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The Identity Circle Newsletter                                                                Issue Four  |  July 2009
The Societal Brand -
New Challenge for a New Economy

News Flash!
Before diving into my topic for this newsletter, I want to report some very exciting news... The Identity Circle has won the 2009 Connecticut Quality Improvement Award (CQIA) for my work on Tapping Organizational Identity to Create Value.
The application was reviewed by 12 CQIA examiners from different fields, who selected The Identity Circle as an Innovation Prize silver recipient. The 22-year old Connecticut Quality Improvement Award was America's first state-level quality award, using the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria for Performance Excellence. 
And now, back to the brand ...
It's not just about the customer anymore.
We're still mired in the midst of a debilitating recession. Companies are justifiably cost-conscious. Layoffs continue. The stock market can't make up its mind. Underneath this dark cloud, however, there are changes occurring that are positively, well, positive. And those changes mark a seminal shift in the nature of corporate branding.
One of the not-so-subtle results of the economic crisis is a painful reminder that business and life are totally intertwined. Business thrives, we thrive. Business falters, so do we.
This seemingly obvious fact foreshadows a new phenomenon on the brand landscape: organizations whose sheer size, wide sphere of influence and fundamental impact on the national or world economy makes them, by definition, "societal brands;" that is, they literally shape how society works, whether they intend to or not. They are agents of societal change.
Wal-Mart: Poster Child
Wal-Mart is a dramatic example of a company whose sheer might has led it to alter the economic landscape of America. It has been a boon to millions of consumers with its everyday low prices, allowing people to buy products they might not otherwise be able to afford. 
About five years ago, however, Wal-Mart caused a firestorm of controversy around its hiring, health care and wage policies, as well as its steamroller effect on smaller, local businesses which disappeared, unable to compete with the retailing giant. Low prices were effectively trumped by low political and consumer opinions of the company.
Remarkably, in a sharp turn-around, Wal-Mart today is on a mission to determine the social and environmental impact of all of the products it sells, and to create a universal rating system, as a result. For better, and formerly for worse, Wal-Mart is a classic societal brand, whose brand promise goes far beyond low-cost merchandise. Like it or not, the company alters economic and social trends simply as a result of being in business, as do other societal influencers such as Microsoft, GE, IBM and Google.
Which brings me back to today's economy and what it means for branding... As you read this, new public standards and expectations are forming for how companies will need to operate in the future - not just in the financial sector, but in all sectors. People - read customers, investors and employees - will seek to do business with companies that are socially and economically accountable, not just profitable: in today's vernacular, companies that protect the economy, rather than destroy it. 
Being a societal brand complicates the traditional branding formula, where making customers happy is the measure of success. In Wal-Mart's case, brand success isn't going to be just about everyday low prices. It's also going to be about establishing business policies that enrich the world it is part of. Being a societal brand is challenging at best, drawing attention to the means a company employs to achieve its goals, not just the end.  
A useful way to grasp the power of being a societal brand is by considering Einstein's famous equation, E=MC2, where energy equals mass times velocity. Companies that qualify as societal brands have achieved the "mass," that is, the size and the "velocity" - the momentum - to become energy forces in their own right. And, just as Einstein's theory has influenced how we live, so does being a societal brand influence our lives in profound and permanent ways. 
What's next?

Companies whose growth trajectory suggests that they're on the path to becoming a societal brand would benefit from understanding the obligations, as well as the rewards, that come with achieving this vaunted status.
Why? Because we're creeping up on a recovery, which will produce not just a new, but a smarter economy - an economy whose leaders will be those companies that embrace, rather than eschew, their relationship wth society.
In short, my advice then is this: Start now to shape management policies and practices, as well as marketing and communications to ensure that your company's societal status amplifies, rather than erodes, the power of your corporate brand.
Read More feature of Identity Insights   

Discover How To ... 
... Turn the Corporate Brand into a High-Impact Management Discipline
Branding continues to be regarded as mainly a marketing and communications discipline. But there is so much more it can become - and contribute to the growth and performance of an enterprise.
To make the most of this hidden opportunity, you first need to know the secrets of the corporate brand. Here's a favorite, classic article that will reveal those "secrets" and how to capitalize on them.

"Your identity is your gift to the world."

Larry Ackerman 2

Larry Ackerman
Founder and President
The Identity Circle 

"Being a societal brand complicates the traditional branding formula where making customers happy is the measure of success."  

The Identity Circle
is a research, education and consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals clarify and apply their uniqueness and potential in ways that improve performance, impact and reputation.
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