Developing a strong, memorable brand takes a significant investment of time, resources, and specialized expertise. Done well, a strategic brand initiative will focus and communicate your value proposition to clients and prospects, strengthen staff and stakeholder loyalty, and ultimately, make you the preferred brand in your category. Remember: It’s not necessary to have the resources of Apple or Nike to dominate your market. What you do need is a dedicated brand team comprised of executives, key stakeholders and a strategic brand consulting firm.
It goes without saying that if key decision-makers, including the president, CEO, CFO, and senior marketing counsel, are not committed to creating and sustaining a brand position that the company can own and develop, then the entire brand building process is doomed to failure. Nothing is more fragile than a fledgling brand. It will require a tremendous belief, communicated from the top down, that your company offers services and a guaranteed client experience that the competition simply can’t duplicate. If you honestly believe your company is a “me too” and “competent, but nothing special”, then do yourself a favor and don’t travel down the rigorous path necessary to build your brand. Instead, save your money and invest it in creating a unique, marketable difference that your prospects will value. However, if you believe your brand is worth developing, that it can grow in stature and equity given the proper commitment, then it’s time to get busy. Consider the following critical realities if you expect to get your money’s worth from your brand development team. Approached and used properly, your team can transform your company into a highly valued, premium brand.
Value the little things
As the old saying goes: “The big things may get you a new client, but it’s the little things that keep them”. Give your brand consultants full access to talk with employees, observe daily procedures and prepare an honest, unvarnished report on their observations of what you do well internally, and what you don’t.
Develop realistic short-term goals
Premium brands aren’t built overnight. Nor do they happen without a commitment from leadership to improve service at every level of the organization. Enacting major changes in a company’s culture can take many months, even years, spurred on by visible, incremental change. Work with your brand team to create a timeline for achieving small, measurable victories, particularly in the first six months of the brand initiative. Such victories might include reducing or eliminating an outmoded procedure, form or committee. Consider tying these victories to an employee recognition event or other incentive, and use this as an opportunity to explain how the change reflects the company’s core brand values.
Listen to your clients and the marketplace
Do your homework, preferably with the help of research professionals. An impartial, skilled facilitator will get to the heart of your stakeholders’ fears and desires in ways an executive-led staff meeting never could. Also, phone interviews with clients and prospects can reveal the real reasons people value your firm and what continues to earn their business. In addition, put your team to work on discovering what the competition is doing and how they’re viewed in the marketplace. Mining for this information takes time and skill, but the insights are worth their weight in gold.
Get good analyses
Be sure to review all collected data to provide specific insights, but then trust your team to supply objective analysis that is untarnished by internal politics. This means allowing your brand advisors to present findings that may not always be positive or complementary, but are critical to understanding your current standing in the marketplace. As the saying goes: “Your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what the market says after you’ve left the room.” Be prepared to recognize your blind spots and allow your brand advisors to hold up a mirror to your organization, even if the view isn’t always pretty.
Look to establish goals that are measurable and practical for you, your internal brand team, and your strategic brand advisors. A monthly report from each team member, along with next steps, will keep everyone honest and ensure that if there is a barrier to collecting information or getting approvals, that it is addressed and resolved promptly.
Let your brand consultants in
Too often, consultants are brought in as hired guns, often after a company is embroiled in a PR nightmare or after the internal marketing team has already formed an intractable opinion about what the company’s brand is or should be. Instead, be prepared to start from scratch, to challenge all preconceptions, and allow your advisors to ask tough questions. A lot of important data will be collected by having your consultants sit in on board meetings, planning meetings, financial sessions, weekly staff meetings, and anywhere else that offers insight into how your organization communicates and prepares for future growth. To close any of these doors to your brand advisors is to relegate them to the role of vendor and severely limit their ability to intimately understand your company and position your brand.
Be a brand ambassador!
As the brand team develops powerful messaging, a memorable identity, compelling sales materials and much more, it’s critical that everyone on staff embrace and promote the brand. Live your brand and set the example by becoming a “brand ambassador”. Think Steve Jobs at Apple Computer, or Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. Visible, passionate executives are one of the keys to building authentic brands.
Get (somewhat) comfortable with chaos
To some executives, the brand development process appears messy and chaotic at times. When it comes to distilling a company’s brand essence, it’s not unusual for the team to go down some blind alleys before reaching clarity. The process of discovering the intangibles that motivate your people and markets is deceptively simple. Not easy, but simple. Be assured that, given the necessary time and support, your brand team will uncover your core brand attributes and can translate it into words, images and actions that are irresistible to your market. To arrive at a brand foundation with lasting value, be prepared to accept that the journey may take a few twists along the way.
Always look to improve
A brand is a living, changing thing. Once the brand foundation, messaging and materials are in place, the real work begins. Constantly ask for feedback from your team, from clients and prospects. Model and strengthen what works, eliminate what doesn’t. By maintaining a fresh outlook on your brand and being willing to adapt to changing market conditions, your brand will always be relevant and valuable.