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Brand new start


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Five years after selling his advertising agency, Tom Porter is back. He has been through a personal rebranding, which led him to an idea for rebranding companies in a way they haven’t experienced before. And now that his non-compete agreement with Trilix Marketing Group has expired, he’s launching Asset-Based Marketing in Des Moines.

Based on 22 years of running Thomas C. Porter & Associates and 3 1/2 years at Homesteaders Life Co., Porter has developed a process that goes beyond just branding a company. It also looks at how to align that brand with how a company approaches its customers and recruits, rewards and reviews its employees.

“I’m taking a more comprehensive approach to my own life,” he said, “and now I think that businesses need to maybe take a look at this more comprehensive approach. … This (process) becomes the platform on which you launch everything else.”


When Porter sold his firm to Trilix, he planned on sitting on a beach. That lasted 90 days. Homesteaders, where he had served on the board of directors for eight years, needed a vice president of marketing, and Porter agreed to fill that position for as long as he liked. Already he had ideas for better aligning what he considers to be a company’s three most important assets: brand, employees and customers/vendors. There he was able to put many of those ideas to the test and learn from being an employee.

A few years later, he developed an Integrative Process Map, a guide for how he will go into a company and shake things up. He then applied that to North Idaho Health Network, leaving that organization with a brand platform, business plan and marketing plan. Now he has lined up a few partners that will help him implement his ideas and is pitching his approach to Greater Des Moines companies.

The first step is going through the standard process of identifying an organization’s brand by determining its values, promise to its customers, personality and position in the marketplace.

When Porter ran his advertising agency, he said, this is where his work would end. “We would give clients at the end of this process a really absolutely gorgeous three-ring binder with all this stuff in it,” he said, “and then we would say, ‘Now we’re going to go off and do some really clever ads and some really great public relations and make this thing happen.’ And more times than not, at the end of the year or what have you, a client would come back and say, ‘Jeez, you’re not really reaching our expectations.'”

What Porter discovered was another process in which the employees needed to understand the brand identity and be able to deliver on the brand promise in an effective way to the customer.

His process now includes looking at the customer side, such as breaking down customers into more segmented categories and directing programs specifically at each segment. At Homesteaders, for example, he helped the company break its segments of big and small funeral homes into about 45 categories. From there, the company could direct information specific for groups such as hometown caregivers – funeral directors based in smaller communities who felt comfortable running a funeral but not with marketing their business.

On the employee side, he has found that a company must align job descriptions, performance reviews, compensation, recruiting and other human resource policies with its brand in order to help create its desired image.

At Porter & Associates, Porter realized the firm would throw a party every time someone left, but when a new employee joined the firm, he or she would simply receive the employee manual and learn about insurance procedures. To live up to the company’s mission of showing customers, vendors and employees how valuable they are, he started holding a party to welcome the newcomer.

At Homesteaders, Porter began asking employees during performance reviews what they were doing to deliver on the company’s brand promise of helping funeral home customers succeed. When he first asked the question, “it was like a deer in headlights,” he said, but eventually people started coming up with examples. Then it really took off when he started sharing those examples at quarterly meetings and recognized employees with a small monetary incentive.

“Let’s put it this way,” Porter said, pausing to think. “Somewhere during the process, there’s one thing I can guarantee: Most likely the president and CEO and others are going to get out of their comfort zone. They’re going to be pushed out there, and that’s the way you make progress, in my opinion.”

North Idaho Health Network Executive Director Rick McMaster agrees: “I think so often leaders of companies expect things to be done and probably wonder why they aren’t. Really the most successful companies are culturally aligned and I think that’s what Tom accomplishes. It is that connection of those dots.”

Porter came to the nonprofit organization at a time when it was looking to “take the next step.” It had been in business for 15 years and was reconsidering its brand identity. Taking that process a step further to see what the group needed to achieve its mission and whether its resources where aligned was a natural step, McMaster said.

Though the process was completed late last year, McMaster said North Idaho Health Network is still measuring the results. But, he said, the 270 physician members within five hospitals that belong to the network seem more in line with the group’s mission. “There’s no question there’s a new excitement among the stakeholders,” he said.

New ambitions

At one time in his life, Porter said, it was important for him to have 60 people working under him. Today, his aspirations are simply to work as a consultant with companies and to partner with people who can help implement some of the changes he might propose, especially on the human resources side.

“This goes so deep into an organization that components of it, quite frankly, I’m not qualified to do,” he said.

Russell Jensen, president of Jensen Consulting, has known Porter through consulting work with his ad agency and at Homesteaders. This time, he was attracted to Porter’s holistic approach to working with a company and has agreed to work on compensation design and other human resources strategies and leadership development with Porter’s clients.

“We’ve dealt with (these issues) in bits and pieces with clients before,” Jensen said, “and I’m eager to work with Tom in this kind of umbrella approach, helping client companies move forward.

“He (Porter) is a deep thinker, and he’s got some courage to try some things out, so I’m eager to work with him.”

Ben Stone, who recently started RPO Consulting LLC, a firm focused on working with client companies throughout the hiring process, from writing the job description to finding candidates and helping with the actual hire, is also working with Porter on the recruiting and on-boarding (getting new hires integrated into the company and fully trained) sides. Many of his ideas relate to a growing trend called “employer branding” or helping a company create an image of what it is like to work there and making sure that it aligns with the marketing brand. (See sidebar.)

The hardest part of Porter’s work is measuring results. His measurement at Homesteaders was that when he began, the company had zero people following through on delivering the company’s brand promise, and by the time he left, 100 percent were on board. “The bottom line is something’s got to happen,” he said.

He’s working on a book that will develop these ideas further. His working title is “All I Need to Know About Business I Learned From a Duck,” using nature as a metaphor for how people ought to run their businesses. He hopes to self-publish in a couple of months.

His approach “isn’t rocket science,” Porter said. “You’ve got to roll up your sleeves, and it just takes so much work to do this.”

He should know. At the age of 60, he has been through a similar journey during the past five years.

“I think for me now at this stage in my career and for anybody that’s about my age, you just start looking at your life. There were some things that were just out of alignment in my life, and so I’ve done some really deep sort of study on a personal level. … Because I’ve taken myself through this introspection, because I’ve taken my own company through this introspection, now I’ve taken North Idaho Network through this thing, I can go out and do this for just about anybody.”

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