Steve and I travelled to Edmonton a few weeks ago to conduct a brand workshop with BlackStone Mechanical Inc. Recent efforts to consolidate ownership and tighten the service focus, had management asking themselves broader questions about where they were going, how they were going to get there, who to tell and how to tell it.

Enter branding.

Branding is, after all, about putting yourself into words. First, it's coming to a clear and profound understanding of what you stand for, about the value that you provide in the world. Second, it's coming to a clear and profound understanding of what your audience truly needs from you. Then it's a matter of connecting those two ideas in everything you say and do. Those were the kinds of words BlackStone was after.

Quite unwittingly, the company had provided us with a small insight window on their brand in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable business planning document, under competitive advantage: “a rejuvenated approach to mechanical.” If we could unpack what that phrase meant, with values and positioning that were relevant to BlackStone's internal and external audiences, then we would have a true brand differentiator. The kind of thing on which to foster client growth and staff satisfaction, to gain attention, and get noticed for all the right reasons.

So, with those concepts and brand objectives before us, we started the day with nine of us around a table at the St Albert Inn for a pre-workshop breakfast. Predictably, within minutes of introductions, cell phones started beeping and folks started exclaiming and sharing the big news of the day — the massive steel beams being installed on the 102nd Avenue Bridge had begun to bend right before the eyes of those installing them!

It could be weeks before source of buckling 102nd Avenue bridge girders is found: engineer

Given our purpose for the morning, the conversation went immediately to who's brand is going to wear this — will it be the engineers, the fabricators, the contractor, or the installer?

You can be sure that a thorough, in-depth investigation is now underway to answer this multi-million dollar question.

And that brings up this important dimension of brand differentiation: getting noticed for all the right reasons. In order for them to be right, they need to be authentically rooted in your corporate DNA. It is pretty easy to claim to be responsive, responsible, ethical etc. when things are going well but when catastrophe strikes, how many will continue to live out their claims?

Historically, it is often not the crisis that determines a company’s long-term success but the reaction to it. Strong brands get noticed for the right reasons by taking ownership of their failure and demonstrating how they will remedy the problem within their existing corporate mandate. Weak brands get noticed for all the wrong reasons by shirking responsibility, hiding from their failures and deflecting them onto others. It is often in the catastrophic or even the minor failures, not the successes, that a company’s true brand shines through.

It remains to be seen who will bear the responsibility for the 102nd Street Bridge and how they will react. One thing is certain, whether or not they have unpacked their own unique differentiator — like BlackStone’s rejuvenated approach to mechanical — will go a long way to determining whether their brand will thrive or fade away after this catastrophic assault. 


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