From the Trenches of Transformation



by Andy Cunningham


So you need to transform your brand, huh? Sales are drooping. New technology is disrupting. Pipeline is stagnant. People are leaving. It’s a cruel world out there and your company is no longer competitive. How could that be? Just a few short years ago you were on top of the world! Customers were clamoring for your products and services, and talent was lined up down the street for the chance to work there.

Brand transformations are rare. Sure, you can replace the CEO, slap on a new logo, create an enticing new tagline and, if you’ve got it, spend money on advertising to tell the world -- all of which gives your company a bit of a facelift as you do battle in the market. But a real brand transformation involves reimagining the company, redeploying assets, reorganizing structure, redesigning product, renewing the economic model, rewriting the narrative, reviving the spirit, re-engaging the stakeholders, reconfiguring marketing and sales, and resetting expectations. There’s a lot of “re” going on! Everything has to be “redone” from the ground up.

Transformations are at the very core of growth. When the environment shifts (as it inevitably does) and the market changes (ditto), companies must adapt or begin the long slow decline toward death. As they say, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. When there’s a new world out there someone has to reposition the company for success. And that someone might as well be you.

This new blog series explores the top ten keys to becoming a transformational marketing agent.


#1. Reimagine the Company:
A New World, A New Relevance
BlackBerry’s Pivot

BlackBerry is a company in full swing of transformation with an impressive leader in John Chen at the helm. At one point, BlackBerry was a giant in the land of smartphones. Most people who needed or wanted one had a BlackBerry. The company invented much of what the smartphone is today, and it built one of the world’s most globally recognized brands. BlackBerry was a market leader, and ruled the roost. But more than that, the company developed a strong emotional connection with their customers that persists even today. They love the company.

But the market changed. Apple introduced the iPhone. Google brought Android to market. Suddenly, competition was everywhere and moving fast. BlackBerry wasn’t fast enough. They lost their grip and fell behind. They watched their market share drop significantly and their relevance diminish over time. But all the while they continued to innovate in connected security and mobility, and they began to focus that innovation on software rather than hardware.

That’s when the board brought in a new CEO. John Chen joined in 2013 after a very successful stint turning around Sybase. He recognized BlackBerry’s legacy and believed the company could be a leader again, but this time by taking advantage of its assets in software, security and mobility, and phasing out the manufacture, distribution and marketing of handsets. 


While John Chen was busy reconfiguring and restructuring, we got to work on reimaging. We found a white space in the market in the larger Internet of Things space and identified a hole we felt BlackBerry could fill and labeled it the Enterprise of Things (EoT). Just a few short months after going public in the new world with the new relevance the company was met with extremely positive reactions from industry analysts and business press as well as customers and shareholders. 

Positioning BlackBerry for a new relevance enabled the company to rally around a new north star and emerge with a totally new narrative, which has been disseminated everywhere, including marketing, events, sales and HR. Analysts, the press and — most important — customers have embraced it as well, recognizing BlackBerry’s leadership in (and ownership of) the newly validated EoT space.

After years of decline, BlackBerry’s stock hit a four-year high in June and is up 50% this year. But a shift in public perception began almost immediately. Within two months of the execution of our strategy to position the company for a new relevance, the media’s tone started to change. Whereas coverage had been relentlessly focused on Blackberry’s demise (Forbes: “Lessons From the Fall of BlackBerry”), the commentary shifted, first to BlackBerry’s pivot to the software and services industry (Fortune: “Yup, BlackBerry is now a software company”), and later to an acknowledgement of its renewed promise (Business Insider: “It looks like BlackBerry’s focus on software is starting to pay off”).

Today’s headlines are even more effusive. TechCrunchrecently encapsulated the optimism surrounding BlackBerry’s transformation: “When you think about dead companies walking, BlackBerry was clearly one that came to mind, but…the company is actually making a comeback as a software company focused on security, and its latest quarterly earnings report suggests the pivot is working splendidly.”  Although BlackBerry’s final chapters have yet to be written, the future is promising. 


At the very core of a successful transformation are two intangibles. An inspirational north star and the will to win. The north star represents potential and possibility. It is evidence of a new destination. A guiding light for operations. The will to win emerges from a new belief system within the company. A winning attitude. The possibility of success. Not very concrete, yet so very critical. These are the stem cells of new growth. If you’re going to be a transformational marketing agent, you’re going to have to identify a new north star and then you’re going to have to infuse the will to win throughout the organization. 

While this may at first seem like an impossible task, it isn’t. When attacked with logic and rigor, it becomes rather obvious. The key is identifying the company’s assets and matching them with market opportunity. The asset inventory is the first step. Go ahead. Go crazy. Write down all the assets of the company. Then edit it down to the really core ones. There are probably two or three that really matter in this exercise. Take it down to the very nub. 

Then look at the market for the solutions your company is seeking to solve as it transforms itself. Detect all the white spaces. Pay special attention to those that are susceptible to your company’s assets. Then stake out the territory. Claim it. Name it. Own it.

Now for the will to win. Without it, the north star is invisible. Inspiration is the key here. And a difficult emotion it is to incite. What it comes down to, though, is a belief system. The stakeholders and the market must have confidence that a new strategy is in place and that leadership is committed to it. Then they have to believe in that strategy. It has to make sense. It has to be easy to understand. There has to be continuous evidence of its logic. But it also has to be visionary and aspirational. It has to capture something new and interesting. Each and every stakeholder has to believe he or she has a role to play in the materialization of the vision. And the market has to believe it has a role to play as well. 

If you can create a ripple of emotion in the market through the articulation of an inspiring north star and you can show people their role in making it come to life, you have a shot at igniting a transformation. And there is nothing more rewarding for a marketing transformational agent than that! BlackBerry has inspired the industry with a new vision for itself in a resegmented market. It is no longer about the smartphone, but the smart in the phone—and in cars and containers, medical devices and wearables, consumer appliances and industrial machinery, and ultimately the entire enterprise, the Enterprise of Things. 

What’s your north star?

Creating a Luxury Brand in Ten (Not So) Easy Steps


What makes a luxury brand? And how do you build one?

A friend is creating a new luxury brand of water. Yes. Water. It comes from a hard-to-reach artesian well in the Austrian Alps, contains just the right cocktail of minerals, has a perfect PH balance and is untouched by human hands from source to esophagus. It is delicious. It is natural and healthy. It is expensive. It is also water positioned as a luxury. Brilliant! How is Hallstein Water doing it?

When luxury comes to mind, so do Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, Gulf Stream, Opus One, Lalique, the St. Regis and other “high end” expensive consumer brands. We all know them even though not all of us are supporters. These and all luxury brands share three attributes: high quality, scarcity of product and cult of personality. So before you attempt to capture the magic and margin of a luxury brand, make sure you have these in spades.

And beyond that, it’s AP Marketing. From targeting the right customers to generating loyalty among them, do these ten things well and you’ll be on the road to developing a luxury brand. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

1.     Target Market: The right “who” makes all the difference. Determining the best beachhead for building the brand is critical. Who will be most likely to buy the product? To tell others about it? To be loyal? Understanding the ideal market segment for a luxury product is the key to building a brand.

2.     Positioning Strategy: Positioning is the simple articulation of the unique role and relevance of the product in the market. How is it special and differentiated from competitors? And how to articulate this simply and compellingly? Without a unique position brands bang into each other in the market and become confusing to the customer.

3.     Branding: The brand stands for something near and dear to the target market’s heart. What is that? Brands are more than a great product. They hit at the very core of a person’s identity and accentuate it. And every touch point with a customer is an opportunity to reinforce the brand.

4.     Brand Narrative: There is a compelling story behind every brand. What is that story? What is the reason for customers to believe in this brand? Why this brand, why now? A great corporate narrative can go a long way toward building a following.

5.     Evangelists: Breaking new ground in an old market requires that influencers push the brand as much as the company and its customers. Who are the influencers to be targeted here? How do we engage them in telling our story? This is accomplished through influencer marketing.

6.     Piggybacking: Most great brands piggyback on the success of other great brands that do not compete but intersect. What are the options for piggybacking here? Partnerships, strategic alliances, cross promotions, etc. comprise a piggybacking strategy.

7.     Awareness Generation: Nothing happens in brand building without awareness. It is possible to build substantial awareness through a company’s own media channels (website, blog, social media) and its earned ones (press and analysts). The larger the digital footprint a company creates for itself with a compelling story, the more searchable it becomes and the more awareness generated.  This is done through content marketing and public relations. When budgets allow, paid advertising can also play a big role in building a luxury brand. You can start with Google ad words and go all the way to a Super Bowl ad. Targeting these ads is critical. Their placement must align with the target market.

8.     Thought Leadership: Positioning the company at the center of a global conversation that matters can be a very powerful marketing tool. It leads to inclusion in press coverage on the issue, policy discussions related to the issue and expert status for speaking events.

9.     Customer Communication and Community Building: Brands can no longer sustain themselves merely through product sales. A relationship must be established with the customer. Ongoing communication must take place. Dialog is critical. Community building essential.

10. Customer Loyalty: Loyalty fuels the great luxury brands. They establish themselves by further enhancing the lifestyle the purchaser has chosen to adopt. Carefully determining this lifestyle, articulating it in a compelling fashion, making it visible as a “label” for customers, propelling the lifestyle forward are all critical to building a luxury brand. Part of this involves building an emotional connection with your customers and part of it can be accomplished with loyalty program technology.


Motherhood Isn’t For Everyone

Originally published on the McGraw-Hill Education Professional Business Blog

Customer experience isn’t for everyone. Really. If it’s not part of your corporate DNA, you shouldn’t make it the focal point of your business. That should be an expression of your DNA. If you’re truly a customer-oriented company, or a “Mother” (in the parlance of my new book, Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate the Competition), customer service should be paramount. But if you happen to be a product-oriented company, or a “Mechanic,” product features and value need to take center stage. And if you’re the bearer of a world-changing concept, or a “Missionary,” your Next Big Thing or Cult of Personality should reign supreme.

DNA is at the root of everything—in people as well as companies—when it comes to competitive advantage. Just think about professional athletes and how their DNA influences their performance. Businesses should reflect the substance of a company, not an image dreamed up by the marketing department.

The Customer-Centric Conundrum

Yes, companies need to attract customers and keep them. But not every company succeeds with that because of the customer experience they’ve crafted. There’s a belief out there—a misplaced philosophy—that all companies must be customer-centric, what I call the Customer-Centric Conundrum. Customer-centricity is a popular trend that causes companies to work outside their corporate DNA; it’s a fad that’s gotten out of control. It’s easy to see how that happened. It sounds so warm and fuzzy to delight the customer, to be customer-centric, to listen to the customer, and so forth. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

But winning in business is about understanding what makes your product or service better than the competition and then leveraging that in your quest to conquer markets and keep customers.

If you discover that you are, in fact, a Mother, and you choose to differentiate and win because of the experience you offer your customers, you’ll need to nourish your company’s propensity to nurture customer connections. How you hire people, how you compensate those hires, how you measure individual and group success, what you talk about in meetings, your choice of language and tone of voice, your corporate structure—everything must be geared toward maintaining those precious customer relationships.

The Importance of Knowing What You’re Made Of

Here’s what Mothers like Disney, Lyft. Nordstrom, and Zappos do every day. They focus on customers in management discussions; measure success in terms of relationships—not just sales—initiate tracking studies and market research to get to know their customers; create a customer experience that transcends product offerings; measure profits against customer segments; drive marketing through brand and customer loyalty;motivate employees to excel at customer service; and work tirelessly to ensure that their value proposition delights customers.

Is your company a Mother? If so, make sure every single thing your company does is geared to support Mother DNA. Otherwise, you’ll be expending energy on the wrong things. Knowing what you’re made of helps you make something of it.

Companies Are Like People

The Human Genome Project completed in 2003 gave us the miraculous ability to understand who we are through our DNA. And thanks to enterprising entrepreneurs, we now have tools to explore our own DNA and learn what our genes say about us: our origins, our coloring, our tastes and our propensity for certain diseases. Armed with this understanding, we can construct a lifestyle that is aligned with our genes to help us fight off the maladies that afflict our DNA type. 

Know your DNA and be a better you.

Read more at The Huffington Post UK....