Thoughts on Branding
One of the most frequent conversations I have with friends, colleagues, and clients about branding revolves around what branding truly is. Many believe that it is logos and physical collateral, while others get a bit closer to the truth and believe that it is the statement a company makes about themselves from a cultural standpoint, a mission statement or manifesto of sorts. The way I see branding and how I approach it, is to first and foremost stop talking, and to start listening.
A company can continually TELL me they are one thing, but if it isn’t what their users FEEL it is, if it doesn’t represent their story and what the overall user / consumer experience is, then it is not their brand.
One of my past projects was to help a small business create their brand identity, one that they felt was built on integrity and community commitment. My approach is never to build a brand identity around just what a company TELLS me they are, but to listen and observe and flesh out the real story, the real identity. I spent two weeks sitting back and watching the customers. I talked to employees, the owners, the customers. No one was sure what the business was trying to say, it was over reaching and trying to solve a perceived problem, without actually taking the time to determine what their customers’ real problems were…. and then working on solving those.
Five weeks into opening to the public and their brand story was shaping into one of disorganization and disjointed confusion. The company was constantly short of a solution to anything and it showed in the staff who were confused on something as simple as staff roles and didn’t have the ability to clearly explain the stories behind the products or even the company hours. When asking the GM and the buyer of the business to give me a one sentence response to who they thought the business was, they didn’t know. When trying to creatively capture this from them by asking them out of the box questions, their own lack of confidence came through and it seemed evident that they were afraid of the “stupid answer” or the “wrong answer”, yet there is no wrong or stupid answer in the process of getting to know who you are. So, how could they have solved this?
Every employee should be equipped with a simple, yet powerful, 10 second elevator pitch on who and what the company was. Ask questions, all the time. As long as you are asking questions, you are moving forward, by not asking, by fearing failure, you also block out the opportunity for success. It was obvious that one of my biggest challenges in defining this business’s brand identity was the business itself.
Any great story has multiple layers and a consistent backstory which, adding depth and believability, contributes to the overall theme. A company must foster a culture in which the employees, from owner to hourly worker, are all confident in who and what the company they work with is all about.
A company can have two types of employees, those who are there only for a paycheck, and those that are there because they believe in the company and love the culture. People who love their work, the company they work with, they become powerful advocates, talking about how they love their job and wanting to share it with others. “Come in, it’s awesome!” Yet, the opposite is true for those employees who only work for a paycheck, they become powerful anti-advocates The owner would reuse the word integrity, that the brand was one of integrity, yet the actions, words, the employees and even the merchandising of product, all of these were saying different things.
If a company knows who they are, if they are confident, then the consumers are confident and have trust. Then the story begins to form.