Supercharge brand strategy ahead of an IPO

Brand isn’t something you ‘do.’ It’s who you are. But around the time of an IPO, businesses often feel pressure to ‘do’ brand as it’ll strengthen the public story.

If the thinking is rushed, it can end up focused on functional promises like ease and efficiency. It might lack strategic integrity and emotional depth, meaning it’ll be short-lived. Without proper connection to the company’s original truth and ambition, the market ends up telling its own version of the story. Leaders can fall into the trap of hyper-reactivity, concerned only with short-term shareholder value, and lose direction as a result.

To avoid this, the brand strategy requires real care and attention ahead of the IPO moment. This will anchor it in a compelling narrative and set the business up for success. Here are five ways to supercharge impact:

1. Know – and stick with – your story
Under scrutiny, people (particularly investors) want to see commitment to a long-term plan with consistent progress updates along the way. A strong, deep-rooted story with a sense of direction helps keep employees focused and new-hires oriented. It’s clear to them what the business prioritises and, equally important, what it doesn’t. It stops everyone from having to second-guess.

Stay true to who you are, where you’ve come from and where you truly see the business going, as falsified stories don’t lead to stable growth.

Although not public yet, Everlane – a direct-to-consumer fashion retailer – has done a fantastic job of sticking to their story as they’ve expanded their product range and grown their business. ‘Radical transparency’, or complete honesty, is key to their brand. It impacts their pricing, their products, their processes, their culture and the way they talk about themselves in the media. Their description of this philosophy is crystal clear:

“At Everlane, we want the right choice to be as easy as putting on a great T-shirt. That’s why we partner with the best, ethical factories around the world. Source only the finest materials. And share those stories with you—down to the true cost of every product we make. It’s a new way of doing things. We call it Radical Transparency.”

2. Protect your quirks
What makes you special is what makes you, you. Don’t lose it.

An IPO will require and enable you to put in place the infrastructure to grow, which is exciting. But, as new employees join and business operations expand, it’s easy to become focused on speed at the expense of distinctiveness.

If the soul of the organisation is compromised, it will feel hollow. You’ll appear corporate internally and bland externally, which will threaten your performance. Culturally, it’s important to hold on to your character and resist the continuous march of optimisation.

Google is a good example of an organisation that strives to hold onto quirks, and foster new ones, in spite of its size. Playful office environments, Burning Man off sites and formal space for innovation (20% time is well documented) are key to its culture. It continues to drop ‘Easter Eggs’ throughout its products for users too.

3. Go beyond financial reward
Coming out of IPO, you’ll have people who are now paper-rich, but they’ll want to think about their work beyond pure in financial terms. It’s a good time to signal the other, non-monetary but equally valuable benefits you offer. Whether these are learning and development opportunities, or something else entirely, they should be born from who you are and always in service of enriching employees’ work lives. They’ll help preserve the spirit that’s taken your business to this moment, and foster a positive attitude moving forward.

Some employers – especially in Silicon Valley – are raising the bar and going beyond free food and on-site gyms to attract new talent. Companies are offering unique and surprising perks like travel stipends (Airbnb) and ‘Baby Cash’ (Facebook) according to Glassdoor’s list of the Top 20 Employee Benefits and Perks.

“Benefits and perks matter because they’re an added piece of the total compensation puzzle,” says Scott Dobroski, Glassdoor’s career trends analyst.

4. Push superior metrics
For months after the IPO, it’s easy to become obsessed with share price. While it’s obviously important to monitor, superior, more meaningful metrics tied directly to your business ambition will help you assess how you’re doing beyond the stock market. They’ll allow you to focus on your direction in a broader sense and set you up to reward behaviour that actively builds the brand.

When we worked with Skype ahead of a possible IPO (and ultimately an acquisition by Microsoft), they initially viewed their role as ‘enabling conversations’ through a functional product. We developed a far-reaching vision for the business – ‘doing things together whenever you’re apart’. We developed ways of helping them measure how they were delivering against this, which not only elevated the way they thought about their offer, but completely reframed what success would look like.

5. Make room for new
As organisations grow post-IPO, it’s easy to fall into operationalize-and-execute processes that squeeze out innovation. It’s crucial this doesn’t happen. For any company, it’s important to have an eye to what’s coming.

Investors will be eager to hear about what’s new and in development, and how it will maximise revenue. You’ll be asked to prove what the money has delivered, how it’s affected growth, and where it will make a tangible difference to people’s lives. Dedicate resource to R&D, all the way through to go-to-market offers, and focus on something big. This will help you ensure you’re proactively ushering in the new, and making waves in the process.

Uber has done a remarkable job of both improving its core product (ride-sharing) and diversifying its offer through the likes of UberEats, UberRush, uberPOOL and uberX. This has, in part, led to its consistently high valuation.

The IPO moment is a defining one. It’s a culmination of everything the business has accomplished and the beginning of what you’ll get done in the future. It’s vital that you get the brand strategy right from the start, and by bearing these five points in mind, you’ll be off to a racing start.

 

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