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Brand Equity: Your People Are Your Golden Ticket

Braven Greenelsh
CEO & Founder
November 13, 2023

Below I’ve listed several examples of brand messaging during the “Control Era” of branding:

Coke: “It’s The Real Thing”

Maxwell House: “Good to the Last Drop”

California Milk Processor Board: “Got Milk?”

Burger King: “Have It Your Way”

Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions.

IBM: “I Think, Therefore IBM.”

BMW: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

And the list goes on…

Mad Men Era: All these taglines were positioned in an era where “brand” was defined by controlled perception. We call it brand image. How a brand perceives itself and how they’re going to tell that story in the marketplace.
The way they want it told. It was the Don Draper era. Exciting right!? Maybe for us Gen Xers.

But we live in a different world now. A world no longer controlled by the quarterly combo of copy and print adverts lead by the Madison Avenue superheroes like David Ogilvy (yes he used to galavant around Manhattan with a black cape and glass of scotch). A world no longer controlled by madmen with “fire in their bellies” as he wrote in his seminal work, Confessions of an Advertising Man. We live in a world controlled by movement through omnichannel communications and automation.

The Cultural Shift: In fact, the “latest research from Target Marketing shows that over 74 percent of responders said it was important, fairly important or very important to have a cohesive omnichannel experience. Going forward, most devices that people use to access online resources and make purchases will become integrated.”

Suffice to say, we’re building brands in an era that is filled with media-rich content on a growing number of channels.

An endless activity feed, and billions of eyes scrolling the information daily, as the culture shapes each narrative by swiping up, then down, and back up to liking, clicking, commenting, sharing, and finally posting (if you’re lucky).

And so, the beautiful cycle of brand evolution begins. and each day it plays over and over as every human picks up their phone to tap into their feed. First thing in the morning…last thing at night.

If you really think about it, Burger King may have been ages ahead of its time with its 1973 tagline “Have it Your Way”. In a lot of ways, this was accidentally prophetic. Unfortunately, I think all of us would argue that Burger King hasn’t done a great job keeping its brand polished. So who started to anticipate the shift?

Volkswagon’s Critical Adaptation: A better example may be VW’s “Drivers Wanted” mantra created by Boston-based Arnold Communications in 1995. It was a call for people everywhere to engage with the brand at their own pace.

Speed = Whatever you want it to be (in mi. or km)

Interior = However you like

Model = Whichever you desire

Feature = Whatever you geek out on

Color = We have many. And one you may like

Product features and engineering wasn’t an area of focus for VW. Because it spoke for itself.

Why? They chose not to control the message the way BMW did with it’s
“The Ultimate Driving Machine” strapline which has been a critical part of BMW’s branding since 1973.

Instead, “Drivers Wanted” was a clarion call. A manifesto if you will. For people to engage with its brand on their own terms. Completely against the tide that was “control”.

Although they may not have known it in 1995 when they launched this campaign, Instead, they focused on creating a platform for the drivers’ story and empathy towards how they told it.

Fast forward to today where the conversation is controlled by the fingertips of a culture that lives on social.

Commenting on “brand” in The Brand Flip, Marty Neumeier wrote, its “no longer who you say you are, it’s who they say you are.” This is right on point with the current era of people-driven branding.

So, Who Are They? Simply put; they are your people. At La Visual, we define them as the internal audience (your employees) and external audience (your customers).

In our process for identifying gaps in Brand Equity, we target five key areas that impact how your brand is valued: story, systems, culture, behavior, and finally; people. The latter being the most essential as its through your people that the former four areas are delivered into the market.

Below, I’ve listed three critical behaviors proven to build brand value with both groups of people. The goal is to create freedom for these to take shape and be internalized with both groups.

Group 1 — Your Employees:

  1. Brand Evangelism:
    Builds enthusiasm, momentum, and excitement around the brand promise
  2. Brand Sportsmanship:
    Extending empathy towards every team member through the lens of the brand values
  3. Brand Defense:
    Defending all of the above at all costs

Group 2 — Your Customers:

  1. Allowing them to Lead:
    Let the line out on the conversation more than you’re comfortable with to allow things to catalyze and take shape. This is the beginning where evolution will start to organically take shape.
  2. Connecting Customer Service to the conversation:
    Ensure that you are being responsive and forgiving in the way you interact. Always leave an open sign on your nightstand. According to marketing insights, most customers expect to hear from a brand in less than 30 minutes!
  3. Rewarding engagement at the highest level:
    Reward customers who are leading the conversation and sharing innovative ideas around your brand.

Brands that get the critical nature of this cataclysmic shift have done well in adding value and building Brand Equity through transforming their recruiting efforts. This is exactly what Adidas did back when it was fighting an uphill battle against American brands like Nike and Under Armour.

What Adidas got right?

  1. Empower: they empowered their people. The creators inside their walls
  2. Empathy: Built a platform for sharing stories
  3. Reward: They rewarded the most compelling stories

Closing Thoughts for Brand Leaders: We’re shifting from an era of executive and company controlled brands to community controlled. And the people in the community control and evolve the brand for you. It’s both the internal culture where your employees set the tone of your brand externally. And the voice of your customers that naturally evolve your position in the market through intentional omnichannel conversation and relationship.

Going back to David Ogilvy: He was a superhero, not because he wore a cape and flaunted his own personal brand. But, because he was the first Creative to put the Copywriter and Art Director in the same room! This small adjustment forever changed the performance of traditional advertising.

How this applies? When seeking to build brand equity, as a leader, you need to ensure your marketing team and customer service team are in the same room. So together they can create a platform for sharing meaningful stories both directions. This will work to elevate the voices of your people and allow brand evolution to take shape.

And remember your internal people are talking on the same external channel as your customers. Creating connections between the two is the way to create the ultimate platform for your brand to take it to the next level.

Early adopters to this community-driven mentality have really boosted their Brand affinity over time. Brands like Uniqlo, are seeing the fruit from their willingness to lose control.

Uniqlo’s UMOOD experience allows customers to engage in-store and select t-shirts dependent on what mood they’re in. It’s a fun way to say, “our people are the drivers. We want to match our style with how you’re feeling today and while you’re at it, please tell us your thoughts.”

So, If you’re a marketing leader or if you’re a C-level executive, make sure you listen to all of your people. And most importantly hand control over to the culture. The proliferation of social media in our pockets puts the conversation with your employees, their friends, and extended networks.

The more you allow that to shape your position, the more brand affinity you will build with your people. And ultimately you will move towards being able to add brand as an asset listed on your balance sheet.

And creating liquidity from your brand is the golden ticket the select few have discovered and will indefinitely forever impact their bottom line!

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