History repeatedly teaches us the futility of attempting to impose change on any kind of organisation. Change is essential, of course, but to affect it requires the subtlety of brand community.

For a movement to bring about change requires buy-in, a sharing of values and beliefs among a critical mass of people with the desire to make it happen. In the commercial world, indeed in every corner of our lives, these communities are brands.

Brands as communities

Until relatively recently the idea of brands as communities hasn’t been appreciated. However, in 1996 the French sociologist, Michel Maffesoli introduced new thinking on this with his book “The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society”. This concept was later adopted by such marketing luminaries as Seth Godin and our understanding of brand dynamics began to change.

Today the suggestion of brands as communities barely prompts a raised eyebrow within enlightened business circles. However, there’s still a way to go before we can claim universal appreciation of how broadly that impacts on business. Yet, the current threat that digital disruption represents to traditional organisations brings the issue of brand communities to the top of the agenda for any business. These brand communities are now essential to the survival of many businesses. This is why.

Brand communities drive change

In his new book “Cascades – How To Create A Movement That Drives Transformational Change” Greg Satell explains how change is brought about by unification – The bringing together of people with the same interest and the management of the resulting community. He points out that the speed and efficiency offered by today’s technology not only prompts the business transformation we all have to go through right now, but facilitates the communities that make it possible. He also tells us that the principles of change in commerce are no different to those involved in other areas of our lives – politics, religion, sports and culture, which are all represented by brands too.

My own interpretations of the facts he presents sometimes differ to Greg’s, but the fundamental principles are indisputable. Yes, for all kinds of reasons, you can’t impose change. I agree change can only happen when a critical mass of people with a shared objective come together. However, it’s my belief that these communities already exist. They are the brands that already occupy every corner of our lives. We don’t need to create them, but we need to learn to manage and develop them through education, enlightenment and facilitation. This is a fundamental of business in the digital economy – introducing new skills, enabling communication and providing an environment where, once they have the skills and know what’s going on, community members can combine it all to address the objective. This is how change is brought about successfully.

Unlock the power of your brand community

Among other things, it requires a change in management style for most businesses, from command and control to one where the skills and experience of business leaders are applied to facilitate the community in their response to what’s happening in the world around them. In today’s businesses, it’s employees who drive change not the C-suite and the community is collaborative rather than dictatorial.

To unlock the power of a brand though means guiding senior managers towards their new role and liberating employees, suppliers and partners so they are able to contribute in this new, collaborative approach to business. 

Greg Satell talks about “teams within teams” as the way we’ll get things done efficiently from now on. I like to think of this in terms of segments within broader communities, but what ties them all together is a single objective or “brand promise” that they are all seeking to deliver.

To build a brand you first have to define it.

There is no disputing the process of building a brand community starts by defining it. I achieve this using a process I call “brand discovery”. This results in a “brand model” that defines the brand using twelve coordinates. However, the model itself isn’t going to bring about change, nor even create the community.

The critical component of every brand building initiative is the internal marketing that follows this initial phase. This is where the community is created and developed and it’s what brand building is really all about. It’s a major task, requiring specialist skills. It’s also takes the longest of all the phases of the brand development process, in fact your could say it’s never-ending. Yet, while many businesses recognise a need to re-brand and go through the defining and design phases, they often limit their efforts to a cosmetic exercise, to do with logos and collateral, rather than community-building. As a result, they fail to create a genuine brand and are consequently unable to drive the change essential to their success in the digital economy.

In the new paradigm, where competition is extreme and failure usually spells the end for the organisation, it’s a waste no business can afford.  With up to eighty per-cent of transformation projects currently failing and many of the businesses concerned disappearing as a result, there’s never been a more compelling argument for harnessing the power of your brand. 

Harnessing technology to build your brand community

Happily, the very technology that is forcing organisations to change also facilitates transformation and, in particular brand development. By applying the same digital principles to internal marketing as you would your future external communications, you can build a strategy for your internal stakeholders that will drive your brand’s development.

The central plan of any internal marketing campaign is invariably an Intranet. I help my clients embed these on-line community centres within their operations. They become the portal through which every function of the organisation will eventually operate and typically they have four key areas – Induction, Training, Social and Operations (where all the forms, files and process standards are kept).

It may seem counter intuitive in the digital age, but we have good reason for also publishing a printed Brand Book. Combining this with the Induction area of the Intranet we can start to build the understanding among employees and engender the feeling of belonging that will be critical to our eventual success. We use e-mail marketing, messaging, gamification and more to create unity, liberate stakeholders and generate innovation.

Using your brand community to affect business transformation

What we end up with is a community that’s cohesive, it’s members fully  committed to delivering the single unifying objective – or promise – inherent in the brand.  Harnessing this potent tool to deliver change and business transformation then becomes just a matter of good management. The communities we create expand beyond employees as well, to embrace the diverse interests and resources of investors, suppliers, distributers and partners too. – Greg Satell’s “teams within teams”.

This kind of unity reduces waste, speeds up responses generally, not only the transformation process, makes transformation more affordable and reduces the pain it often represents. EXACTLY what traditional businesses need to counter the challenge of digital disrupters.

Phil Darby
September 9, 2019

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