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The Future of Branding at IBM

By Steve McKeeFriday, December 18, 2009

In my December BusinessWeek.com column, I highlighted the vital need for internal branding, calling it the missing link between perception and reality, promise and delivery, effective marketing and positive outcomes.

Now along comes a speech by Jon Iwata, SVP of communications and marketing at IBM, that makes my argument look like a kiddy pool compared to the depths he's diving. His speech was titled, “Toward a New Profession: Brand, Constituency and Eminence on the Global Commons," but don't let that scare you. He made some insightful points about why IBM has created a new internal discipline that combines brand management and what he calls "workforce enablement," aligning "experts in the workplace and experts in the marketplace."

The reason? Iwata says, "One day soon, every employee, every retiree, every customer, every business partner, every investor and every neighbor associated with every company will be able to share an opinion about that company with everyone in the world, based on firsthand experience. The only way we can be comfortable in that world is if every employee of the company is truly grounded in what their company values and stands for."

In ancitipation, Iwata emphasizes the need to “go from managing outward expressions and manifestations of the company – visual identity, naming conventions, messaging, design and the like – to the behavior and performance of people.”

Iwata also addresses the current corporate hand-wringing over social media: “The CFO worries about financial disclosure. The General Counsel fears intellectual property leakage. HR will say we’re helping competitors recruit our people. And everyone will be nervous about criticism of management.” But instead of mocking these worries, he points out how legitimate they are and that they will need to be—and will be—addressed. The key, he believes, is not just to lay down policies and procedures (although those do have a role), but to “build the eminence of our workforce.”

Perhaps this statement sums up the speech best: "For great companies, values are not the work of “positioning” or messaging or story-telling alone. For great companies, what they value defines who they are – and who they hire, and what they make, and the broader constituency of aspiration they seek to define. And they methodically and intentionally align their operations and cultures to authentically be that."

Iwata is not only smart, his speech demonstrated a humanity and a humility not often found at the highest levels of the biggest corporations. Count me a fan. If you’d like to read the speech in its entirety, it’s [here].
By Steve McKeeFriday, December 18, 2009

Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork + Company, and author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. A marketing strategist for nearly three decades, Steve has been published or quoted in many top news outlets and industry publications, and writes a monthly marketing column for Businessweek.com.

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