Warriors of the heart lead tech branding

February 1, 2006


Some of today’s best branding work is being done in the least likely places--technology companies dominated by engineers and finance executives. Companies such as Intel, Emerson and GE are case study brand leaders.

I think it’s because they attract “warriors of the heart,” brand-builders such as Intel Corp. CMO Eric Kim, Emerson Electric Co. CMO Kathy Button Bell or the recently promoted General Electric Co. CMO Beth Comstock.

Ralph Oliva, executive director of Penn State’s Institute for the Study of Business Markets, based in University Park, explains the “warrior of the heart” concept: “To the Native American tribes, the warriors were not the people who made war,” Oliva says. “The warriors are the people strong enough to bring change to their tribe. They had to be the toughest. They had to be people willing to lead the tribe to new and different places so that war was not necessary. They could foresee the changes needed ahead of the battle in order to avoid conflict,” Oliva adds.

Brands have strategic power to move businesses ahead. They help companies maintain pricing and retain loyal customers. Yet most CEOs and corporate boards have little clue about their value or their management. Branding is seen as voodoo in most boardrooms, especially after the dot-com bust.

In companies dominated by electrical engineers and financial executives, you don’t expect much appreciation of brands. Branding requires a comfort with the emotional mind that left brain-dominated cultures often lack. Yet here are Kim, Button Bell and Comstock leading their company’s brands.

I cheered when Kim and Intel CEO Paul Otellini announced the rebranding of Intel with an updated logo, a move away from the Pentium brand, the elimination of the dropped “e” from the logo and the addition of the tag line: “Leap ahead.” It’s a smart and gutsy move.

Intel’s branding of the PC processor is legendary. For years I’ve opened branding seminars asking if anyone knew the name of the carburetor in their car. No hands rise, just perplexed looks. Then I ask, “What brand microprocessor lives in your PC?” Hands fly up. They blurt out, “Intel; I have Intel inside.”

Many companies would ride the Intel logo and brand into the sunset. Corporate inertia, bureaucracy, fear, uncertainty and doubt work against major shifts. Not at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel, the company former CEO and Chairman Andy Grove built. Grove, an engineer, created a culture that allowed branding to blossom. Grove invested in branding in good times and bad.

Credit Kim for being a warrior of the heart. The Intel CMO moved from Samsung just a year ago and put in place a bold branding program to position Intel for future growth.

Emerson’s Button Bell is a marketer with plenty of yin and yang. She can explain the 52-week high share price like a Wall Street financial analyst in one breath and moments later sounds like a Madison Avenue creative director.

Her instincts in selecting the new Emerson logo and choosing color schemes for her advertising were brilliant. I laughed when she described her travails as she worked to help her CEO “fall out of love” with the wrong logo choice. Then I marveled as she described Emerson’s financial performance-oriented culture.

Button Bell joined the St. Louis-based global provider of technology and engineering solutions in 1999. When she arrived, Emerson Electric Co. was a conglomerate of 60 leading operating companies, each with its own autonomous and independent global brand. Emerson’s former CEO Chuck Knight literally wrote the book on business performance. Yet he recruited Button Bell, an athletic goods marketer, to reposition the diverse maker of power tools, compressors and electrical equipment.

Today Emerson is second only to GE and ranks ahead of Sony on Fortune’s list of most admired companies in the electronics industry. Emerson stock recently hit a record high of $77.84 while the company finished 2005 with record sales of $17.3 billion, up 11%, and record earnings up 14%.

“We can take a little bit of credit for doing a good job reflecting what is happening in the corporation,” says Button Bell with typical understatement. Button Bell’s branding program aligned the previously independent brands--such as Copeland, Ridgid, ClosetMaid or Liebert--under a new global brand architecture and identity. Her effort empowered the individual brands to focus in their niches while linking them into more potent groups of solution providers, all “overbranded” with the global Emerson name.

The approach enabled Emerson to sell locally while leveraging its global scale. “ExxonMobil spends millions,” Button Bell says. “When we sold one company at a time, we didn’t have critical mass. We didn’t show up on their radar.” Today, Emerson shows up on ExxonMobil’s radar at a time when large organizations are streamlining procurement and reducing their total number of suppliers.

Button Bell knew her mission was to earn Emerson greater awareness and respect in the marketplace and to motivate Emerson’s 110,000 global employees.

Says Dana Anderson, president and CEO of DDB/Chicago, Emerson’s ad agency, “Kathy’s challenge was to come into an organization where as the marketing person you are the odd one out. Kathy was highly persuasive and credible. You really have to earn trust to be an effective b-to-b marketer.” Or, as Ralph Oliva would say, traits of a successful “warrior of the heart.”

Then there’s GE’s former CMO Beth Comstock, who changed her company’s trademark tag line, “You Bring Good Things To Life,” to “Imagination at work.” Comstock launched the Fairfield, Conn.-based company’s impressive $1.5 billion ecomagination marketing campaign.

GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt recently named Comstock president of NBC Universal digital media and market development group, a line operating unit at NBC. It appears successful warriors of the heart can do more than brand building. They can run and transform businesses. Watch for Kim and Button Bell to be promoted to lead their tribes soon.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland Park, Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Marionpartners.com or news@ama.org.


 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners