Hardly a week goes by without shocking reminders of how important it is for companies to align internal and external audiences with brand, values and organizational strategies.
Think Penn State and the NCAA, Bank of America, Herman Cain, your local (you name it).
Internally, studies indicate only one in five employees understands how their work contributes to the overall strategic direction. This lack of clarity is exacerbated by a daily bombardment of information, which interrupts focus and impedes innovation. Companies that neglect to connect with employees, customers, investors and the public stifle growth and risk backlash and irrelevance.
As brand ambassadors, everyone involved with an organization must fully believe their support is relevant to the mission. This extends from the investors, board of directors and employees to the customers and vendors. In order to achieve buy-in, to energize and motivate, organizations must communicate openly and honestly about their corporate strategy. The four most effective ways to do this are through storytelling, using vivid pictures, engaging in discussions and by walking their talk.
Strategy in storytelling
A brand’s strength derives from authentic colorful stories. At its core, emotive branding is concerned with storytelling that forms a bond with people. Your supporters must not only be invested in what is currently happening with the company but also what occurred in the past and what transpires next. Apple’s phenomenal success, for example, was intertwined with each victory achieved by Steve Jobs. Disney has its magic. Virgin Airlines has Richard Branson. When I worked at the biotech company Cephalon, we had Frank Baldino.
I love the way my friend Gary Baker of Baker Brand Communications describes storytelling as the essence of a brand. Successful branding relies on portraying authentic attributes that accurately reflect an organization’s fundamental strategies. The elements of a good story — analogies and metaphors — encourage people to invest in your company, work for you and buy your products.
Strategy in pictures
I am a visual thinker. Before I engage, I envision an activity, outcome or relationship. I prefer to be pulled by a vision rather than be pushed by a plan. Making an emotive connection in the multimedia world in which we live requires vivid images that play upon the senses. People should feel your brand. They should see in their mind’s eye how their life will improve by doing business with you. Visual intimacy, emotive images and immediacy are why YouTube receives more than two billion hits each day.
Strategy in discussion
We must also engage with whoever wants to talk with us, wherever they are, anytime they choose. This is especially important in the social media age, where anything is said regardless of accuracy. The inescapable fact in today’s world is employees, customers, investors and the public talk about your brand and strategy whether or not you join the conversation.
Strategy in action
Finally, success also depends on a company staying true to its words through its actions. The media is full of examples of executives, celebrities, and politicians saying one thing and doing another. Inappropriate actions — and inaction when decisive action is needed — come at a steep price to brands and reputations. When trust is broken, it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to recover. You do have to talk the talk and walk the walk.
But for every Apple, Disney and Virgin Atlantic, there are dozens of other organizations that find storytelling, the use of inspiring and authentic imagery, personal engagement and “walking the talk” an awkward process, at best. Those often-used words “transparency” and “authenticity” require gut-churning change for many, but both are essential to executing strategies and building solid brands and reputations.
Organizations that ignore the imperative to change how they communicate are going to like irrelevancy even less.