Is this branding stuff worth the trouble?

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CA is a fundamentally different company than it was when I arrived two years ago. Plagued by an accounting scandal and operational issues that threatened its very existence, CA required transformation—not in the "restructuring" sense, but in a very fundamental sense.

It started with a deep understanding of CA's customers, who wanted something that would unify and simplify the management of increasingly complex IT environments. This was a very different problem than our competitors were trying to solve, yet one that we could solve.

CA's assets and customer insights convinced us that there was reason to "believe again," which became the core premise of our brand activities, as well as a new vision to unify and simplify the management of IT. This got customers to think differently and employees to rally around a common mission. It also created an investment thesis for partners and investors.

The next step was to align the company's name with this vision. We simplified "Computer Associates" to CA and brought the C and A on our brand mark closer together.

Now came the hard part, "operationalizing" the company's new mission and vision.

We segmented markets and targeted the largest customers, who we believed would value CA's mission the most. We defined solutions forming the foundation of our vision. We focused on delivering superior technology, supported by targeted and integrated marketing, and an informed selling approach. Meanwhile, we deepened the brand transformation by expanding the common look and feel across the company.

Today, we have a common mission, a shared understanding of our customers and a single unifying vision.

I've learned a lot. First, branding can deliver all its promised benefits. But it has to be operationalized, meaning it must be driven into every facet of the business.

Second, true transformation is difficult, because inertia and culture are powerful things. We were helped by the crisis we faced, which sharpened our focus.

Finally, a transformation like this requires executive leadership. The only way to ensure that fundamental culture change permeates is for company leaders to actively communicate and support the importance of the effort.

So the theory of branding remains as relevant today as it did at its inception half a century ago. The challenge facing today's business leaders is to implement the theory with energy and precision.

Absent a life-or-death crisis of the kind we faced at CA, marshaling an entire organization behind comprehensive change is a Herculean task. Only leaders who fully understand the rewards of effective branding can convince an organization that the results are worth the pain.

Donald R. Friedman is exec VP-chief marketing officer at CA. He can be reached at [email protected].

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