and experienced communicator, is an asset for the organization. But what happens when the skilled communicator, consciously or otherwise, becomes a brand along with that of the organisation?In the ever-increasing list of things “brandable”, one of the most talked about is personal branding – or the leader as a brand. Does it mean that leaders have now seriously worked up the courage to really assert themselves – or is it just another hyped expression of the Big Brother economy where it is only a question of being in the limelight? One thing is certain, that personal branding, like so many other new angles on management, opens up for both opportunities and pitfalls, and at the same time leads to some special challenges in the many situations where individual brand becomes linked with the company brand itself.

What is a brand?

Whether we talk about leaders, soft drinks or airline companies, there are some fundamental premises for the establishment of a brand. As a starting point, brands are a coherent set of symbols and attitudes that signal a particular identity and differ from others. Branding is based on:

-The creation of visual symbols that invite recognition and repetition

-Expressions of a promise of special content, quality & consistency

-Indication of affiliation to some of the stakeholders

-Indication of dissimilarity to other brands

In spite of many shades in debate, branding involves the expectation of a uniform, coherent and distinct experience. But when leaders become brands, they stand for something special, which is often symbolised in specific qualities, talents or approaches. Some people argue that artists, intellectuals and gurus have always been brands in themselves, as their success depended on their ability to stage and deliver a distinctiveness, experienced by others as relevant and emotionally attractive. But now executives are hopping on that “brandwagon”.

When Jack Welch of GE became the ultimate, powerful management brand of the nineties, it was because he created an entire mythology on his special style of management driven by hard hitting facts such as “changing the game”, “face reality and adapt ” and “control your own destiny”. There are many ways to create an executive brand, but common to them all is that they appeal to our feelings and create strong preferences – contrary to leaders who merge with the wallpaper and are recognisable only by the generic qualities inherent in leadership.

The duality of a leader: Personal brand and corporate brand

Unlike other types of personal brand, leaders possess a particular duality, that is, they represent not only themselves but also others- the company and the employees they lead. To a leader, personal branding is a question of creating meaningful interaction with the corporate brand. In many cases, it can also be argued that the leader as brand is rarely created on the merit of his personal qualities and talent, but rather grows out of the status, prestige and attention bestowed on the leader. Although the leader’s role has been discussed for decades, branding adds a new dimension which enters actively into the leader’s identity and ability to express it.

Explanation of Branding

When you think of a great brand, what comes to mind? Some of the most valuable brands in the world today include Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola, IBM, McDonalds, Apple, and China Mobile1. These companies have successfully built brand equity and are well established in consumer’s minds. But who are their customers? Are they individuals, or are they other companies? Your target consumer determines your brand strategy, and there are key differences when branding for business-to-business (B2B) as opposed to business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. The key difference between individuals and businesses as consumers involves how purchasing decisions are made-businesses make purchase decisions collectively with multiple decision makers. Therefore, general awareness and knowledge of B2B brands in the marketplace absolutely essential. This article will examine the importance of branding for B2B companies and look at a few ways to build a strong B2B brand.

B2B Brand Differentiation

Many B2B companies have not effectively differentiated their brand from others. For example, the audit firms formerly known as the “Big Five” initially did not manage to differentiate themselves from one other. A survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers at the time of their merger showed that “the business community and the general public did not perceive any compelling differences between and among the Big Five. Not only did all firms appear to have similar defining qualities, they were also not sending any consistent message about their organisations to external audiences.” 2 “Around 10 years later, the situation remains the same. Although KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and PWC all provide similar services, each firm is proficient in different areas. Due to a lack of focus on branding, the differentiating points of these large B2B audit companies are often not apparent in the B2B marketplace.

An example of a differentiated B2B brand is Dell computers. Dell has not only utilized an innovative business model, they have always communicated to consumers and business the factors that make their brand different. For example, Dell was one of the first computer companies to allow customers to custom-configure and purchase computers online. For their B2B clients, Dell offers extensive Enterprise Resource Planning systems and e-commerce solutions. At the beginning of 2008 Dell launched a revised services-and-support scheme for businesses named “ProSupport” which offers more options to companies to tailor Dell services to fit their specific needs. Although there are many competitors providing computer solutions in the B2B environment, Dell has been a very popular choice over the last few years because they consistently abide by their brand promise to deliver customized product and service offerings, timely delivery, and reasonable prices.

Moving from a House of Brands to a Branded House

One way a B2B company can strengthen their brand is by moving from a “house of brands” to a “branded house”. An example of a house of brands would be Procter and Gamble, who possess many brands within an overall portfolio. Consumers may not necessary connect the individual brands within the portfolio to the Procter and Gamble corporation. On the other hand, a branded house is when brands use a single name across all products and services, like the Virgin Group. Virgin brands are too numerous to list here, but some include Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, Virgin Media, Virgin Money, and more.

Easy Records of Branding

Today people are looking for more control over their lives.  Creating a truly unique asset that can be branded and marketed becomes essential.  What we are here to discuss and decode is how does one unlock this ability.  It is through a process called personal branding, first defined by Tom Peters in his article “The Brand Called You” in 1997.  We will unlock some of that mystery in the following paper.  Remember, this is a framework and starting point, each individual is different.  There is no magic bullet that will allow for duplication.  While reading, realize that what each individual draws out of this article is unique to them.  If this is something that sparks interest join us on the journey as we define what personal branding means and then layout the beginning steps to start the process.

The Definition of Personal Branding

Personal branding can be defined in many different ways.  The reason for this is even among experts there is not truly a one definition fits all.  So looking at the definition requires more than just a simple search on the word.  Googling personal branding will bring you to the definition in Wikipedia.  According to it and those editing it, personal branding is defined as, “the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands.  It has been noted that while previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging.”  Yet another way people have defined personal branding is to look at it as an extension of the social networking craze, making it as technology based and treating it like internet marketing.  However, both of those definitions have short comings based on the fact that they ignore aspects of the process that are keys to personal branding.  First they ignore the fact that there is more to personal branding than just “self-packaging”, and it discounts the “self-improvement” part.  Secondly personal branding did not start with the advent of the internet.  There is a strong history of personal branding where people like JC Penny, Sears and Roebuck or Deloitte and Touché used personal branding to launch vast empires.  Therefore, I offer my definition of personal branding as follows:

“The creation of an asset that pertains to a particular person or individual; this includes but is not limited to the body, clothing, appearance and knowledge contained within, leading to an indelible impression that is uniquely distinguishable.”This definition allows for each individual to have a chance of becoming and creating their own personal brand, without believing that packaging alone or presentation alone makes the brand.  Of course defining personal branding is just a starting point for once the term has been defined there must be steps that can be taken to start the process.