If You’re Not in Alignment, You’re Out of Luck

December 15, 2020 | by David Lemley

Have you ever driven a car that is out of alignment? The steering wheel shimmies and resists your attempts to turn it, the car squeals, the tires wear unevenly. Driving is uncomfortable and dangerous.

In the same fashion, if your naturals brand’s internal team isn’t aligned, the business may be heading toward a crash.

In a corporate setting, lack of alignment around a singular mission complicates decision making and creates silos in a way that makes it easy to overlook opportunity and difficult to react quickly. Like steering wheel wiggles, the signs of organizational misalignment are pretty obvious: turf wars between departments or leaders, backtracking, rising expenses for rework. All the while, competitors are barking at your door.

What Organizational Alignment Looks Like for Brands

As we’ve worked with brands across the natural food and beverage category, we’ve discerned that one characteristic is central to the most successful ones — the ones we call Beloved & Dominant Brands. And that’s alignment.

First, alignment across the organization: from the front desk receptionist to the sales team to the boardroom, every employee understands the brand’s greater purpose, believes in it, and works accordingly. And second, alignment across external channels: the brand communicates and behaves in the same way on social media, in person, and under challenge.

Organizational alignment is the optimal state for Beloved & Dominant naturals brands. It bestows important benefits:

You’ll have the clarity and confidence to move forward on anything. It could be a major initiative like a move into a new category, or something relatively low-stakes, like a social media engagement with your fans. Because every employee is singing from the same songbook, everyone is equally empowered to make decisions within their areas of responsibility. Decisions are made quickly, without the need for extensive research and endless meetings. The brand’s mission and unity around it provide a road map that’s innate to the organization. Strategies are well defined and tactics are obvious.“Of course, this is the right thing to do.” “Absolutely, this opportunity is not good for us.”

Alignment is not a mode of stasis, though. Rather, it allows you to intuitively and proactively pivot within a market rather than waiting to react. Brands must change in order to survive, and a shared purpose reveals the optimal direction for change. It grants you the freedom to make decisions on your own terms; you can lead the category instead of constantly playing catch-up when other brands innovate.

On a related note, alignment also builds your organization for speed. It allows you to operate with military-like efficiency because everyone has a common goal and knows their lane – no infighting or competition.

External Alignment, Too

You know the person who’s sweet as pie when he needs something from you and dismissive toward you otherwise? Consumers get confused when brands they follow aren’t consistent in their messaging. When brands engage with their customers, consistent behavior that aligns with the mission builds commitment and trust.

Enlisting your fans in your brand’s mission and communicating with them in a way that reflects that mission attracts like-minded people to the brand. They’ll give you permission to connect with them and become part of their lives. But it’s not just about likes on social media; engaged fans are loyal fans. External alignment overcomes consumers’ price objection and fickle preferences.

Alignment Isn’t (Necessarily) Agreement

Alignment doesn’t eliminate friction and disagreement. You don’t have to like the decision to understand that it’s the best decision for the brand. “I would make a different choice, but I see how this one supports the brand’s mission.”

If you find yourself saying, “that idea doesn’t light me up” or “I don’t like that” then there is an alignment problem. Brand leaders have to be able to set aside ego and preference in service of the greater goal. Like should never be a barometer of what the company should do.

Brand Promise as the Axis of Alignment

The hub of internal and external alignment is your brand’s promise. In fact, that’s our very definition of brand:

brand = your purpose and the way that you keep it

Brands without purpose aren’t even brands at all, they’re just companies selling products. Your brand is more than your features and benefits, ingredients, cool name and packaging, sexy Instagram feed. It’s the wrong that you exist to remedy, the health or cultural or environmental change you aim to make in the world. Purpose is powerful. It unites, motivates, and gathers others.

Brand Alignment (and Not So Much)

When brand teams come into alignment, business accelerates (we’re back to that car metaphor again). That’s what happens for many of our clients. Brands come to us looking to go from direct-to-consumer to brick-and-mortar channels. Often with a lackluster identity and an innovation pipeline that is all over the map. We help align their leadership team around a simple mission and a memorable tagline—and we rationalize their possible products in to a manageable list of ownable categories. The result? Explosive traction, growth, and profit.

If you’re a football fan, you’ve seen an example of organizational misalignment playing out on Sundays. After decades of adamantly embracing the team’s name, the Washington franchise ownership finally agreed to consider it, prompted by this year’s movements to support the Indigenous community and people of color. Incapable of making a decision, team ownership is soliciting outside feedback, focus-grouping the heck out of the problem, filing countless trademark applications, and generally punting on the issue. They seem paralyzed by indecision and fear.

Alignment is the key to ultimate brand success – everything else is window dressing. If your brand is dealing with erratic steering, bring it to us for service.