I was at Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells in June of 2014 when the alarm bells went off. It was my first full-staff event with TMG Wisconsin, the first and largest of the state’s IRIS Consultant Agencies. IRIS is a state Medicaid program that allows the frail elderly and adults with disabilities to self-direct supports and services they need to remain independent and out of a nursing home.
Just three months after Rippe Keane Marketing started partnering with them, TMG held a two-day, full-staff conference at Kalahari. Because hundreds of TMG staff work independently, out of their homes, all across Wisconsin, these “Staff Development Days” represented a rare opportunity to pull everyone together. TMG had invited me to do a short introductory presentation on branding since brand development was at the top of our priority list.
But TMG represented a challenge. While I had a great education in healthcare and insurance from other client relationships, government contracts and Medicaid waivers and the hundreds of acronyms that accompanied them were dizzying in those early months with TMG.
Still, I knew enough to be concerned with what I heard when I went around the room introducing myself to TMG staff. Those conversations all went something like this:
Me: Hi, I’m Scott Rippe from Rippe Keane Marketing.
Them: I’m (so and so). I’ve worked for IRIS for four years now.
Wait. What? “You don’t work for IRIS,” I thought silently to myself. “You work for TMG.”
But that’s where we were. While TMG had done an excellent job developing and communicating its mission, vision and values, its brand identity was so weak that even its own staff seemed confused about who they worked for. And so the bells started blaring in my head. If staff associated themselves more with IRIS than TMG, certainly the 12,000 or so IRIS enrollees would also be confused about who was who.
This was by no means a case of brand neglect. At the time, TMG owned 100% of the IRIS market. It had no competitors and didn’t really need brand definition or differentiation at the time. But that was about to change. The state would start certifying additional IRIS Consultant Agencies within a matter of months, creating a competitive environment for the first time in the program’s short but successful history.
So we went to work quickly deploying the Rippe Keane Marketing brand architecture process, first identifying the TMG brand – the core skills and attributes that drove its everyday work; the values and behaviors they all shared; the differentiators that would give TMG an immediate leg up on new competitors. We focused not on what TMG did, but how they did it. And those conversations led to the development of the TMG Brand Story and a slogan that would encapsulate everything the company stood for: Let’s Clear the Path Ahead.
We’d need a logo, a website overhaul and dozens of collateral pieces that aligned with the new brand. We focused heavily on the emotional components of TMG’s work because brands tend to “stick” better when we relate to them emotionally. The language we used to express the brand was very carefully chosen.
Now, the challenge was to obtain brand adoption with hundreds of staff members working in every corner of Wisconsin.
Our brand team worked to develop a series of “Customer Care Standards” – promises we would make about the experience an IRIS participant would have when they selected TMG as their IRIS Consultant Agency. These were service standards that would set the bar high for all new competitors and would set the stage for rigorous staff training, new employee orientation and performance evaluation.
Through executive leadership, role modeling, frequent internal communications, ongoing brand training, statewide staff meetings and a culture where staff members recognize each other for “behaving into the brand,” internal brand adoption has been fast and deep.
Today, staff doesn’t only know who they work for, but takes pride in what it means to work for TMG. And for me, because of where we started and where we are today, the TMG branding process has been one of the most rewarding of my career.
Although there are now five IRIS Consultant Agencies in Wisconsin, TMG maintains 96% of the IRIS market, thanks in part to a strong brand and meaningful brand behaviors.
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