Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mind the brand

It is no exaggeration that today, a company’s most valuable asset is often its brand. Large national and multinational companies routinely invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building, protecting and growing their brands. But it is not just huge firms with deep pockets that benefit from having strong brand identities. Small and mid-sized marketers also benefit from a coherent visual and verbal identity. In the absence of a sizeable marketing budget, an integrated brand identity program is the single most cost-effective way for firms to maximize their impact in the marketplace—and in the minds of their customers.

But what constitutes a successful brand identity effort? Here are four basic principles to keep in mind.

One. A brand strategy is a business strategy

Once upon a time, a brand strategy was an add-on to organizational strategy. It was often regarded as a discretionary cost, or province of the marketing department. No more. Today, a brand is often the most valuable asset a business owns. They are increasingly seen as drivers and influencers of organizational strategy.

Not just for business
Interestingly, the concept of branding has become increasingly important in the political, not-for-profit and NGO arenas. After all, every organization has its “consumers” of some kind. These can be consuming audiences, influencing audiences or even internal audiences. The point is, all these audiences need to be engaged by the brand, whether it is a product, service, corporate or not-for-profit, in order to fulfill its potential.

Two. Creativity matters

To be successful, a brand needs to connect emotionally with its audience. Left-brain marketers usually find it easier to concentrate on the more rational and quantifiable aspects of a brand’s contribution to a business. The more creative, visual and verbal elements of a brand, unfortunately, are often taken less seriously. Yet, it is these very elements that will engage and inspire people.

Using both sides of the brain
It is equally important for right-brain creatives not to dismiss the more rigorous and measurable strategic thinking. Otherwise, they risk isolating their efforts and losing touch with the business requirements of the clients. Today, it’s not enough to be creative for creativity’s sake or just look good. Creative communication skills have to solve real world business challenges, but effective communication at some point needs to take a leap into the realm of intuition and artistry.

Three. Brand identity is more than cosmetic surgery

While brands speak to the hearts and mind, brand identity is the tangible and appeals to the senses. It supports, expresses, communicates, synthesizes and visualizes the brand. But if it is treated as a cosmetic exercise only, and regarded merely as a new name/logo, stationery and possibly a new ad campaign, then it will have only a superficial effect at best.

The goal is brand coherence
Indeed, if a mere cosmetic approach is applied to make a bad or confused organization look more attractive, it is easy to see why these so-called “rebranding” efforts encourage such cynicism. Unless the external communication truly reflects the internal qualities, values and practices of an organization, it is more likely to alienate your audience when the expectation doesn’t match the experience.

Four. Actions speak louder than logos

A common mistake that organizations make is the assumption that once a company has a new brand identity, the hard work has been accomplished. In reality, the whole process is really just beginning.

A good identity does not guarantee success. The best companies have a commitment to quality and to seizing every opportunity to grow their brand. An effective brand identity expresses the expectation of what the company stands for—it is the graphic representation of the promise to the customer. It’s where the dialogue begins.

It’s up to you.
In short, how a customer experiences your brand—from the way the phone is answered to the quality of the product or service—creates an impression. And the nature of that impression is often what determines whether you are building your
business, or undermining it.