Sure they do. Management’s focus on the 50,000 foot view of an organization includes issues around brand. But what I’ve found is that they are not always aware of mission-critical elements that contribute to how your brand is perceived–by customers, donors, investors, or other influencers. Here are two areas where the executive team often falls short, and what you can do about it.
The Virtual. Let’s face it, many in executive leadership are from a generation that’s not entirely comfortable with the virtual world of the internet and social media–even email. A good friend of mine in his 60’s ran a highly successful international foundation without so much as a computer on his desk. His secretary read and responded to all his emails! Other execs can be suspicious of social media being merely social and not having any business function, so they won’t allow employees to use it. Or they limit online time to younger subordinates–interns and such–without realizing these have become the face of the organization and their first responders in a crisis. (And they might be perfectly well qualified for this, but that might not really be the communications strategy when the assignment is made.)
So how do you get management to care about the virtual iterations of your brand?
1. Provide real feedback on what others are saying about you and your issue or product or competitors on a regular basis–a quick overview report at least weekly. You likely already know the tools (Google Alerts, Twittalyzer). But also write the report in “real English” so that those of us who aren’t as facile with technology can “get it” and understand strategic implications.
2. Offer a virtual brand game-plan with a specific group of staff and targeted number of hours they will spend listening and responding on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.
3. Be willing to revise the game plan. Test a variety of strategies and personnel. Some people love to write, for example, and could be great bloggers for your brand. Others might be better suited to the 140-characters-or-less world of Twitter.
The Physical. I recently attended an after work networking event at a company that reminded me how much the physical still matters when it comes to your brand. The party included a number of people I wanted to meet. However, the bar was located right in the entrance area, so everyone was crammed together there and no one could circulate. The food was elsewhere–sitting on small, lonely plastic platters in several conference rooms too far from the main action to attract much attention. But for those who ventured in search of nourishment, the message of the meager fare was either that the company was suffering greatly in the economic downturn, or they didn’t like their customers enough to invest in more than a bowl of peanuts. Probably not the message management intended to send. My guess is management didn’t even involve itself in the layout or the menu decisions.
By contrast I attended another business event for top-level CEOs where clearly the economic downturn played a role in the decision to change the evening from black-tie to business dress. The food was well laid out and appetizing, but not overly luxurious. The content and networking spaces were well-planned. Result: a good boost for the host company’s brand.
How can you get management to care about the “physical” expressions of your brand?
1. Include them in your decision-making. Even if it’s the tablecloths for an event or the new office chairs, make sure management knows What you’re suggesting/deciding and Why you’re making those recommendations. What is the impression you are trying to make? What do you want customers or donors or investors to think about you when they leave? (note: “they’re suffering” doesn’t always translate into increased donations on the nonprofit side.)
2. Show them examples (photos) of what your event/office would look like if these decisions get made. I’m sure that if one of the top executives of the firm I mentioned above had seen what a little plastic platter of vegetables looked like sitting alone on a vast polished wood conference table, he might have endorsed a different food budget.
3. Poll your guests and share outcomes with management. Survey Monkey and other online tools make it so easy to find out whether or not your guests liked your event/their meeting at your office/etc. Social media also allows you to hear from important players and share back their comments.
All I can end with is the line from the wonderful Maurice Sendak book for children, about Pierre “who didn’t care” (Spoiler alert: he gets eaten by a lion): Care!
©2009 Amy DeLouise. All Rights Reserved. For reprint permission, please contact amy(at)amydelouise(d0t)com.