Now, I fundamentally believe that branding any corporate business model change that happens through shared services and outsourcing is a good thing. After all, people buy brand. Brand is shorthand for what we get, and what we expect to feel like after we buy a product or a service. It’s a promise. And when we buy the right brand, it tells others that we are smart, making us feel cool that we’ve opened our wallets for the latest and greatest.
And corporate cats are no different. We all want to be seen associated with the right initiative, so when a change in the way we work, or operate, sends off a consistent message, it makes it safe for us to become stakeholders.
So shared services and outsourcing branding is good. But not to get too existential about it, not all shared services and outsourcing initiatives should be branded the same way. How do leaders develop the right brand at the outset?
Branding shared services and outsourcing can be a double-edged sword. Brand aggressively and stakeholders think you are empire-builders, or brand too softly and the same folks find an excuse to ignore you. Develop a sub-brand off the corporate brand, and the sourcing initiative is viewed as low-key but not a major change; brand with an independent name and logo, and you are signaling change and excitement, but someone will call you out as overly optimistic about what benefit you’ll deliver.
What’s a sourcing leader to do?
By answering several simple questions, it’s possible to settle on the right branding strategy.
- How big are you playing? If the initiative is small, just starting out and eventual scale is in doubt, a big branding initiative will look foolish and overreaching. And if the model does not have strong senior level sponsorship, an aggressive, in-your-face approach may render the program a good target for doubters and dissenters. Perhaps starting out with consistent client management approaches, the same look and feel to collateral, and the same buzz words is a good first step. However, if the initiative has a mandate, strong endorsement from key stakeholders, and a very defined roadmap—not to mention a compelling business proposition, and the ability to scale rapidly (also known as all the ducks lined up in a row), a full blown branding initiative should be in order. Logos, taglines and a comprehensive marketing initiative will help signal that there’s no turning back from change, creating momentum and excitement.
- If they come, can you serve them? “Let’s not confuse the selling with the doing” is a good maxim for a sales guy, but if capacity or capability is at risk because of an aggressive branding campaign, or overly optimistic promises, the initiative can become endangered. While Apple and other brands effectively create demand by limiting supply, that does not wash when selling a shared services or outsourcing model. Once a buyer is convinced, he or she generally wants to move quickly. Saying no runs counter to the whole concept of branding shared services and outsourcing.
- How much change are you causing? If the organization needs to be shaken up, implementing a full branding strategy is the right technique. Branding signals a departure from the status quo, pushing stakeholders to become more forward thinking and cross a cultural divide. Conversely, if change will only happen at the edges because the organization is in a perpetual state of change, or cannot bear yet another initiative, creating a differentiated brand may not be as beneficial.
- Is shared services and outsourcing mandatory, or will it be adopted through an opt-in strategy? If sourcing leadership is left on its own to make the sale, a brand, especially if the brand promise can be met, is a very important tool for scale. Conversely, if executive leadership is forcing compliance, while a brand may not be as important, it still communicates momentum and change.
- How does your organization change? Does your organization create momentum, then key stakeholders get on the bandwagon, or is making change akin to hand-to-hand combat? Does it do “mental try-ons,” them move slowly, or does it embrace change aggressively if not enthusiastically. Does the organization ask why constantly, or look to the behavior of key leaders?
Branding is a change management tool, and should align with the way the organization looks at any deviation from the status quo. If the ability to change is assumed, branding can be “soft.” If the organization needs a rallying cry, a more robust approach is warranted. As no two organizations change the same way, there is no one approach to branding shared services and outsourcing initiatives.