Thursday, February 8, 2007

Brand Architecture Of Identity - A Disciplined Methodology For Success

At Story Of Eight Forces That Can Make Or Break A Brand

By David Miranda

I learned many years ago that the old adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is not true. I had the pleasure some time ago to meet my friend, Bill Ryan, the founder of Mandala, a San-Francisco-based consulting firm. He is a fascinating individual whose bio, among other things, includes a stint as a teacher of Transcendental Meditation trained by the Maharashi Yogi, himself. Bill moved on to the business world and was a major architect in developing the Yahoo! brand. Bill believes that each company has a story to tell, but it must first follow vision and strategy. (I highly recommend anyone contact Bill for his unique perspectives and invaluable guidance of "getting your story right".)

As a brand marketer, I was curious about the techniques and methodology he employed. He shared with me what he calls, The Architecture of Identity (A of I). He taught this old dog "some new tricks". The A of I, a mandala of which was created by Bill's Mandala is included here, is a unique way to develop and nurture a brand. It is premised on the notion that a brand is the result of two dimensions of eight forces. The first dimension includes the three core forces - vision, positioning, and voice. This dimension can best be described as "How the brand is seen from the inside of the enterprise" by its internal stakeholders from grassroots to the boardroom.
The second dimension includes the five marketplace, or external forces including market relevance, product/service superiority, ecosystem integration, management and culture, and finally sustainability. In simple terms, this is how the marketplace perceives the brand.

The Architecture Of Identity is a discipline to ensure that these two dimensions are in sync and, if they are, provides the greatest opportunities for success. So with proper credit to my friend, Mr. Ryan, the following summarizes the Architecture Of Identity.

Core Forces - How The Brand Is Perceived Internally

Vision This is the brand's unique reason for existing – the core insights responsible for the brand's creation combined with new sparks of genius that continue driving it forward. Vision should be heroic, but simple. The vision statement for The Coca-Cola Company, for example, is "To have our products available within an arm's length of desire."

Positioning – The optimum desired brand position, both in people's minds and in the competitive landscape, that provides the best opportunity for success. As in racing, competitors continually vie for positions at the start and during the race that give them the best chances for winning. For brands, as in racing, people pay attention to the front runners. It should be noted that a brand should not confuse size (revenue, number of locations, etc) with brand positioning. The largest brands, for example, are not necessarily the most innovative or the most consumer-centric. Southwest Airlines is not the largest airline, but it is perceived by air travelers as having the best customer service by U.S. air travelers. Apple is not the largest technology company, but it is considered the most innovative brand.

Voice – The brand's personality, i.e., the attributes it desires to project in the marketplace. This is what marketers most often refer to as “brand attributes.” This is not just "what a brand says"; it is also "how a brand says it." Brands are like people. Each has its own unique personality traits. Think of Nike (Just Do It!); Gatorade (Is It In You?); MasterCard (There Are Some Things Money Can't Buy); and BMW (The Ultimate Driving Machine). These tag lines are synonymous with the personality of their brands. Now name their major competitors and their respective tag lines.

Marketplace Forces - How The Brand Is Perceived Externally (In The Marketplace)

Market Relevance – the market’s actual acknowledgement and recognition of the brand versus what was intended by the brand (vision, positioning, voice). Once a brand has lost its perceived relevance in the marketplace, it is all but impossible to regain it. The examples are many. Perrier was once the leading bottled water sold in the U.S. Pontiac and Taurus are being retired. Remember PanAm, TWA, and Atari?

Product/Service Superiority – the criteria for evaluation of the brand, e.g., leading in quality, performance, functionality, innovation, expertise, etc. In the marketplace, the advantage lies with those brands who consistently demonstrate their leadership in providing the best price/value; are the most innovative; and demonstrate their expertise supporting their brands with consumers and partners. To be perceived the best creates considerable and expensive barriers-to-entry for potential insurgents.

Ecosystem Integration – how the brand integrates into the marketplace with consumers, with partners, with distribution channels, with technology platforms, and with media channels. Successful brands must take a holistic view of the landscape. A leading brand, for example, is worthless if does not have distribution and "shelf space". A leading brand cannot achieve its potential if it does not extend itself to emerging media channels and technology platforms.

Management and Culture – the perception of the brand's leadership, innovation, competency, credibility, values, and integrity. Take Apple, for example. Apple was the creation of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Mr. Jobs, considered the company's visionary and creator of the brand's unique culture, was forced out of the company he founded. Without his leadership, Apple floundered. His return has marked one of the great turnarounds in American business. The iPod has created a business and pop culture phenonmenon that has changed, forever, how people consume music. Apple stock has soared since his return.

Sustainability – the brand's ability to successfully compete in spite of strong competition, economic conditions, or other potentially disruptive conditions. The ability to persevere and succeed is the characteristic of a strong brand. New insurgents are entering the marketplace every day threatening incumbents. Incumbents must agressively deal with these insurgents or risk becoming irrelevant. Microsoft, for example, was slow to respond to Google and Yahoo. AOL was slow to respond to MySpace and Facebook. Large media and entertainment companies were slow to respond to iPod and YouTube. Sustainability of brands demands proactively dealing with opportunities and threats of insurgents.

In summary, this is a dynamic process that requires relentless oversight in order to make adjustments as required by market conditions. What is your brand's story? If you need help, contact Bill.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story with me.

Mandala and Architecture Of Identity are used by permission of Mandala-VSS.