NAVAIR is an organization with roughly 30,000 people, across eight sites. It is highly technical and provides many key products and services to the people in the fleet. Given the rapid pace and complexity of the work in the organization, it can take a lot of effort to get new initiatives or ideas to gain hold. Increasing our alignment as an organization, to our customers, to our sponsors, and really to ourselves, is a key goal.
What I learned through working in the IT department is that the only way I was ever going to help bring in new technology was to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. So I basically started an IT internal sales organization. We evolved into a process where we had to build customer relationships and to market ourselves using the most current techniques; I discovered branding along the way. My team turned a US$ 200,000 team of two people into a US$ 10M a year team doing Web technologies and emerging technology. What this means, is that we were able to convince many of the departments and project teams that the ‘brand’ of our internal IT department was worth trusting on more and more important projects. The internal marketing approach is really the best way to encourage implementation of corporate standards for the whole organization, rather than de-centralized, redundant, stove-piped systems.
Then we reached a point where this discussion of ‘brand’ was happening at many levels of the organization, I think this really was a testament to current industry trends. I was part of a small team that really built an approach to using brand techniques in the government context. We created a team called Project GoldenWing designed to really improve our sometimes fragmented communications and to launch the brand across all of our sites and departments. I think we made the case that there was a real benefit to managing our reputation in a more systematic way.
There is no marketing department; we're a government organization. There's a public affairs department, and there are a couple of groups that are charged with working with 'customers' of our labs and test facilities. Regulations keep us from marketing ourselves and growing 'business,' but then again this is really about building alignment inside our organization.
We bought books, [collected] articles and hired a brand consultancy to help us through the process and give us case study examples. We saw that we could take these techniques [used by others] and apply them to our own brand.
In an organization of around 30,000 employees, about half of the staff are engineers. So when we first launched the initial executive meetings, a few of the people had trouble with terms like brand. Its not about cows and irons! We had to clarify that '…we're using brand techniques from industry, and the project is really a brand-driven alignment process.'
We also talked about how our brand is just our reputation. We said, 'You can substitute the word brand for reputation. Are you going to manage your reputation?'
The brand strategy launched last April (2002) around the concept that among the eight US sites providing everything from aircraft and weapons to sensors and training, the common contribution was really remarkable technology that is the best in the world. We have been deploying our brand, Advanced Warfare Technology, ever since. We had to go in and sell everyone in the organization on the whole notion of tending to our brand. This is not just a logo or advertising.
A big part of our rollout was in setting up brand agents -- brand teams at the local sites -- and getting them to have a local plan for implementing the new brand. Our marketing budget is nonexistent so we had to let the brand expressions evolve in each department. We had to create guidelines that could be accomplished in a distributed fashion. The guidelines have been a key part of the success of the project.
I think that a background in IT and the experience of deploying enterprise-wide systems was great experience for working with the brand. Handling corporate change, overcoming user resistance, and employing systems thinking are all activities that transferred well. The employees at NAVAIR are technical and very busy, so the program had to be well thought out and had to have real meat when it came to deployment. Also, in an organization with lots of sites, you have to account for culture, much the way you have to when building IT systems. You are bringing a whole new language to people. So, while the creative, aspirational part of branding was new for us, we brought strength to the rigor of deployment. I think that the tools for measurement and sustainability will be comparable to anything you would see in industry.
Overall looking at the process, I think I underestimated the amount of communication we had to have to keep people informed – the amount of emails or updates on how the project was going; keeping people in the loop on our thinking. We had to move very, very quickly. After a while we didn't have time to keep everybody in the loop. I guess you can never do enough when it comes to communications.
[So we're working with people on] their role in brand leadership: 'What is it I now have to do?' That education process is hard to cram into a four-day meeting. It's more than just changing a business card. There is now responsibility for us all to help tend to our brand all the time and at all levels of leadership. This has to be a way of life.