Making a brand come to life is one of the most difficult aspects of the branding process because it requires much planning and coordination, as well as a commitment to creating real and lasting change. What makes it even more challenging is that the very concept of living a brand is often misunderstood.
A brand is the perception others have about your company. You can control that perception by being intentional about what and how your brand communicates.
To do this well, you need first to articulate the meaning of your brand – the brand platform – and then to use that foundation to guide the creation of the brand (its verbal and visual identity, design system and more).
Then you introduce your brand to the world through each customer touchpoint – the company website, marketing materials, sales collateral, PR campaigns, physical environments and all other channels and forms of communication.
But here’s the problem: All that stuff is “out there.” And although it can help increase visibility and get attention, it won’t create desired brand perception if your marketing is merely a veneer.
In other words, if your brand isn’t guiding absolutely everything you do as a company, there will be a disconnect between what you say your company is and what others actually see – and what others see will become the only perception that endures.
So how do you ensure that you don’t invest in developing a brand that only exists in your company’s marketing?
Develop an Authentic and Meaningful Brand Platform
By starting the branding process with a brand platform (rather than diving directly into the image and message), you build authenticity and meaning into the very core of your brand.
Whereas a visual identity, tone, style, etc., inform marketing, the elements of a brand platform – brand purpose, promise, values and more – inform and define the company’s soul, behavior and actions. In other words, they define its culture.
And your company culture is what others experience when they engage with your brand.
A disconnect occurs when what others see (marketing materials) and experience (culture) don’t match. Your message must align with your actions for your brand to be believable and to help shape your desired brand perception.
Of course, even if you’ve taken the time to create a blueprint for a fully aligned brand-based culture, your entire company won’t automatically begin living the brand. You have to be prepared to do the hard work required for embedding the brand into daily actions.
To make sure every member of your internal team understands the brand and how to put it into action, you need to have a strategy and plan for engaging all employees in making your brand real inside and outside of your organization.
Give Your Employees a Reason to Stay on Brand
Hang your new authentic and meaningful brand platform on the wall and guess what will happen? If you said “nothing,” you’re right! You have to make the new brand culture real for employees before you can expect them to rally around it.
- Look at your brand purpose and ask, “How, specifically, will we make this real? What are our proof points?” For example, if your brand purpose is about making the world a safer place through infrastructure design, then your project process map needs to have very clear steps for ensuring safety at every point. Your employees need to see that you’ve made safety in infrastructure design a priority. They need to know they are part of and responsible for that, that they are truly empowered to question safety and bring new ideas for delivering on the company’s purpose to the table.
- Look at your brand values and ask, “What do we need to do to encourage and support our employees in being this way?” For example, if innovation is a brand value, then the company leadership needs to actively embrace failure because innovation can’t happen without it.
- Look at your brand promise and ask, “Is employee experience aligned with our core promise? What changes in behavior do we need to adopt internally to create experience that delivers on that promise?” For example, if your brand promise is simplifying the complex, then the first step could be to simplify internal policies and rewrite the employee handbook with no legalese.
Find out more about crafting a brand with employees in mind. [http://www.substance151.com/forgotten-audience-crafting-brand-attract-keep-talent/]
Make Sure Every Customer Interaction Makes the Right Impression
Your customer experience is the sum of interactions your customers have with your company. Therefore, what you convey in emails matters as much as what you convey in marketing materials and how you treat your customers online matters as much as how you treat them in person. If your company’s brand is sleek and clean, your office better not be a mess. If your company’s brand is about creativity and playfulness, your waiting area better look the part. And if your company’s brand is down to earth and friendly, your receptionist should to say “John – rather than Mr. Smith – will see you now.”
Little things make a big difference.
Designing customer experience is both an art and science and a heck of a lot of fun. Look at your brand platform and ask … “If this is our brand, then …”
… what is our waiting room design and experience like?
… what is our dress code?
… how do we respond to likes and comments on social media?
… how do we present our work?
… what do we send out as holiday gifts?
… what do we do before, during and after our first meeting with a prospect?
Use your customer journey map as a guide, and brainstorm how to bring your brand to life at all points of interaction.
Don’t Get Caught in the Wrong Crowd
Your customers, partners, vendors, board, investors and employees all say something about your company – and you need to make sure that what they say is in alignment with the perception you want to create. Everything from the events your company attends and the causes it supports to the people it hires contributes to that perception – for better or worse.
Although you need to proactively educate all new employees about your brand and your culture, unless each person you hire already shares similar values and philosophy, it can be a rough, if not impossible, road. However, a strong and clearly articulated brand-based culture [http://www.substance151.com/why-is-everyone-at-starbucks-so-nice], tends to attract the right people to your company in the first place.
Don’t Stop at the Fun, Sexy Part of Good Branding
If you don’t want a brand that’s dead on arrival, then you must understand that your investment in branding goes beyond developing a brand platform and creating brand identity and marketing materials. In fact, accomplishing everything outlined above often requires an operational overhaul, too.
You must be willing to invest in the infrastructure and operational changes necessary to deliver on your brand and keep it alive.
Unfortunately, most companies stop once they are satisfied with a fresh image and compelling message. But here’s the thing: if you invest just to that point, your brand won’t have the power to produce desired results and maximize your return on investment.
Go just a bit further and you’ll not only create a company everyone wants to work for and with, but also one that can easily leave its competition in the dust because so very few companies truly live their brand – and, most likely, your competitors are not among those that do.
At Substance151, we work with companies to develop compelling and meaningful brand platforms and translate them into living, actionable brands through design and marketing communications, as well as customer and employee experience. Contact us to discuss how we can help your company develop a brand that’s always in action.