open brands

I remember playing that old game of telephone at birthday parties when I was a kid. Sitting in a circle on the floor, the first person whispered a phrase to the next person who then whispered it to the next person and so on. The story passed around the circle as we squirmed with anticipation until the last person shared the phrase aloud. What we heard at the end was always pretty different from the original, which resulted in fits of laughter at the ridiculousness that had ensued in such a short time.

While this game is amusing when you’re at a party, it’s not amusing when it’s going on inside a business. News and information is shared from one employee or department to the next and is often misinterpreted or delivered without proper context. Soon, things begin to snowball, and eventually employees become distrustful and cynical. Managers often become territorial and start to doubt other departments and functions that should be their allies. Communication and collaboration deteriorates, and leaders wonder why morale is bad and the brand is struggling.

Customers will notice inconsistencies

Meanwhile, customers have expectations of what they’ll receive from an interaction with the brand, and they start to notice inconsistencies – or worse, they have a bad experience. It becomes pretty apparent that what’s being promised by the brand is far from what they’re actually receiving. That competitor is starting to look awfully appealing.

While this scenario is more commonplace than many businesses and brands would care to admit, it’s not inevitable nor does it have to be a game-ender. In our work with globally recognized brands, the key factor in avoiding or correcting this situation is a commitment to the brand promise at every level and function of a business.

This is a discipline we call Internal-External Brand Alignment, and we have identified the differentiating characteristics of businesses that practice brand alignment. Openness is one of the characteristics, and it’s the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the old telephone game and its damaging effects on a brand.

Alignment creates openness through a unified commitment to the brand promise.  That promise is at the core of everything – it’s not just lip service to some aspirational outcome that will never be achieved. It’s the focus and the context for every function, team, department and communication. It offers the framework for every strategy and initiative, and leaders connect business results to its successful delivery.

Brand alignment opens the door for collaboration

When the brand promise is so prominent, it leaves little space for personal agendas, and it opens door for collaboration and communication. The figurative walls between teams are broken down, and it’s the “all for one and one for all mentality.” When gaps and breakdowns happen, they are addressed with honesty and candor. Lessons learned from mistakes are quickly applied to new ways of functioning with little blame or animosity.

Employees at all levels can easily see how they are working toward a common goal through their individual and team contributions. Their performance can be measured against delivery of the promise, which can impact rewards and opportunities for advancement.  Employees know that it’s in their best interest to understand and be able to articulate the essence of the promise and the beliefs that support it.

This sense of purpose inspires those employees who are a natural fit for the culture of the organization, and it drives them to push themselves and their teammates. While this drive is motivating to some,  employees who are not the right fit will usually move on pretty quickly. In the long run, this strengthens culture and creates a more positive environment for everyone else.

The companies we’ve worked with on brand alignment treat the discipline as an ongoing and rigorous practice. It’s an ever-present commitment to the brand promise that paves the way for communication and collaboration across national and global organizations with dispersed teams. This alignment can make large businesses feel more intimate and personable when every team, employee and function is working toward a common goal of igniting the brand promise.

To read more about what makes aligned brands special, be sure to check out these articles:

The Power of the Customer Promise: Characteristics of Aligned Brands

Focused: Why Customers and Employees are Drawn to Focused Companies

Agile: How Agile Organizations Embrace Change

Confident: How Confident Brands Break all the Rules

Magnetic: How Magnetic Brands Attract Customers and Employees

Resilient: How Resilient Brands Recover from the Unexpected

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.