The Project Management Tool You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Branding, a process used by marketers, can also be used internally to build excitement for projects.

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Branding. Usually only marketing teams think about brand building and how to create an atmosphere around a product or service.

But that’s shortsighted. The branding process is one that can also be used internally, to build excitement for projects among staff.

Most of us are familiar with how branding works in marketing — surveying the competition, identifying a distinguishing message, developing strategies to present the message. “Over time, as consumers come to associate a brand with a specific benefit, the brand acts like a stake in the ground, claiming territorial rights over its value proposition,” Niraj Dawar noted in a 2004 MIT Sloan Management Review article.

We’re less familiar with branding as an operational tool. But savvy project managers are using branding to entice buy-in for projects from internal audiences. Branding helps managers “sell” the importance of projects and get staff to participate in ways that increase a project’s chances of success.

So argued Karen A. Brown (then of the Thunderbird School of Global Management), Richard Ettenson (Thunderbird), and Nancy Lea Hyer (Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management) in “Why Every Project Needs a Brand (and How to Create One),” in the Summer 2011 issue of MIT SMR. “Project leaders, when they are able to rally teams, often focus too narrowly on the work to be done,” the authors note. “In their preoccupation with task accomplishment, project leaders frequently overlook the importance of establishing, maintaining, and communicating to key stakeholders a clear, consistent, and compelling vision of project purpose, goals, and benefits.” Project managers who want to “be in stronger positions to achieve their goals, advance their careers, and deliver on the company’s business objectives” should adopt the principles of traditional brand management.

Some suggestions for how to put branding to work on internal projects:

Develop a strong pitch for the project. “The pitch represents the project champion’s initial effort to position and sell an idea by persuading key decision makers of the importance of the underlying problem or strategic opportunity the project will address,” the authors write. “Without answers to the question ‘why?’ those with approval power will have little interest in the ‘what.


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