Making Your Brand Real

Branding a division

By Tom Dougherty

At the end of the day, managing the efficiencies of a business is just a small part of the responsibility of being a division head. Presiding over a division or leading a geographic sub-division can be a grave responsibility. Certainly understanding the corporate brand and culture and transmitting that culture throughout your organization is a huge job.

Branding a divisionHowever, understanding the cultural differences between HQ and your area of responsibility is what defines your success. What must your communication strategy be?

One of the greatest differences will be in how persuasive the parent brand is in your geography. The most successful brands always understand that these differences will propel success or limit its acceptance. The reason for this discrepancy is cultural.

Let’s face it. Even if you run the most buttoned-up ship in the fleet with the most satisfied employees and the absolute minimum in waste, your days at the helm are numbered unless you are able to grow the business quarter upon quarter. Your success, at the end of the day, is judged by how much market share you steal.

It might surprise you to know that about a third of our clients are cut from your cloth. They are presidents of a division or preside over an important sub-brand. But, what they have most in common is an understanding that their customers are different from those of the main market and that understanding those differences grows market share.

Your localized version of the main brand is a delicate science. How you manage that endeavor will have a direct influence over how successful you will be at growing the business.

How to Determine Brand Permission

Brand, at its root, is about permission. Think of it this way: You just ask yourself what does your brand have permission to say or be?

Look at your brand permission as a person and not a company, and you are soon judging everything the brand said in terms of what you believe to be true about it personally. This is the foundation of your communication strategy. Is it honest, reliable, informed, or is it something else entirely? When it makes a statement, all of your personality receptors are up and you judge what it tells you by what you believe it has permission to say. Often, that permission is a result of context.

Branding a divisionTake for example your doctor. Hopefully, when the doctor speaks to you about your health, you take the advice to heart. You have given your doctor “permission” to be an expert on health related matters. While you might also be interested in what the physician says about legal issues, you do not grant them permission to give you legal advice.

The same is true for brands. What the brand is granted as permission to own will affect its level of believability. Believability influences its persuasive skills and, if the claim is not believed, it is not persuasive.

It is important for you to know what those brand permissions are in your market. More often than not, there are different thresholds in different markets and, how well you adapt to those differences, will determine your success or failure.

These are not subtle differences. Cultural separations can be extreme. To grow a brand globally or as a sub-category, we utilize brand anthropological studies to understand the values and beliefs of the target audience, and not just tracking the usage habits. It is not enough to know how and why target audiences use something. It is imperative that you understand the cultural influences that drive all purchase behaviors.

These differences, and there will be differences, must be reflected in your brand’s promises. The level to which they are perceived as authentic is in direct proportion to its persuasive power. No advertising campaign or slogan will be able to overcome a cultural precept problem. These are fatal flaws and your sensitivity to them needs to be greater than that of the “home ” brand.

Making the Brand Real when branding a division and Communicating that in your Strategy

You need to take the promise of the home brand and adapt it to the local sensibilities. This requires that you find out the permissions of the parent brand in relation to the local market and redefine it in local terms. This is not simply a translation issue as the entire brand permission might be wrong in your market. Translating it is a force fit and the results of such a move can be devastating. (Read how rebranding can impact organizational structure here)

Branding a divisionAt the same time, you need to make sure that your local brand retains the heritage of the parent. The world we live in is smaller than we could ever have imagined. Borders, be they geographic or marketing, are man made and artificial. The parent brand will have some awareness in your market and it is foolhardy to pretend other wise.

For example, if the parent brand promises it’s for those that think of themselves as winners (like Nike, for example), then your sub-brand needs to reflect that space. Therefore, Nike cannot legitimately sell in another culture as a work shoe. It can be a shoe used for working (and not track), but it has to still reflect the basic principle of being for winners. That’s where its permissions lie.

Now, if you were Nike and the local culture thought “winning” was self-serving and shallow, you would have another problem. Don’t overlook it.

Take the lead in brand sensitivity and the entire company wins. Often, when a division builds a brand to steal market share, the entire company takes notice. We have seen Fortune 100 companies take their cue from the vision of a singe division and dive head first into the new age of branding with a purpose.

Stealing market share feeds every corporate culture. Those that think that brand projects are only for new launches and to fix obvious issues are destined to play follow the leader. Brand is about permission, and your company has given you permission to win.