A Powerful Idea for Your Strategic Initiative: Program = Brand = Trust

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Brand management is a well-known discipline of marketing and a source of strategic advantage for many companies. As a discipline, it has a set of guiding ideas and professional practices.

The idea of “program as brand” is new to many strategic initiative leaders. The principles and tools of branding benefits the strategic initiative leader in several ways, including:

  • Helping the leader gain and maintain visibility with executives and other stakeholders. Branding helps to unify your requests, statuses, and issues. It helps you break through the clutter.
  • Helping the leader proactively manage the strategic initiative’s reputation. Branding is a form of risk management, helping you to decrease the impact of threats and leverage opportunities.

Program = Brand

Brand management shares with program management the principle of consistency;  consistency allows you to leverage your strengths and create efficiencies of scale. Both program and brand managers recognize that it is hard to undo certain kinds of policies, thus there is value in structured thinking about goals and measurements. Both program planning and brand planning are something that you do early, not as an afterthought.

Importantly, a strategic initiative is a bundle of promises about a new state of the organization, and a brand is a bundle of expressed and implied promises. Both deal with multiple audiences who develop dynamic sets of expectations.

Leaders both develop and leverage the use of their assets; we can regard “brand trust” as an asset. How might you do that?

Reputation ≠ Brand

Although a subtle point, reputation is different than branding in that reputation is what people remember about you or your company. Reputations can be good or bad, and can be influenced by the brand. Thus, proactive approaches towards branding increase the probability of earning and maintaining a good reputation.

Brand management is a form of risk management!

The Leadership Challenge: Stakeholders Minds are Cluttered with Many Message

The typical person is exposed to 5,000 messages every day, and few would argue against the assertion that our society is information overloaded. If you are providing message number 5001 to this information-overloaded stakeholder, it better be a good one!

The point? Each of these many messages is competing for stakeholder attention. It is easy for a stakeholder to ignore or forget a given message, especially if that message is complex, incoherent, or ambiguous. You must craft messages with care and with purpose.

The strategic initiative leader should constantly develop and convey “brand” messages about expectations. As the audience absorbs and reacts to the messages, the leader should expect change. Importantly, the leader needs to deliver on the expectations.

Brand = Trust

Amazon is the most-trusted brand in the United States. Based on my personal experience with them (as an occasional customer), it is fair to say that I trust Amazon. For me and millions of others, Amazon quickly comes to mind (brand positioning) when I am searching for a book, and the one vendor that I rely on when I need something reliably and quickly.

I’m sure you would like to have the same attributes for your strategic initiative: stakeholders think of you first, and know that you can be counted on to deliver on your promises.

Let’s take a closer look at trust? Regardless of whether we are considering people we trust, companies we trust, products we trust, leaders we trust, or program management, trust involves two things:

  1. Credibility. I know that I can reliably determine whether Amazon has an item in stock and the price of that item. This credibility comes out of efficacy, the ability to accomplish an intention. In programs, we gain credibility by showing that we have the right resources and a coherent plan. When we deliver the first increment of benefits, we prove our capabilities.
  2. A Choice to Risk Something of Value. When I deal with Amazon or any other party, I risk valuable resources: money, time, and attention. However, I enter this transaction by choice. Another way to think about this is to consider the words vulnerability and intimacy: I choose to be vulnerable and I choose to expose sensitive information. To trust is to move out of one’s comfort zone. Amazon makes it easy for me to reverse my decision and return a purchase. My probability of loss is low. The analogy is that leaders recognize this need for safety and provide assurances that the rewards will be worth the risk.

Program Governance

The prior definition of trust (trust is credibility and a choice to put oneself at risk) suggests questions that can help you guide the design of the strategic initiative’s program governance:

  • How might we build credibility with stakeholders?
  • How might we open up the conversation so that we can openly address risks, issues and other vulnerabilities? How might we build intimacy among stakeholders?

These questions will stimulate quality thinking by the individual leader, executive sponsors, the program team, and other stakeholders. Add in some discussion on scheduling and measuring benefits, and you have the some solid ideas for building program governance.

Clearly, we are talking about program communications. In a future post, I will describe how to substitute branding for more conventional, bureaucratic program management reporting.

How have you developed branding for your program? Would you like to be interviewed for an upcoming article?

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About Greg Githens

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. a.k.a., The Strategic Thinking Coach. I'm a hands-on strategy & execution consultant with experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. I'm available for extended or short-term engagements. For an introduction to pragmatic tools that turns vision into results, attend my popular seminar, "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)."
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4 Responses to A Powerful Idea for Your Strategic Initiative: Program = Brand = Trust

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