Knowing your company’s DNA is a critical step to ensuring future prosperity.
Testing personal DNA has become quite popular, with many people trying to figure out exactly who they are – their country of origin, their race and even if what they’ve been told all their lives about their heritage is true.
Andy Cunningham says that companies need to do the same thing. Of course, an organization can’t send in a saliva sample for testing, but there are other ways to determine a company’s DNA.
That’s important, she says, because too many companies don’t have an accurate read on their DNA and so fail to correctly position themselves in the marketplace – and customers instantly sniff out their lack of authenticity and turn away from it.
“It’s just like if you sometimes ask someone what they’re good at, they don’t really know,” Cunningham says. “Well, companies are like people. Sometimes they get confused about their identity.”
Cunningham makes her case that more companies need to understand their DNA if they want to survive in her new book, “Get to Aha! Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition.”
She says that company leaders need to be able to answer two important questions: “Who are you as a company?” and “Why do you matter?”
While it may seem odd that leaders can’t readily answer those questions, she says the issue often is complex. “In some cases, it’s just that the company has been something for so long that they start thinking it’s the whole world,” she says. “It’s hard to back away and take an unbiased view.”
Another problem is that company leaders often believe their organization “is all things” and are unable to really dig deep and figure out more specifically what they do and how they do it.
At the same time, company leaders can become confused about their branding and positioning, which they erroneously believe are the same thing.
“Most companies don’t really understand the difference. They hire a branding company to help them, and the branding agency does what I call ‘branding ultra-lite,’ which means they find out what the company would like to be and then offer these beautiful, creative ideas that just captivate the executives,” she explains. “The executives say, ‘we’re amazing!’ But then later they figure out that the branding isn’t who they really are.”
It’s also something that customers soon figure out. If the company is trying to be something it’s not – whether deliberately or from a lack of awareness – the customers won’t pay attention to any marketing efforts “because it just doesn’t ring true,” Cunningham says. “The marketing won’t stick.”
Cunningham says that companies seeking to determine their ideal position in the marketplace need to understand exactly who the organization is (the DNA) and what the organization brings to the market that others don’t.
“Your ideal position isn’t based on a perception you want to create, a brand you hope to build,” she says. “Quite the opposite, in fact. Brand is derived from positioning – it is the emotional expression of positioning.”
Cunningham says there are three types of companies, and understanding the difference can be critical in a company’s success. They are:
If companies don’t understand which type they are, it could affect their ability to compete. For example, Cunningham says that Comcast is a good example of a company that fell into the “mechanic” category but tried to be a “mother” – even though its customer service was considered awful.
Comcast’s attempt at changing its DNA included a revamped website and a more customer-centric advertising campaign. But the employees were not trained to be more customer focused, and hires didn’t include more “mother” types. As a result, customer service didn’t get any better (Cunningham says it got worse) and customers became even more disgruntled.
If companies want to do a DNA flip successfully, then they need to look at Amazon, she says. Amazon wanted to shift to the “mother” DNA from its “missionary” DNA – and did so by acquiring Zappos, a customer-centric “mother” company.
At the same time, companies shouldn’t beat themselves up if they can’t seem to change their DNA. For example, just as not all women are cut out to be mothers, neither are some companies, she says. “I know there are a lot of companies right now caught up in this big fad to be customer-centric,” she says. “But that only works if you’re a customer-centric company. “
Cunningham says the bottom line is that companies need to always assess where they are now and where they are headed.
“Just as knowing who you are at your core enables you to be a better you, leaders who understand their positioning DNA can use it to their advantage and be better at marketing and selling their products,” she says.