Identity – at the heart of future-oriented management
A guest essay by Alexander Haldemann, CEO of MetaDesign
Change and upheavals are not a new phenomenon. In the past, however, they were more predictable and could be managed better, based on reliable planning and corporate strategies. Today, the only constant is that everything permanently changes.
Dr. Alexander Haldemann is a consultant on brand management to such companies as Intel, Coca-Cola, Samsung, and also Vontobel. His focus is in the area of new technologies and digital transformation.
Today’s reality does not allow us any time-outs. Both the pace and the degree of change present challenges. New companies appear virtually out of nowhere: Airbnb in the hotel industry, Tesla in the automotive sector, Amazon in retail – and on and on. They shake the very foundations of their respective sectors and turn the business model of established competitors on their heads. Their instruments consisting of product, sales, marketing or pricing policies are failing.
«Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.» (Mike Tyson)
What do companies do in this situation? With all their might, they brace themselves against the developments that are threatening them. They intensify their advertising activities, in order to hang on to their fickle customers. The result: interchangeable products and a target audience that is becoming increasingly deaf and blind to the promises made by advertising.
«The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.» (Tom Fishburn)
Today, consumers inform themselves better and more actively before making their buying decisions. They are critical and they no longer just buy the best product. Rather, they buy one that expresses their ideals and values – one that is a good fit with the people whose ideas they share.
These new buyers understand the power they have, and they turn away from anything that looks like superficial marketing. They hold companies accountable for solving problems and influencing society as a whole. This is precisely where identity comes in.
Identity creates a bond between people and companies
Identity is not a short-term means of increasing sales or optimizing advertising effectiveness. Identity answers the central question of “Why?”, i.e. what difference the company makes at its core, what differentiates it from its competitors, and what inspires its customers – as well as employees – over the long run.
For example, how can Airbnb’s success be explained? Airbnb is pursuing a higher objective than simply providing private accommodation opportunities as efficiently as possible. The declared raison d’être of Airbnb is to provide unique travel experiences – from person to person – in a world in which everyone feels they belong. With some three million rooms listed worldwide, Airbnb’s platform is already bigger than the total offer of Hilton, Marriott and InterContinental combined.
The example of Airbnb demonstrates that in times of profound change, identity is the reliable anchor point for the way the company shapes its future.
Three fundamental elements of identity for companies
- Vision. Companies need to know where they want to go. Visions are achievable goals – “a dream with a deadline” – close enough that they can be realized, and big enough to generate enthusiasm.
- Values. Companies need to know what their convictions are, the principles of belief that govern the company’s behavior. Employees identify with the company’s values and rely on them to guide their actions.
- Competences. Companies need to know what they can do best, what the strengths are that characterize them: the abilities and experiences that enable it to succeed in the market.
The brand is what the customer and the company perceive in common
The interplay of values, competences, and vision forms the company’s identity. It steers the way the company thinks and acts into a single direction. It is the self-image and binding standard for every contact with its customers. The sum of these individual interactions with customers creates the brand experience – the external image perceived from the outside. The aim of brand management is to bring the self-image and external image as close together as possible.
The employees are the first customers of the brand
Corporate management must always begin with the question of identity. What is the overarching goal that spurs us on? What values do we stand for? What are the benefits we provide our customers – today and tomorrow?
The answers to these questions are not only for the managers to know, but all employees, regardless of their level in the hierarchy. Together, the employees lead the brand and shape its image in the eyes of the public. Thus, before the company’s identity can be successfully transmitted to the outside world, it must first find acceptance and respect inside the company. Or as Richard Branson says: “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.”
About Alexander Haldemann
Alexander Haldemann is an expert on strategic brand and communication issues. He is the CEO of MetaDesign, one of the worlds leading branding and design agencies with around 300 employees and offices in Asia, Europe, and North America.