Look to Nature
November 10, 2016
Want to build a powerful brand? Think iceberg
By Larry Ackerman
One of the most vexing challenges facing leaders today is finding ways to explain important strategies to busy, often skeptical employees — ideas around value creation that capture their imagination, allowing them to connect with and support a strategy quickly, personally, and long-term.
In looking at how to frame and communicate essential concepts about a business, one of the most compelling places to turn is to nature itself. Why? Because all things come from it. Nature, in all its infinite forms, is the wellspring of life for individuals and for organizations.
In my experience, there is no better natural form to help model a brand than the iceberg. Though often viewed as menacing, the iceberg provides far more positive analogies: structure, mystery, and beauty, all of which have their place in the world of branding.
It’s common knowledge that “the tip of the iceberg” is the only thing you can see above the surface of the water. It is often beautiful. A company’s name, logo, and tagline are the equivalent of the iceberg’s tip. They’re easy to spot and, if properly developed, should express what the organization is about and what goes on inside it.
Though often viewed as menacing, the iceberg provides far more positive analogies: structure, mystery, and beauty, all of which have their place in the world of branding.
To build a powerful brand, however, you must first have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to represent. That means getting below the surface of the enterprise to discern what makes it unique, what its value-creating potential really is — in short, its identity.
The goal is to dive deep, ask penetrating questions, and discover truths that reveal how the company as a whole makes a distinctive contribution in the marketplace. The learnings that emerge from this exploration are a gift to management. They provide not only a solid foundation for brand development but insights that can influence the overall direction of the company.
With the company’s identity as a foundation, here’s how to create a potent brand, using the iceberg as a model.
1. Brand Promise. The model builds on the identity of the company as the foundation for forging a distinctive, authentic, and sustainable brand promise. Fueling this approach is the identity paradox, which calls for changing from a changeless foundation. One of the most common misconceptions in business is believing that everything is subject to change. While that may generally be true, what is not subject to change is the core identity of the organization. That identity is inviolable, transcending time and place; yet to keep it fresh and relevant, its expressions must constantly evolve.
2. Brand Behavior. Once the identity code has been cracked, the next step is to translate it into the values people will need to support it. The job is not to simply state, define, and communicate those values but to transform them into concrete behaviors that directly affect operations (e.g., marketing, sales, human resources, customer service, and manufacturing).
3. Brand Content. Moving up the iceberg takes us to communications in all its forms — the key messages that will explain and reinforce identity, internally and externally. Specifically, this effort encompasses executive, corporate, employee, and marketing communications.
4. Brand Structure. Another form of “communication” is how the company presents itself to the world. This is the province of brand architecture and design, which together illuminate the “structure” of the brand. Here, the task is to organize all the company’s names, nomenclature, and graphic elements in a way that streamlines and simplifies their presentation to all audiences. The goal? To maximize perceptions of value.
5. Brand Flag. Finally, we arrive at the aforementioned tip of the iceberg — the company’s “brand flag.” The job of this flag is to be a beacon of value creation, one that takes up permanent, positive residence in the minds of all constituencies.
The identity-based brand provides leaders with a practical model that can pay strategic, operational, and cultural dividends over time, because it touches all parts of the business at once. More specifically, it offers executives a platform for reasserting the relevance of the organization in the minds of its chief stakeholders.
Strength. Depth. Beauty. Mystery. Longevity. All are central qualities of an iceberg. They are also the qualities that define the nature of a powerful brand. So, to craft an enduring brand legacy, start by looking well below the surface of the enterprise.
Larry Ackerman is president of The Identity Circle LLC, a consulting and coaching firm based in Westport, Conn.
Photo credit: Samiran Sakar