I have never been much of a brand guy, preferring to focus my career on tactical activities that can be well aligned with measurable sales goals, such as lead generation, lead introduction, lead nurturing and deal close.
Yet, I do recognize the importance of a strong, compelling and credible brand story as it influences the success of nearly every aspect of an organization – from external communications and sales to employee and investor relations.
That’s why I called up Erica Pierson, a long-standing client and good friend to learn more about a recent global branding initiative she spearheaded for an education software and technology company called Hobsons. This article is third in my “Three Questions For” series, which has also profiled Keith Hodson at Microsoft and Meredith Lawrence at Polycom.
What was your initial perception of Hobsons? Why was a brand overhaul a smart strategic investment for the company?
Like many diversified technology companies, Hobsons was well known and respected in the market for individual products. For instance, under the Naviance brand the company was recognized as a leader in the kindergarten through 12th grade education market.
However, the broader corporate story was not quite as sharp and as the company continued to mature this could potentially limit growth opportunities.
What Hobsons’ management framed to me when I joined the company as a branding challenge was actually more of a business strategy issue: how to build a single, global integrated business that is easily understood by a set of external and internal audiences and, therefore, well positioned for growth.
Simply put, our story had to create a compelling reason to do business with Hobsons.
Can you talk us through the branding process?
In my experience I’ve found that a lot of strategic marketing initiatives start with a black eye. At Hobsons, the black eye was the corporate Web site.
It had been created over time and this fragmented approach resulted in a somewhat disjointed story presented on the site.
My first step was to secure management buy-in to create a new global brand story. Only then could we initiate a Web development effort to tell that story coherently on our corporate site. Everyone in management was incredibly supportive.
From there, I built a team comprised of internal marketers and outside consultants who had experience in branding, message development, creative design, Web development and change management. It was also important for us to have broader strategic skills on the team related to public relations, social media, marketing automation, events management and sales enablement.
And finally, when we were ready to formally introduce the new brand story it was imperative that I work closely with management to educate employees.
I personally presented the new brand story to every U.S. and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) employee and made sure they were ready to tell the story themselves, in their own words. This effort, although time-intensive, was a critical success factor for the brand launch.
Employees serve as a powerful voice to the customers and partners about Hobsons, our value and core suite of messages.
Any lessons learned from this major branding initiative?
Throughout the entire process I was consistently reminded of why it is so critical to get buy-in and support from internal audiences. We should have probably started that effort even earlier because it can be a challenge to educate while executing tactics.
Hobsons’ brand story and Web site have been incredibly well received. In fact, I had a number of employees write me personal notes about how much they appreciate the new brand.