Following an investment of nearly $1 billion across the business, International reached a significant milestone in February 2001, as it launched its first new line of trucks in more than 25 years. The Industry’s First High Performance TrucksÔ was the first International product series to fully deliver on its new brand promise. The market initially embraced the trucks, but in March, the truck industry entered one of the worst downturns in history. International’s investment was at risk if the employees did not collect a premium for the value provided in the new product and succumbed to deep competitive discounting.
There was the danger that in the face of the market downturn, the company would lose focus on the brand strategy, return to a prior tradition of a selling on price and features (versus benefits and value), and lose alignment of message and purpose. Shortly after the bottom fell out of the market, the top 300 leaders of International’s Truck Group gathered for their Mid-Year Leadership Conference. At this day-long meeting, senior leadership reiterated their commitment to the brand strategy and issued a strong call to action to sell more trucks, to more customers, for more money.
Emerging from the Leadership Conference was a plan to use the customer promotional events executed in response to the mandate as opportunities to also drive the brand internally. The customer events would serve to demonstrate the viability of the brand strategy to employees, inspire and align the organization around its power, and motivate action. As with the Leadership Conference, the International and Matha MacDonald LLC team used the Customer Value Rally and the President’s Dinners to drive alignment, create messages and motivate actions consistent with the brand strategy. This commitment and focus enabled International to achieve sales and profitability goals despite the market challenges.
International was not meeting the market share and profitability objectives it had set for its new product.
The downturn was impacting morale. International needed to paint a realistic, yet still motivational picture for employees.
The Sales and Marketing organizations differed in their definition of “value” and belief in the best way to collect it. Without agreement between Sales and Marketing leadership, International would not be able to achieve the strong, focused go-to-market strategy it needed.
The message had to be crystal-clear: the brand strategy is the business strategy; it’s relevant to customers; we must stay the course and not revert to old sales behaviors and strategies.
International seized the opportunity at the Leadership Conference and the subsequent customer events to use strategic communications to align Sales, Marketing and Executive Leadership behind the International brand strategy; drive understanding and engage employees so they would consistently deliver the brand promise; and demonstrate internally the customer response (in terms of sales) to the power and value of the brand, even in a stagnant market.
The planning team used the findings from qualitative and quantitative research conducted in the development of the brand (particularly focus groups with various employee groups) and also relied on survey data that identified “pride” as a key motivator for International employees. The research defined International’s target customer and explored the true meaning of the brand in the hearts of employees. The research also identified a strong set of mutually shared values between the brand, employees and customers. For specific events, the planning team conducted soft-soundings and information gathering sessions with several key leaders to identify critical issues and test messaging.
Planning Process and Objectives
The need to present a compelling, unified message required the planning team to drive decision making by senior leadership and alignment behind an agreed upon business approach. For example, the significant differences between the Sales and Marketing viewpoints needed to be addressed and reconciled before a consistent message could be created.
Generate a better understanding of target customers and how International is listening, understanding and delivering value.
Demonstrate that the brand and the value it delivers resonates with customers and generate sales.
To drive business results, the team set out to align the organization behind the strategy, drive understanding and motivate action. The approach would focus on real life examples from customers, field sales people and cross-functional teams to tell the value story – taking the strategy off the page and making it come alive.
We are each accountable for understanding the customer and delivering the brand promise.
Value isn’t value if you give it away.
The Leadership Conference presented the first opportunity to rally the organization around the brand in the face of the market downturn. The agenda for the Leadership Conference was modeled after the three sections of the brand promise: Listen, Understand and Deliver (see materials). The challenge was to give the employees a palpable experience of the brand and what it means to deliver International’s brand promise to customers. We met the challenge as follows:
Listen: To give a flavor of what International means by listening, we produced videotaped segments with representative customers (see video). By focusing the interviews on the customers’ business models and needs, the videos gave the audience an understanding of the new approach International was taking when listening to customers. The Listening section culminated with a live presentation and Q & A with customer Penske Truck Leasing. Employees gained insight into how International could help Penske Truck Leasing build its business and learned how to actively listen.
Understand: Panelists used story telling to demonstrate how one turns listening into an understanding of how to impact a customer’s business. Specific stories told by employees in the field showed the brand strategy at work and illustrated how this can blunt competitive threats, close sales and win customers. The program went on to communicate an inspirational message: amid the current downturn, International can and will succeed because it has the right brand strategy. A pivotal moment came when Marketing and Sales leadership stood together with a common message, finding alignment and overcoming significant disagreements.
Deliver: The remainder of the conference demonstrated the results that can be delivered when employees take accountability for performance in their own areas and work across functions. Panels showcased the success achieved with the teams that worked on the February truck launch (see materials) and urged the organization to emulate their approach.
Steve Keate, Truck Group President, closed the meeting with a call to action to achieve profitable market share, successfully execute an upcoming new product launch and reduce costs through operational excellence. The customer programs that were developed in response to this mandate were further opportunities for the International leadership to drive alignment behind the brand strategy, impart to employees a clear understanding of what they needed to do to deliver the brand promise and help International succeed in the market.
The Customer Value Rally Sales Program was a media-supported, customer promotion event. The team leveraged this event to further drive the alignment of the Sales and Marketing Groups solidly behind the brand strategy. Rather than build a promotional event that focused on purchase price, the groups designed a program that revolved around customers’ needs and delivering value to reduce their operating costs (see materials). The business results success of the program and its approach was merchandized throughout the organization to demonstrate leadership support for the strategy and inspire employees.
The President’s Dinners for conquest customers presented another opportunity to continue the internal call to the brand strategy. From the onset, Matha MacDonald worked with Sales and Marketing to transform a traditional sales dinner into a total brand experience that sold the company’s commitment of solid partnership to customers. The key elements of the event were to 1) create an event that delivers the brand experience by listening to customers and learning about their businesses; 2) align International participants to deliver that experience; 3) showcase International as the right business partner, offering stability and real value, and 4) achieve leadership alignment on the meaning and value of the International brand and cast the shadow of leadership to the senior Sales staff and key Dealer principals attending these events. The events, as well as the messaging and activities surrounding them (see materials), drove business results in the short-term (exceeding by threefold all sales targets), and created a foundation for future market share growth. The success of the events was tangible proof to the organization that the brand strategy works.
Through the strategic use of employee communications and leveraging the opportunities presented by external customer programs, the team reinvigorated adherence to the brand strategy through the organization and created a platform for action that impacted International’s bottom-line. The results of this effort included:
The planning and execution of the Leadership Conference, the Customer Value Rally and the President’s Dinners drove decision-making and alignment within Sales and Marketing leadership. This alignment led to Sales and Marketing developing programs that did not rely on price reductions and allowed them to exceed their pricing goals (by $1,000,000 in October, November and December 2001).
International established a clear metric to judge the success of the President’s Dinners: sell 100 trucks (which cost from $40,000 to over $100,000 each) by August 31, 2001. We tripled that goal. As of that date, 305 trucks were sold as a result of the doors opened and impressions made at the President’s Dinners. At last report, regional sales indicated that they are moving towards closing deals on another 500 units. They also cite a high possibility of striking deals with about one out of four event attendees. In terms of reported sales, the events paid for themselves several times over.
The Customer Value Rally program met its goal of selling 1500 trucks.
Despite one of the worst industry markets and the tough economy, International was on track in August to show a net profit for the year. The impact of the events of September 11 prevented achieving that goal. In the face of these challenges, International did not abandon its strategy and maintained the course to secure long-term success. International actually lost $23 million for the year while key competitors reported losses ranging from $150 million to $1.5billion.