Creating an enduring business brand

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Joining the BtoBlog team this week, I went through lots of starts and stops on what topic I wanted to cover for my first blog entry. Then it hit me as this week started … this is the perfect time for me, as a longtime IBMer, to talk about creating an enduring brand. This is the week that IBM celebrates its centennial. Not many business brands have survived the test of time for 100 years.

So what makes an enduring brand last?

A brand is more than a name, though picking the right name is important. Names that are both easy to remember and spell stick in the minds of the public better than clever made-up words with strange spellings. Think of brands like Apple or Visa. Descriptive, straightforward names work well, too. IBM was not actually our first name. It was CTR, which stood for Computing Tabulating Recording Corp., which may have made sense back then but did not stand the test of time—nor does it roll off your tongue.

But a brand is so much more than a name or even the logo design that goes with it. Your brand is a promise, an unwritten contract between you and all your stakeholders, expressing the cognitive experience and intrinsic value of your relationship. It is your company’s identity that encompasses everything both the public and your own employees associate with your company. Make sure your employees are empowered to be strong brand ambassadors. That extends from in-person interactions to how your employees are empowered to interact with customers online and through social media.

When it comes to marketing plans and advertising, having a consistent companywide image and business agenda that you lead with will help you stand the test of time. Products may come and go or evolve over time, but the company brand endures. Starting with what your company brand stands for and what business value you provide has longevity. Also make sure your overarching message plays well in all the markets that you sell into.

As we celebrate IBM’s centennial this week, I am proud to work at one of the most powerful brands in the world, according to companies like Interbrand, Bloomberg Businessweek and BrandZ. Our CEO, Sam Palmisano, shared the following reflection on what has made the IBM brand successful: “It is a constant reminder never to define ourselves by the things we make, no matter how successful they are today. Time has taught us how essential this balance is—between what changes and what endures … how it can go awry … and how we have to continually revisit it for new generations.”

So what has made the IBM brand so strong? It is not the name or the simple, easily recognizable logo. It is the people who work at this company and their relationships with the customers epitomized in the “I’m an IBMer marketing.” And it is the way we are celebrating our own centennial by having IBMers around the world volunteering in local communities. It is also the focus on innovation in solving the world’s business and civic challenges that stands out in the IBM Smarter Planet agenda. And, yes, I said agenda, not advertising or marketing campaign. An agenda that is discussed both internally and with government leaders and citizens around the globe. Yes, there are marketing programs and ads, but their focus is to bring the values of that agenda to life with real-life examples of how technological innovation helps solve the challenges at hand. 

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