A few times recently I’ve found myself in conversations with people who, while they believed they knew all about brands, clearly didn’t. Sometimes you just have to go back to brand basics.
What is a brand?
Let’s start by agreeing what a brand isn’t. If I ask this question in workshops or a talk I get the usual suggestions – it’s a logo, or a product, or a culture. Sometimes even a set of values. In fact, it’s all of these things … and none of them! These are the accoutrements of a brand. The real answer lies deeper.
A logo is nothing more than a badge of belonging. It plays an important part in the greater scheme of a brand, but it’s by no means the full story.
Products are the outcome of a brand. Even if they are iconic, increasingly the products and services businesses deliver are transient anyway – such is the fast pace of the digital economy.
Cultures change too, as do values. They must if the brand is to remain relevant. They are both coordinates that help you define you brand, but they are not what it is really all about.
The problem with the thinking behind all of these answers is it is based on the understanding that brands are the sum of the relationship the organisation has with customers or end-users.
Brand basics impact more than customers
A brand may be the cornerstone of your relationship with customers, but it is far more than that. Failure to understand such brand basic is leading organisations around the world to overlook an invaluable resource. Brands are the core of every business and in the digital economy, if you don’t recognise and harness brand power you are at best going to struggle to survive.
Brand basics are communities
I’d like you to think of a brand as a community of people with shared values and beliefs. Communities are pretty important to us. Our primal instinct is to create them – they give us a sense of safety from predators and represent an efficient means of hunting. These days we use brands to define ourselves – we are what we wear, buy, are a member of.
Some brand communities are more obvious than others. It’s easy to understand how sports teams, rock groups, religions and movie franchises become communities. It’s perhaps less obvious with more mundane things like detergent, but, believe me it all works the same way and we use our membership of these communities to represent our individuality and combine any number of them to add colour and shade to the overall picture that we paint of ourselves.
Brands drive change
There’s a lot of talk about “change” at the moment. As Greg Satell reminds us in his book Cascades, you can’t impose change, but it is essential and constant. Traditional business leaders struggle to come to terms with the digital economy because they have been raised on a business philosophy that, in all kinds of ways, restricts innovation and limits agility to a far greater extent that can be tolerated in the new world order. The new paradigm demands a new approach to management and the brand discovery process I adopt helps business leaders as well as employees and other internal stakeholders better understand their role.
Brand is the power of community
Organisations have to change to survive, but successful change, not to mention day-to-day existence in the new paradigm is a product of cooperation between people with a shared purpose. Your brand is the community that will bring about the change you need and the promise, which is inherent in every brand whether you recognise it or not, is the focus your brand community needs to be cohesive and efficient.
Get this organised and you’ll have the brand power to take you where you need to go.
Define your brand
The starting point of this journey is to define your brand. I do this with my “Brand Discovery” programme, the tangible outcome of which (there are numerous other less-obvious but equally important outcomes as well) is a document – a brand model – that pin-points your brand and its promise using twelve coordinates. Every successful business today has done something like this and you have to do the same.
Harnessing your brand power
Defining your brand though is just the start. To survive the digital revolution you are going to have to manage it. This requires an equally well-defined internal marketing campaign designed to ensure every one of your internal stakeholders has your brand basics – understands the rationale for your brand (or narrative), recognises its brand promise (Their objective) and commits to playing their part in delivering it.
Your internal marketing campaign should be substantial and on-going. It will utilise all the usual communications routes. Your campaign will probably – because I’ve not come across one so far that doesn’t – be built around an Intranet and will require full-time management. This may represent a bit of a departure from business-as-usual for some senior managers, but, in the digital economy business isn’t “as usual”. This is how businesses are driven these days, so you need to get used to it.
When your brand basics are achieved, all your stakeholders can be aligned and you’ll become more responsive and more efficient – exactly what’s required of a digital business. Employees who are empowered in this way will introduce the changes to your systems, practices, structures, products and anything else for that matter that will influence your ability to deliver your brand promise.
So, hopefully I’ve been able to provide something of an insight into brand basics and you can see why brand is a far bigger thing than most people understand. It’s not simple of course, there’s a lot to add to what I have explained here, but I’m happy to provide the help and support any organisation needs to leverage the power of their brand.
Brand power is the key to survival in the digital economy and you simply can’t afford not to get your brand basics right if you want to stay around for the next couple of years or longer.
November 18, 2019