When Viad Corp.‘s Travel and Recreation Group undertook a re-branding in 2016, there were several objectives for the transformation including identifying a new name. Instead of delegating the undertaking to the marketing department, as most organizational leaders would, President David Barry believed the most fundamental element of the transformation was employee engagement with the brand. So he personally led the organization through an inside-out approach to brand-building and successfully executed the re-brand.
Viad had acquired seven companies in six years, each with different business units and brands and names, so Barry’s underlying challenge was to unite and align all the entities. A new brand identity was needed to stretch across geographies, from Alaska to Western Canada and Montana. It also needed to apply to the wide range of venues in the company’s expanded portfolio of businesses, including hotels, tourist attractions, and airport shuttles. The new brand name they adopted is Pursuit to represent the drive for “the extraordinary journey of life” that unifies all the experiences the company provides. They selected the name after confirming it applies in multiple regions and languages and resonates with their range of guests.
Barry knew that establishing a unifying connection among all Pursuit employees was the most important requirement for the new brand. He told me in an interview, “Your brand has to resonate; it has to be real; it has to be something people believe in. And then we work hard to deliver it.” In fact, he observed that “where cultures fail is where there isn’t the connectivity between brand and culture.” So he ensured that the re-branding included internally-directed efforts in addition to changes to the company’s external image. Although Mark Hendrikse, the company’s marketing vice president, assumed responsibility for many of the re-branding initiatives and tactics, he credits Barry with being the “chief architect” of the transformation.
Barry and his team undertook an inside-out approach to establishing their new brand identity by articulating newly inspired cultural foundations for the organization: mission, vision, and values. They following the philosophy that Stan Slap, bestselling author of books on culture, describes by saying “you can’t sell it outside if you can’t sell it inside,” and considered how the how these cultural foundations could apply to employees as well as customers.
They wanted to align and integrate the two groups, so for example, the new mission reads, “To connect guests and staff to iconic places through unforgettable, inspiring experiences.” And they developed universal core values such as “Honoring place,” which references the respect for the locations they operate in that customers and employees share.
They also ensured that employees understood and embraced the updated mission, vision, and values. They conducted video conference calls with all the company’s business units to discuss them and proceeded only after they got a thumbs-up. And then Hendriske and his colleagues went out into the field and conducted brand engagement sessions at all properties to ensure every employee had the opportunity to learn about and experience the new direction personally.
Barry and his leadership team have aligned their behaviors with the new brand and cultural foundation. Explaining the importance of the day-to-day actions of leaders in cultivating the desired culture, Barry said, “No one listens to what you say. They watch how you walk.” The company leaders made sure to demonstrate and role model the behaviors that the new identity required, including engaging one-on-one with employees to get their opinions and help in improving the experiences and programs they provide to customers.
To that end, Barry spends the majority of his days at his company’s locations. It’s time-consuming to travel to some of the destinations which include remote areas in Iceland and Alaska, but Barry believes that the greatest value of his time is spending it with frontline leaders and employees.
Whenever he arrives at a property, his first item of business is to visit the employee housing lodge. There he actively seeks input from employees, asking four questions. The first two are fairly straightforward: 1. “What do you like about working here?,” and 2. “What would you change?”
Then Barry asks, “What can I tell your boss off the record?” He says this means he wants to hear the unvarnished truth and will not attribute to any individual anything he is told. This question enables him to get insight on whether or not managers are acting consistently with Pursuit’s core values and to give feedback and take action as necessary. And the final question Barry routinely asks, “Where should we focus in the future?” He attributes this last inquiry to helping his organization identify needs such as a new forecasting system that has significantly improved operations efficiency.
Undertaking a brand transformation from the inside-out, as Barry and his team have, requires significantly more energy and effort than the more common attempts at rebranding such as developing new names, logos, and hierarchies for brands. But it also has produced significantly greater results for Pursuit. Barry reports dramatic revenue growth, increases in customer satisfaction as measured by NPS, and increases in employee satisfaction.
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