It would be nice to think that businesses leaders had come to terms with the need for transparency. Even if honesty wasn’t their primary instinct, they must surely have recognised, because the Internet has rendered the densest of brand fogs transparent, it has to be the best policy. Sadly though, not everyone gets it.

I know from my own experience that many business leaders still think brand development is a dressing up game. The way they see it, you find out what qualities people are looking for in a brand and you then set about trying to persuade them that you have them all, regardless of the facts.

Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, these days make-believe is the quickest route to business failure. Liars have always been found out eventually, but in the digital age, it happens in moments rather than days, months or years and if your community find you out you are dead in the water.

A great deal has changed in recent years in the development of brands. We now understand that brands are more than logos and most people agree they are communities of people with shared values and beliefs. We have learned – well most of us – that brand relationships, like any other kinds of relationship, are based on trust and, some of us are coming to terms with the fact that the only way to gain trust is to be honest. And I mean genuinely so, because among all these lessons the biggest by far is that, in the digital world, there are no closets to hide your bad stuff in.

However, brands aren’t made over-night and you can’t put up a facade to disguise the truth even if your intention is to fix what’s behind it later. The process is about identifying what you genuinely are, developing what your audience perceives as strengths and addressing your weaknesses. These weaknesses may include values, character traits, working models and even your product or offer. A real brand development programme aligns all the elements of your business and starts by creating a brand model that itself may take many months of research, analysis and strategising to define. However, if the creation of your brand model sounds like a bigger challenge than you had anticipated, the implementation of your brand development strategy is where the work really starts.

Implementation involves a powerful internal marketing programme that will probably utilise an array of tools and media channels to target the various segments of your brand community. Twenty years ago I was already persuading organisations with my Full Effect Marketing concept to divert a proportion of their marketing budget into internal marketing. Some took note, but those that didn’t, now have to focus far greater attention on this much-neglected area of business. In the first instance your targets are internal – investors, partners, distributors, and employees. You can think in terms of a minimum of a year to get to first base with this and only when all your internal stakeholders are on-board can you afford to engage customers and prospects.

The reason you do it this way is to do with the delivery of the promise that sits at the heart of your brand model. This is the promise you make to all of your community, that sets their expectations, which, once expressed you simply have to deliver. The key to brand success is consistency. That’s consistency between messages as well as between words and action. You can’t make different promises to different segments of your community. This provides the focus for all members of your community and the reference against which all future decisions will be made. It has to be the same promise to everyone, it’s just the way it resonates with them that changes and you need to understand this.

Once you have defined your promise you have to be absolutely convinced – and I mean 100% – that you can deliver it CONSISTENTLY, every time and the only way you can be sure of this is to ensure that everyone involved in delivering it – all those segments I just listed – understand it, buy into it and are totally committed to playing their part in its delivery.

Of course, commitment isn’t the same as ability and an important part of your brand development programme is empowerment. Giving your internal stakeholders the resources and skills that will enable them to follow through on their commitment.

This in itself represents a problem for a great many privately-owned businesses. These firms are often run by founders who have built the business entirely on the basis of their own perspective, understanding, views, and skill levels. It’s common to find privately-owned SMEs staffed entirely by expediters – people who have succeeded and grown their status in the business by following the orders of the founder. To a point this is no bad thing if the founder understands what’s needed to be successful at what the business does, but it’s not scalable and eventually every business that’s run this way will fail because there aren’t enough people around to make decisions.

A worthwhile internal marketing programme will revolve around a brand book that explains the brand and sets out the brand narrative – the rationale if you like for everything you are doing, that is totally logical and convincing. You’ll certainly need an Intranet to deliver messages and training and measure employee performance as well as the overall success of your programme, which you’ll define by pre-set metrics. Like any other campaign it must also always remain flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and insights.

Once your internal stakeholders are all on board you’ll find they will take the initiative in your transformation, although this does require senior management to be sufficiently enlightened to act as facilitator rather than dictator. I hope every manager understands that these days if you challenge your employees to reinvent their jobs in line with the need to deliver the brand promise you’ll find they will do so. However, they will still need help in the form of advice and these days this commonly comes from experts like process engineers, digital developers, business analysts and project managers. It’s your job to see they get this.

You’ll also have to accept there will be fall-out. If you have been in business for any length of time and especially if your brand hasn’t been clearly defined in the past, you’ll be lucky if your entire team is comfortable with the new brand, or the level of commitment you need them to make to it. Inevitably some will move on, but you have to give them the chance to understand and learn before they make a move.

Recruitment is critical to resourcing those newer skills and will play a vital role in your brand development. You’ll have heard the buzz about Employer branding, well, this is where it really counts and your HR and recruitment teams have to be among the first departments to be totally absorbed by your new branding. They, like everyone else will have to re-invent their approach and you’ll have to provide them with the resources to build their campaign to take your new brand to the employee marketplace and ensure it is represented in internal schemes, benefits and employer practices.

You might argue that the employer-branding piece is the most important of all the initiatives that make up your brand development programme, because it delivers people who will bring your brand to life.

Throughout, senior managers have to understand that re-branding doesn’t happen in the boardroom. Directors might set the broad agenda, but it is employees who will make it all happen and to a great extent add the detail to your brand.

So, I advise any senior manager who thinks branding is a dressing-up game that honesty definitely is the ONLY policy. Your brand has never been as critical to the survival of your business as it is now and it will become moreso. A strong brand will make you faster, better and more efficient in every respect – exactly what you need to be to compete in the digital economy – and you simply can’t afford to be anything but a good, honest brand.

First published on LInkedIn January 2018

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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