Let me get right to the point. As CEO of your company, you take the lead role in defining market differentiation. So, if that was all you hoped to gain from this article, you can move on. However, if you also want some insight into how you define market differentiation, well then, read on.
What is market differentiation?
As a specialist in brand development, it is disheartening to listen to all of the brand speak. There is much confusion in the marketplace as to what a brand is. So, let’s start with the obvious. Brand is not a logo or an advertising tagline. It is not design elements or a graphical look. According to Webster’s, a brand is a “claim of distinction.” It is important not to confuse brand with branding. A brand defines a company’s market differentiation. It is, by my definition, an undisputable evidence of distinction and something that can be proven. So while branding is what you turn over to your marketing director, brand development must be led by the CEO. A brand’s distinction is what separates it from its competitors. It’s what makes it stand out as extraordinary, different or, better yet, more valuable to the end user.
How to uncover it.
Brand development is the internal discovery of brand distinction. Much to the surprise of many, it is not discovered by talking with your customers or believing that you can become something your organization is not capable of being. Brand is the essence of what your organization already is. It is, in part, what your organization has always been. It is what you are. Remember, your company mission is to “be …,” your vision is to “become …,” and your brand is what you are and what you do differently.
The process starts with fact finding and through a series of stages, extrapolating potential truths, until you have a prioritized list of absolutely unique, provable selling points. And although defined here in a single sentence, don’t underestimate the power of brand discovery. The deeper you dig and the more thorough the analysis, the more obvious the essence of the brand and its leadership capabilities will become. And the easier it will be to assume a long-term brand leadership position going forward.
From this process, you can establish the foundation for an undisputable statement of differentiation and a leadership position you are capable of controlling. It will provide a lens through which all company strategic direction should be viewed. It is your corporate values, reputation capital, name equity and social capital, which encompasses your relational and cognitive beliefs and values. Your company brand is your market driver and, as such, must get incorporated into the company’s mission, strategies and operations. It must align with the overall business plan.
Aligning business strategy and brand strategy.
Our business strategy encompasses our customers, strategic partners, distributors, employees, marketing and sales. So, too, must our brand strategy. And when the two are aligned, they form our overall corporate strategy, infusing our organization with the momentum it needs to take over the leadership position.
What’s the importance of brand leadership? It’s the added-value, good brand-positioning offers. It allows customers to adopt your brand as their own and allows for better brand management, internal adoption and crystal clear communication. Great brands control their categories and thrive for years. They set examples for others to try to mimic.
Are you ready to assume the leadership role?
Once successfully differentiated, a company separates itself from competitors and, thus, assumes a leadership position. Once aligned with the company’s business strategy, it is positioned to succeed. If there is a downside to brand leadership, it would be living up to your company’s claim and having the guts to posture the company as a leader, not a follower. Are you ready?
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.
Companies worldwide are struggling to find and retain the caliber of leaders their businesses need. The increased market intensity and demand for top-shelf, experienced leaders arrive at a time when our population of potential leaders is declining. Stagnant hiring in the early 1980s has resulted in fewer experienced leaders available. On top of that, U.S. census data indicates that the population of potential leaders is shrinking.
In short, we have a challenging business environment and fewer experienced leaders to navigate it.
These challenges represent opportunities to fundamentally change and measurably improve how talent is managed. We must treat talent management as a business imperative and bring it to the strategic planning table — where it belongs.
Whether starting new companies or preparing the leaders of tomorrow, the most successful companies hire great talent, make sure that talent is aligned with the company’s strategy and culture, develop that talent aggressively and reward that talent well, in alignment with their desired culture and future strategy.
To manage talent strategically, organizations must do three things:
Align business and talent strategies.
Every aspect of the talent strategy should link directly to the business strategy and its execution. Anything not directly linked is probably working against the core strategy by consuming time and resources and confusing managers about what is most important. Once the business plan is formulated, the first question to ask is, “Are the current people processes ready to hire, develop and manage leaders to support this business plan for the next three to five years?” Make sure that the competencies for which you are hiring match the skills that leaders will need to execute the business plan. Ensure that leadership development is based upon values that support where the company is headed.
Look ahead, not behind.
Develop tomorrow’s leaders for tomorrow’s challenges. Talent management should be based on where the company is going, not where it has been. Most performance management effort is oriented toward evaluating past performance. While understanding how a person has just performed against current expectations is important, it is equally important to ensure that leaders are assessed against the future demands of the business — three to five years down the road — not just the challenges being faced today.
Track the talent profile.
Talent metrics should be established, tracked and acted upon as part of the business portfolio. They should garner the same attention as other bottom-line metrics. Talent metrics are not second-class measures — they are a vital part of your business portfolio and the best indicator of your future capacity to execute.
Ignoring or ascribing second-class status to talent metrics is a good way to be caught off-guard in midstream. Decision-makers should have a “talent scorecard” to monitor the quality of available talent and track gaps in key talent pools. These data can be used to adjust hiring and development practices and to drive individual accountability for enabling the business strategy.
No matter how brilliant the strategy, it takes people to execute it. It is too easy to be captivated by plans to secure additional market share or tap new markets but fail to ask, “Do we have the people to get the job done?” and “What will it take to ensure we have the talent we need?” Require each business in the enterprise to provide a talent strategy commensurate with the operating plan for executing their business strategy. Without an equivalent talent plan, the business strategy becomes a false promise. Do not approve business plans that fail to address finding, developing and managing talent to execute the strategy.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick consults with top executives and their boards on issues of executive leadership succession and effectiveness and strategy execution, including merger integration. Reach her at email@example.com.