The Bottom Line Value of Credible Business Brands

By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech

A recent article in Inc. told the story of how Apple was almost sold to Sun Microsystems back in the day. There was a deal on the table, and the Apple Board was giving it serious consideration. It looked as if the deal was all but done when the Sun CEO announced that Apple’s technology would be folded into the Sun suite and the Apple brand would disappear. That quashed the deal, and of course the rest is history. So too is the lesson it conveys about the importance of brand to solution providers.

Countless articles and blog posts have been written about employment brands. There’s unlikely to be an employer on the planet that hasn’t been told countless times about the importance of their brand in the war for top talent. What the organization stands for – its values, mission and culture – are as central to attracting high caliber candidates as what’s written in employment ads or in emails to prospects.

That’s the truism behind the role an employer’s Glassdoor score is now playing in talent acquisition. Today’s job seekers have this pesky habit of talking to one another or at least tapping into the opinions of their peers when considering an organization as an employer. The collective “wisdom” of the crowd is an employer’s brand, as much as if not more than what the employer itself has to say about it.

The same is true of employers that are considering a product offered by a solution provider, only it’s the employers that are consulting with one another about what the provider stands for. In fact, a panel of talent acquisition executives at a past TAtech Congress was asked how they determine which vendors to consider when making a technology acquisition, and to a person they confirmed that it was their peers’ opinions that swayed their decision-making.

Now, unlike HR and talent acquisition organizations, solution providers don’t need to be counseled on the importance of their brand. That’s Business 101. But now there’s a twist: just how do you build a business brand – how do you convey, reinforce and update it – in the middle of a pandemic? That’s not something routinely covered in business textbooks or learned from prior experience. It’s a body of knowledge and set of skills that have emerged over the past nine months and will likely be important for at least another nine months and potentially beyond.

There are more than a few of these principles, but perhaps the most visible involves the recent rush by many solution providers to bring brands into alignment with employers’ renewed focus on DE&I. The hard truth is that you can’t simply latch a new feature onto a brand and have it be believable in the marketplace. As employers have learned the hard way with job seekers, experience-based perceptions of an organization’s brand will likely be more important than what it says in determining what’s credible and what’s not as an element of a brand.

Does that mean a brand can’t be updated? Of course not. What it does mean, however, is that simply saying something is so doesn’t make it credible. Incorporating a commitment to DE&I into a business brand isn’t a simple exercise in updating marketing collateral. It’s a process. It’s a series of steps in which a company invests in order to reframe its public perception.

These steps include:
• A careful analysis of what a company’s product can and cannot do in the area of DE&I – no wishful thinking and no exaggeration;
• A detailed retraining of the sales force and product implementation team in the product’s DE&I capabilities based on the above analysis;
• A rewriting of case studies and/or the creation of new ones that highlight the actual DE&I outcomes achieved by the company’s product;
• A campaign of one-on-one calls with past, current and prospective customers during which the sales force uses the revised/new case studies to reset perceptions of what the company stands for in DE&I; and
• An ongoing commitment to all of the above to reinforce the revised perception and keep it fresh.

So, why did Apple turn down Sun when the plan to bury its brand was revealed? I’m sure there was an element of ego involved, but so too was a business calculation. If all Sun was buying was the technology – if it planned to ignore the investment Apple had made in creating its business brand – there’s no way the company would be properly valued in the deal. And, as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. Sun’s bid came in below even what Apple’s share were selling for on the NASDAQ.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.

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