The Company on the Couch: What Branding Reveals About an Organization

Rebranding often serves as a kind of corporate psychoanalysis, uncovering hidden and sometimes painful truths.
black leather couch

We recently rebranded a $20 billion institutional asset management firm.  The client had been spun off from a much larger parent company and was looking to a new brand to ramp up its close rate with prospects.  Our research with clients and prospects (and several institutions that had chosen not to hire our client) uncovered a number of pillars the firm could use to build a differentiated brand.  And we discovered something else: the firm was viewed as arrogant.  This perception stemmed mainly from the personalities of the firm’s leadership team, who were justifiably proud of their refusal to sugarcoat the challenges facing their clients. Too often, however, they came across as dogmatic and even abrasive.  Our brand recommendations (delivered in a rather tense but ultimately successful meeting with said leadership team) focused on converting “arrogant” into “straight-talking,” a positive pillar on which to build a brand.  But the brand could only do so much: we also advised our clients to take a hard look at how they interact personally with clients and prospects.

Companies choose to rebrand for a variety of reasons. But along the way something unexpected almost always occurs: they learn something new about themselves, something that might have little obvious connection to their brand – but a very clear connection to their company’s success.  In fact, as our experience with the asset management firm reveals, rebranding often serves as a kind of corporate psychoanalysis, uncovering hidden and sometimes painful truths.

What can a brand (and a branding firm) do to address the hard truths uncovered during a rebranding? The answer is often quite a lot – provided brand strategy is aligned with business strategy. Companies that are successful at this alignment typically have a brand champion right in the C-suite whose influence cuts across departmental lines. Sometimes this is the chief marketing officer, but it’s often the CEO.

In rebranding a national consulting firm earlier this year, we uncovered something the firm hadn’t anticipated: it was failing to keep up with new technologies that were transforming its client base, opening the door to newer, younger competitors.  We recommended a new brand built around technology and data, but cautioned that the brand would only be successful if the firm did in fact invest in technology and data. Without aligning brand strategy with business strategy, the rebranding would be a failure.

Organizational issues often come to the fore in a rebranding. A global commercial lender asked us to develop a new brand that would increase cross-selling by uniting the company’s disparate offerings into a single, compelling value proposition. However, internal research revealed that salespeople were not incentivized to sell products outside their line of business; worse, without a financial incentive, they were reluctant even to recommend other solutions because they didn’t trust the quality of the people and solutions in other divisions, and didn’t want to jeopardize their client relationships. Our recommendations included extensive employee engagement activities around the new brand designed to build cross-business trust and understanding. But fixing the compensation issue was beyond the power of a brand.

Research almost always uncovers issues that on the surface have little to do with branding.  But dig deeper and a striking truth emerges: these “collateral” issues, if not addressed, can spell doom for a new brand. On the positive side: aligning brand and business strategy can mitigate, if not eliminate, these potential pitfalls, increasing the potential that the brand – and the company – will be success successful.

Putting the company on the couch through rebranding isn’t easy. But it’s the first step to recovery.

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