Plato Learning has been around for 40 years, but it had a very confused brand.
"We had operated under another name, TRO Learning," says John Super, Plato President. "Some people called us T.R.O. (the actual letters), some people called us TRO (rhymes with 'so'). We sold a product called Plato which was also called Pathway."
While the company had a long history in the market, they weren't getting credit for any single brand.
Budgets did not allow for a heavy investment in advertising, and even if the money was there, "What brand would we promote?" Super asks.
He initiated a three-step brand identity process:
-> Step 1. Choosing a Company-wide brand
Although Super and his team knew they needed a better way to articulate the company's brand, first they had to decide what their brand actually was.
"We came to understand that Plato was our brand," Super says.
Then the company refined the names of its offerings: rather than having a product called, for instance, Orion Instructional Management System, "We dropped those names to adopt Plato and then a descriptor," says Super, so that Plato always stands front and center.
-> Step 2: The personal brand-building process
Super knew that getting everyone to understand and embrace the brand meant more than having the CEO stand up and say, "Live the brand or leave the company."
Instead, they wanted to inspire employees. Working with brand consultancy, Beyond Marketing Thought, they followed these guidelines to get everyone in the organization personally involved with the brand.
a) Executive-level company brand promise
This means going further than a positioning statement or tagline. Super and his team outlined the company's core values and created an *internal* brand statement, which they presented to employees.
b) Create personal brand manifesto
Plato employees learned to look at their own personal values and how they want to be perceived by others. They were given a checklist of values (honesty, integrity, family, trust, etc.), which they used to come up with their own "personal brand."
c) Present company brand to employees
Plato introduced the company brand promise and described how its values make a difference to customers.
Seeing how company-wide values align with personal values can make an employee feel more grounded within the company.
If the employee feels strongly about integrity, for example, and learns that the company is committed to that as well, the employee may think, "Not only am I in the right place but I can learn something about integrity by working here."
d) Develop action plan
Plato had employees look at the company values and their own in the context of their specific jobs. Deciding how to integrate those values in each relationship inside or outside the company became the individual employee's action plan.
e) Start small within the company
Plato Learning had 15 mid-level people trained in the personal brand-building process. After they went through the training, they taught the process, in classes of 20 or 30, to all 500 of the company's employees.
-> Step 3: Living the brand
Next, Plato employees followed this process to incorporate their own "personal brands" into the way they do their jobs:
a) Identify personal brand strategy
This meant looking at "who you are vs. who you want to be." Employees asked themselves if their actions were consistent, relevant, and distinctive.
b) Do others see your brand as you want them to see it?
Ask people close to you: "Tell me 3 things about me that immediately pop into your mind." If there is no consistency among what people tell you, your brand is not very strong and you are trying to be different things to everybody.
c) Test your brand strategy
Go to a larger audience (but still people you know and trust). Tell them what you believe in and how you want to make a difference. Ask them: Can I do this? Will it be relevant to you? Can I be consistent?
d) Practice your brand strategy in daily activities.
-> Moving forward …
Brand identity is an ongoing process, says Super. Once Plato has trained employees, they plan to conduct quarterly checkpoints, going back into the groups to find out how individuals have progressed.
18 months down the road, they will survey customers. If the customers see the employees demonstrating the company's core values, the process is doing its job.
However, Super can already tell you that the brand identity campaign works.
"Plato has been around for 40 years but people are coming up to me and saying, 'My gosh, you guys are suddenly everywhere,'" Super says. "We may have been everywhere before, but now they see us as Plato."
It all sounds very workable, but did he have trouble getting employees to buy into it? Nope.
Employees want to be involved, he says. And when employees feel involved, understanding exactly what the company is all about, they carry the message, with passion, directly to the marketplace, where consumers not only believe it, they buy.
As proof, Super points to the fact that the company was working on improving brand recognition simultaneously with the economic downturn. "We've been getting consistently stronger and our revenue is going up while our competitors are going down," he says.
Want to meet Super in person? He will be at the next IIR show, Marketing Creativity Idea Lab, in Chicago September 29-October 1st. Info at http://www.iirusa.com/creativity