(Originally published in The Zweig Letter).
The famous photograph of six United States Marines hoisting a 100-pound American flag symbolized a team gung ho about their brand, represented by Old Glory. Twenty seven Medals of Honor were awarded to those who survived this fierce battle, which was more than any war in American history. What better representation of brand loyalty? It is this type of all in passion that builds epic brands.
Here’s some historical perspective to illustrate the point. On the fateful day in 1945 during World War II, 70,000 U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of this eight-square-mile volcanic Japanese island in the Pacific Ocean. The enemy was entrenched. Nearly 20,000 Japanese soldiers had taken up positions in underground bunkers, caves and tunnels, leaving U.S. troops vulnerable to an invisible enemy. The Marines swarmed onto this small island, taking fire from an invisible enemy as bombers swarmed overhead. Approximately 7,000 Marines were killed in action and more than 17,000 were wounded. These six surviving soldiers had been through hell, yet they managed to drag themselves to the peak of Mount Suribachi to signal victory by raising the symbol of their brand.
This type of passion from the entire team is what branding is all about. Yet it’s exactly where many A/E firms are lacking.
The things these heroic Marines fought for during the Battle of Iwo Jima went beyond their commitment to the American brand. They tapped into deep-seated emotions, love of country, survival, etc. It would be unrealistic to get your team committed to living your firm’s brand to that extent, but you can certainly set the bar that high.
What Branding is Not
One of my favorite definitions of “brand” is by renowned marketer and bestselling author Seth Godin: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” What is the commonality among these elements? They are all produced by the entire team. Not the business development director. Not the logo. Not the slogan. The entire team.
Some A/E firms think they can just hire an agency or a consultant to brand the firm. They create a logo and possibly a slogan, update the firm’s digital and print materials, and commit to using it consistently to preserve the integrity of the brand. Then the A/E firm returns to its core business of design never to speak of the brand again.
But branding is much more than that. The brand is largely about the experience your customers have when dealing with your firm and employees. Are your troops gung ho about your brand?
What is Brand Leadership?
Brand leadership must be supported from the top. Despite all of the talk about the flattening of the organizational structure, leadership still trickles down from the top. That doesn’t mean brand leadership can’t come from the project management level. It just means that ultimately, leadership originates in the C Suite. A/E executives must show commitment to branding. Your team needs to know that the firm’s leaders are proudly hoisting the firm’s brand.
Major General Fred Haynes led the U.S. Marines to a hard-fought victory during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Had he not demonstrated hands-on leadership, would the battle have been victorious? Teamwork is critical in branding as it is in war, although the stakes aren’t as high.
Why do A/E Firms Doubt the Brand?
Too many A/E firms have not bought into the concept of branding. They dismiss the concept as fluff or marketing speak. Their pragmatism is a blinder that paralyzes their branding efforts, and therefore, inhibits the growth of their firms. They need numbers to measure the investment in branding. How does branding hit the bottom line? The problem is that branding is a gray area. While there are aspects of marketing that allow us to measure return on investment (ROI), branding is not always measurable.
Many Brand Leadership Styles
Many engineering executives are reluctant or unable to show passion when it comes to the firm’s brand. They’re not “cheerleaders.” They half-jokingly describe themselves as “dour” or “dry” and incapable of expressing passion. How can A/E executives expect their staff to show passion about the brand when they don’t?
Brand leadership requires no pom poms and chants. Leadership styles are as diverse as brands themselves. General George S. Patton Jr. and Winston Churchill were passionate leaders. But branding is not war. While passion is the wind that fans the flames of leadership, it is but one element. The way that A/E executives show brand leadership is not important. The fact that they do is what counts.
100 Percent Buy-In
Branding is a lot like company culture. One bad apple can spread like cancer and compromise the brand. I’ve known A/E firms where the contrast between the gung ho brand loyalists and the non-believers who showed up to collect a paycheck was stark.
The brand has to be contagious within the organization before it can exude power externally. Imagine if the troops at Iwo Jima had lacked commitment. Would the battle have been won?
Is your team gung ho about your firm’s brand? It’s a critical question to ponder if you hope to achieve a branding victory.