Just like your culture is more than a plaque on the wall, your brand has to be more than a logo. “Just Do It” or “Think Different” are iconic examples of complex brand expressions delivered in just a couple of words, but the brand is so much more. Made up of the intangible elements that deliver a personality, a promise, and most importantly an experience, your brand creates perceived value for consumers, and is what those who are delivering on your brand promise represent, and what your customers, partners, and influencers should feel when interacting with your solutions and your people.
Additionally, your brand must consistently deliver on your promise and on the experience consumers expect. Consistency equals trust, and it only takes one bad experience for your customers to lose faith. The customer’s experience trumps all, so cool logos, slick ads, and pithy taglines can’t save you from a bad interaction with anyone charged with delivering your brand promise. It’s easy to lose sight of both the external and internal importance of the brand, which is why I believe a key brand partner for the CMO is the CHRO. People and culture are ultimately the secret sauce.
Building a brand around people, partners, and customers
Let me explain more. When I first moved into marketing I kept hearing all about “the brand,” needing to invest more in “the brand.” A lot of moaning about budget limiting what we could or should have done with “the brand.” As someone who was totally new to marketing, I’ve got to be honest … I didn’t get it at all. So we need Wall Street Journal ads? It felt a lot like an excuse to invest in things with no ROI. Of course, my team will tell you I have come a long way to getting it (and am still working on it) and I was not totally naive to the importance of the Appirio Brand and Category Leadership. I just wanted to take a different approach.
In working with my VP of Brand, Michael George (who is a total rockstar), we had an epiphany. It was not to start spending tons of cash on putting billboards up in airports, it was much more simplistic:
1) Get closer to our people, partners, and customers.
2) Ensure that every single Appirian represents our brand promise every single day.
3) Find ways to expose more customers, prospects, and partners to Appirio’s culture and brand.
Getting closer to our people, partners, and customers was fundamental to establishing a clear concise brand promise and message. We had to know what our people were doing today. What worked, what didn’t work. The situations they were in. The opportunities to establish our brand in those interactions and situations. Most importantly, we needed to find out what our customers, partners, and future customers wanted. We boiled the brand down to six key attributes: fun, inspiring, bold, disruptive, competitive, and nimble.
Customers and workers care about experiences
We also determined that customers did not really care about cloud per se. The market has changed and cloud is expected. Our customers wanted us to deliver outcomes leveraging the cloud. When we dove in and started looking at the 2,000 projects across hundreds of customers, we found a common experience-driven theme. Customers had to compete and win in the experience-driven era. They were relying on us to help them drive that transformation, and it wasn’t always just external Customer Experience that was required. The unique thing we found — and what often made programs most successful — was ensuring a great Worker Experience. It was at that moment a major lightbulb went off for Michael and I, and the Virtuous Cycle was born.
Our mission and purpose became crystal clear. We knew what our brand represented and we understood what the market needed from us.
It was now time to start aggressively enabling our people and building out the Virtuous Cycle outcomes, capabilities, and clouds framework. With a large distributed team of incredibly smart people, our diverse customer base, varying practice areas, and great partners, the message and brand promise can easily become very fragmented and watered down. This does not work! Consistency is critical to creating a category and building a brand. So it all comes down to people.
I knew Michael and I couldn’t do it alone, so we formed a cross-functional team to bring it all to life. Our “VC Tiger Team” included individuals from sales, L&D, strategy, operations, and marketing. We revamped our Sales Kickoff meeting to include more upfront positioning and even introduced a standard pitch and certification for all field-facing people. The strategy and digital teams revamped all their offerings to ensure alignment to creating the VC outcomes. Consulting operations revised the “Appirio Way,” our delivery methodology, to ensure the VC is top-of-mind throughout each deployment. We create pre-sales curated assets and accelerators to help us deliver the VC outcomes faster for clients, and our HR team made VC training part of our Appirio 101 onboarding program. And the Tiger Team is just getting started!
Taking thought leadership on the road
With that level of ground work taking place, it was time for marketing to re-evaluate ourselves, and find ways to expose our brand and the VC more broadly. Here is where investment in the brand did become important. We invested in research to continue to prove out the VC value, we invested in thought leaders like Don Tapscott, Jacob Morgan, and Clive Woodward so we could draw external perspective and new ideas into our programs. And we launched the Worker Experience Tour to further spread our message.
So far we’ve been to 11 cities, with 484 attendees, heard from dozens of customer speakers, and served hundreds (who am I kidding, thousands) of drinks. (Can’t forget the fun in the brand attributes, after all.) WXT is now a mainstay of our marketing agenda. It’s how we kick off the year, and it forces us to keep innovating and disrupting. New research, new thought leader relationships, new partnerships, and the newest customer stories, all must come together for “unveiling” on the tour.
I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done, but guess what? When your brand represents fun, inspiring, bold, disruptive, competitive, and nimble … you’ve gotta keep people guessing. It won’t be a new logo though. And sorry, O’Hare, it won’t be signage at the gates. It will be something much, much more experiential and focused on our people and customers.