Identity Envy

17 03 2010

I want to share some thoughts I have on branding and positioning that hit home after I recently attended a trade show.

At the beginning of March, I attended the RSA Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The show, which focused on the computer security industry, amassed 300 exhibitors that varied in size from the small garage type start-ups to the mega companies like CA and IBM. Narus, the company for which I am Chief Marketing Officer (and strategic consultant), exhibited at the show. It was a truly great show and traffic was substantial.

I had just completed reading the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Strategic Report. One of DHS’s objectives is to protect the country from cyber attacks— -and that is precisely in the power zone of what Narus does! Narus’ vision is to protect corporations, governments and countries from business risks and cyber threats. It’s a simple vision that guides our choice of markets to serve and the framework in which we develop our products and services for our customers.

It was interesting when a representative of a company, a carrier or a government department stopped by the booth. Some knew what we did while others were not so sure. Visitors from “competitors” stopped by as well. Our signage was pretty clear and we explained what we did. We even placed three of our execs on panels during the show to spread the word on what we do. Yet, I was intrigued by the fact that many people- competitors and otherwise- said that they did precisely the same thing and had the same capabilities. I know that is hardly the truth and it irks me to a point.

Consider the following analogy from the world of football. Jim Sorgi is a pro quarterback who has been the backup to TWO Mannings, Peyton and Eli. If Archie did not have these two sons, perhaps Jim Sorgi would have been the starting quarterback of the Colts and now the Giants. But unfortunately, he will always be relegated to the dubious distinction of backing up the Mannings and never being the main QB. I liken Narus to the Mannings and the other pretenders to being the Jim Sorgi’s of the world. (No offense, Jim. I would yearn to be a quarterback in the pros!!!) They are not at the same caliber or skill set yet play in the same game.

This raises the following question: How can one protect and maintain your position in the market and distinguish yourself against the pretenders? Here are my three prescriptions:

1. Set a clear vision and strategy for your brand and where you fit into the eco-system. This is the point where you figure out where you want to play in your eco-system, what technology you will use, what markets you pursue, and what is your distinguishing characteristic. For Narus, its strengths lie in the metadata, the analytics and the rule sets it uses to help its customers manage business risks and protect against cyber threats. These are truly unique and complex. We are not DPI boxes nor event managers nor merely forensic analyzers.

2. Develop a clear position and make sure it is repeated and repeatable. Think about the company represented by the following terms: “pin drop,” “can you hear me know,” and “there’s an app for that.” These companies are: Sprint, Verizon, and Apple. Not a bad list to associate with!! You have to ask yourself if your company stands out, and more importantly, what customers remember about your company.

3. Walk the talk. If you have a clear vision, strategy, and message, you need to ensure that the entire organization from the employees to the front line resonate with the brand and its positioning. When I was the Chief Marketing Officer for US Cellular, we had a tag line “the way people talk around here.” It was supposed to represent our customer-intimate strategy and all our people, especially the front line in our retail stores and call centers, were taught what that means so they could walk the talk. If a customer came in the store and if we were not helpful or trustworthy, we would belie the tag, our brand, and our positioning. Rather, we wanted to be known as the company who is trustworthy, like a friendly neighbor. And it worked as the financials showed.

The good news is that Narus has a consistent message and those that know us understand the message. For others, we need to do a better job at enlightening potential customers where we fit into the eco-system and what our unique capabilities are. Yet, for others, we will convert them to understand our brand and positioning, one customer at a time.

Comments are gladly appreciated.

David Friedman

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2 responses

17 03 2010
kevinliebl

David,

Great blog post. I agree with everything you said regarding branding. It can be a challenge to “rise above the white noise” of the market. Your three suggested steps are very appropriate and are often forgotten. I think a fourth step is to promote, promote, promote. Creating a vision/strategy, position and then walking the talk is critical. Yet in today’s information saturated world, you can get lost. You can have the best message, but without the right promotional strategy, the only ones who hear it are your employees, investors and customers. I think that there is a generational gap occurring between the mid- and upper-level marketing execs and the younger execs. The younger ones are understanding and leveraging social media while the older ones are not yet figuring it out. However, the problem is bigger than that. It is that most companies simply do not understand how to tap into promotional activities to efficiently communicate their message…

Great post! Thanks for creating the dialog.

– Kevin

21 03 2010
Christie Turner at Invisible Marketing

David, good stuff as usual. Where companies really lose their brands is in the operational execution, as you know. They spend too much time deciding that something is going to be orange. But not nearly enough time figuring out how to make promises that the business will deliver — on leadership and accountability.

Kevin, I think the generation gap you’re seeing is also a mindset gap. Do I think I can control the message in a one-way brainwashing effort toward my audience? (old mindset) Can I engage markets and individuals in 2-way conversations that I influence but cannot control? (new mindset) The new mindset doesn’t win in every market, but it’s becoming more important to be flexible in thinking about the role of the marketing messenger.

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