A Rose is a Rose: What’s in a (Brand) Name?

The phrase “a rose is a rose is a rose” was first written by Gertrude Stein as part of the 1913 poem “Sacred Emily.”  Some three hundred years earlier, Shakespeare offered a similar quote in his seminal Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Loosely interpreted, both phrases really mean the same thing: the names of things do not matter as much as what those things actually are.  In today’s vernacular, “it is what it is!”

The Minnesota Council for Quality experienced that first-hand recently, after just completing a nine-month rebranding exercise.  Our new brand and logo were revealed at our 25th anniversary conference/celebration a few weeks ago, and are now being officially announced to media and the public.  Moving forward, we will now be called the…

…Performance Excellence Network, a nonprofit that advances continuous improvement and performance excellence with individuals, organizations, and communities in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

The brand probably doesn’t surprise many of you; after all, I think it more accurately reflects who we are and what we do.  But the process by which we got there was pretty intense and thorough.  We conducted several focus groups in our key communities (thanks to Satisfaction Management Systems) to better understand how our stakeholders viewed us – to hear more about the value we create and the impact we have on organizations, leaders, and communities across the state and region.

We then hired the Spangler Design Team to provide some much-needed branding expertise.  Spangler conducted additional research, and with the assistance of a volunteer advisory team that represented all of our communities, presented eight potential brands.  After a 10-day dialogue on LinkedIn with over 100 stakeholders (an amazing social media conversation!), the options were narrowed to three, out of which eventually we selected the Performance Excellence Network.  Spangler then presented 20 different logo images, each with different meaningful components, which we filtered to four, and then to the one we ultimately embraced.  Our new brand and logo can be seen on our homepage at www.councilforquality.org (which, obviously will also be changed as part of a total website redesign later this summer).

Why that name and why that logo?  First, we had to address the geographic component of our name, as we now serve both North and South Dakota.  Our board chair said it best:

We were compelled to change our name for several reasons,” says Kevin Bjork, chair of the Network’s board of directors, and vice president of global quality at Emerson Process Management in Eden Prairie.  “For one, we now serve organizations and communities in both North and South Dakota, and we needed a brand that resonated with improvement in our new three-state region.  In fact, we had our first recipient of the new South Dakota Performance Excellence Award at our annual event a few weeks ago.”

But we also needed to change the brand to better reflect our expanding impact.  The word “quality,” while appropriate in the late 80s and early 90s, is a term that’s usually narrowly focused on product, service, or process performance.  While all of those are foundational and critically important, our mission really is centered on advancing enterprise-wide change and improvement.  So “performance excellence” is a more accurate description of what we do.

So we ended up with the Performance Excellence Network, for the following key reasons:

• our work is about results – we’re about helping organizations, individuals, and communities improve their performance and their outcomes.  We’re about helping organizations get better, move upward.  The four building blocks of our new logo are meant to capture that notion.our work is about performance excellence – it’s about facilitating progress from “good to great” and from “decent to good.”  It’s about facilitating and supporting true world class performance, helping organizations to generate ever-increasing value for their stakeholders, and helping leaders sustain their enterprise and/or community .

• our work involves a journey – we’re about helping organizations sustain their improvement efforts.  Continuous improvement has a beginning, but never an ending.  Organizations, leaders, and communities must continue to improve, innovate, and respond to environmental changes to stay relevant.  As the saying goes, if you’re not moving forward, you’re slipping behind.  The world is dynamic; new competition is always emerging and currently competition is always improving themselves.  Complacency is the enemy progress, and great leaders (and great organizations) are never satisfied with the status quo.  The infinity diagram embedded in the four blocks of our logo indicates the constancy of purpose, continuous improvement, and constant change required to achieve and sustain high performance results.

• our work is about performance excellence – it’s about facilitating progress from “good to great” and from “decent to good.”  It’s about facilitating and supporting true world class performance, helping organizations to generate ever-increasing value for their stakeholders, and helping leaders sustain their enterprise and/or community outcomes.

• and we’re about a network – we’re a strong and growing community of dedicated leaders and professionals, completely committed to excellence, quality improvement, and innovation.  Our work involves a great deal of convening – of facilitating the sharing of best practices and resources across diverse organizations, so that businesses, schools, healthcare organizations, and nonprofits can benefit from the good ideas of other types of organizations.  The term “network” far better captures the essence of community than does the word “council.”

A few weeks ago, we featured Dan Woychick, founder and CEO of Woychick Design, at one of our monthly breakfast forums (slides are here).  Dan explored the power of brand, and shared quite a few key insights.  He claimed that a brand is more than just a word or words and a logo – a brand:

is a trusted relationship
is an emotional connection
is a promise of value fulfilled over and over.

In other words, “a brand is not what you say, but what you do – the sum total of all your actions.”

Think about the powerful brands with which we all can relate.  The word “Apple” doesn’t mean much by itself, but it’s come to reflect incredible innovation, superior technology and reliable products that solved problems we didn’t know we had!).  Or “Disney” – originally it was just a cartoonist’s last name, but now has become a strong brand that represents fun, incredible service, escape from reality, and sometimes powerful emotions.  “Nike” doesn’t just mean a winged Greek goddess, but has come to represent superior athletic products, health, energy, and fashion – being in with the crowd, and “just doing it.”

All three of those brands go beyond just the words – they are about trust, an emotional connection, and a promise of value, whether it’s from a reliable and innovative piece of technology, an entertaining experience, or an athletic product and feeling.  And in the case of these and other great brands, the brand not only is reflected in your organization’s products and services, but also in your processes – for example, of how employees are recruited, hired, trained, and rewarded to continuously support the brand.  A strong brand should start at the top – in the words, the emotions, and the image conveyed by an organization’s senior leaders – but they should emanate throughout the organization, through its workforce to its suppliers/partners and certainly to its customers.

Although rooted in language, brand transcends just words – it should capture the culture of an organization.  A rose by any other name is still a rose: organizations are what they truly are.  But the brand helps capture and communicate what the organization truly represents to all of its stakeholders.

We’re not Apple, Disney, or Nike.  But I think we did pretty well in capturing the essence of our mission and purpose, and I thank all of the literally hundreds of stakeholders for your feedback on our new brand!  We are proud to celebrate 25 years of advancing performance excellence — of being a “Catalyst for Success.”  And we look forward to driving and sustaining performance excellence – in all of your organizations, in all of your communities – for the next 25 years!

Yours in Performance Excellence,
Brian S. Lassiter
President, Performance Excellence Network (formerly Minnesota Council for Quality)