Disruption and innovation are the mantras of the day. This is not just a management fad. These have become cornerstones of competitiveness. Technology—in particular the digitization of the enterprise—is having a profound impact on today’s businesses. It is accelerating market shifts, enabling the creation of new business models.

That’s catching many companies off guard.

Increasingly, forward-thinking companies are redefining themselves to remain relevant. They’re focusing on their core, and shaking up the organization to allow it to evolve organically. That is what is enabling these companies to thrive in the face of rapid technological change. By breaking free of old paradigms, they gain clarity of purpose and can better understand their path to the future.

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, summed it up nicely in a recent interview,“A company like GE has to be all about change. It has to be all about picking what’s next, getting the company focused, making the company accountable.” Immelt goes on to elaborate on a critical point, “What we’ve tried to do is narrow our focus as a company, to be only those things that have significant core competency. Being only as broad as you are deep is the way that you have to think about running your company today.”

The journey that GE has signed up for is an uncomfortable one. Change is always messy and unpredictable, requiring new ways of thinking and doing. Distilling the company and all it represents down to core ideas is no small task.

How Can A Brand Enable Transformation?

Today’s companies need a ‘True North’ to guide them as they evolve—a platform to articulate a vision for the future, and a roadmap to achieve defined goals. For marketers, that means reaching more broadly across the company to help coordinate activities, and designing tools that can ready an organization for the changes that lie ahead.

The brand is one of the most powerful assets marketers have to help the company drive change, because it can enhance understanding of the company’s scope, differentiators, target demographic and core competencies. That insight allows a company’s leaders and employees to target challenges, discover new business opportunities introduced by disruptive technologies, and take more directed action to effect real and lasting change. To be effective in this role, however, the brand must have a clear definition and purpose.

The Link To Business Strategy

While brand clarity is crucial to success, it cannot exist in a vacuum. It is inextricably tied to business strategy and the environment. Before redefining the brand to reflect the company’s new focus, leaders must step back, study the world around it, and craft a solid business strategy on which an evolved brand can be built. By doing so, the company will be better equipped to make the critical business decisions that lie ahead.

Companies that fail to proactively develop their business strategy are more vulnerable to shifts in market dynamics and may find themselves blindsided by new competitors. Operating on outdated business strategies, they become irrelevant. A case in point is Kodak. Despite being the inventor of digital photography and driving most of the early innovations, Kodak failed to capitalize on new disruptive technology and lost relevance in the marketplace.

According to Tenet’s CoreBrand Index, Kodak still has a fairly solid brand, which is something of a surprise. On the other hand, it’s hard to erase such an iconic brand. In our collective consciousness, Kodak is forever tied to our most deeply held and emotional moments—photographs.

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While a strong brand like Kodak can insulate a company from a few bad decisions, it can only do so much to save a failed business strategy. In hindsight, it is easy to see that the film business had strategic control of the company and that everything else, including robust digital imaging assets, were ancillary activities that were not properly leveraged. Even with a late start, Kodak had the means to disrupt its own business and save itself. And, they had the brand foundation to do it. Unfortunately, Kodak did not have the leadership or the strategy needed to make the shift.

Kodak’s experience is a prime example of an ill-defined strategy that caused a strong brand to get trapped by its own inertia. In order for a company to avoid becoming obsolete and respond to disruptive market forces, it must first bring clarity to its own brand. Kodak failed to do this.

Faced with similar disruptive challenges, GE could have easily taken the same road as Kodak. Instead, GE chose to acknowledge the constant innovation in their industry, and responded accordingly by revisiting its core brand and repositioning itself to meet the needs of the new marketplace. Today, GE’s success is a result of their clearly defined business model, driven by what they intend to build next: “The worlds premier digital industrial company.”

These contrasting outcomes highlight the role of marketers within the organization. As stewards of their own brand, they must continually advocate for ever-evolving business strategies grounded in today’s realities, and fight for a seat at the table as one of the architects.

As the connection to customers’ needs and desires, the brand is, in a real sense, the soul of a company—its core. A brand’s ability to communicate in clear and simple terms creates the most value, allowing it to be easily understood and embraced. Conversely, a lack of clarity is proven to destroy the brand’s value. Getting it right matters for the bottom line and the future of the company.

Achieving this clarity depends on making it plain to company management that the branding process is a valuable resource that can be used to activate business strategy. Because business schools historically gave little weight to what brands are and how they work to drive the business forward, many of today’s executives are ill equipped to leverage the brand as a leadership tool that enables business growth.

SEE ALSO: The New Branding Reality: “Game Changer” or “Game Over”

To illustrate the brand’s role in shaping and executing strategy, building the culture, managing change, understanding customers and driving innovation, consider bringing customers and the management team together in a workshop environment. This often produces eye-opening moments that can give management a new appreciation for the alignment of brand and business strategy.

Once management is on board, it’s time to rebuild the brand so that it aligns with the new business focus. In this context, the brand is best thought of as many elements and attributes working together to support a myriad operational, communication, and innovation needs. This brand platform provides a company with an authentic character and distinct positioning in the marketplace, communicating how the refocused organization will deliver real and measurable value to its customers.

Components of a Brand Platform

Purpose: Why the company exists and the contributions it makes to the world.

Promise: What the company will do for customers today and in the future.

Expression: The brand’s unique personality and character.

Beliefs: The values that guide the company’s decisions and action.

Culture: How people communicate, work together and serve others to fulfill its brand promise.

Experience: What customers feel, think, and the benefits they derive from the brand.

Clarity Is Disruptive In a Good Way

The alignment of brand and business strategy, and their evolution in light of external forces, is a powerful way to bring clear understanding to the business—understanding that can redefine its future course. A coherent strategy combined with brand clarity becomes a powerful leadership tool to drive innovation and respond with agility in this age of disruption.

But how do you know when you’ve achieved it? When the brand platform becomes the company’s unique signature, the spirit of everything it does, every idea that comes forward, every action that it takes, and every experience that it creates—at that moment, the company has true brand clarity.

Image: Andy Beales