Wow! First off, let me congratulate you on just how great a branding platform and identity suite it is you’ve launched. Yes, I know you paid me to develop it, but give yourself credit for your own unimpeachable taste and good judgment! For how cool your letterhead looks! For how your competition will grovel and avert their eyes at the sight of your logomark!
Now, of course, the hard work starts.
Hey, don’t look at me like I sold you a new Porsche and forgot to check off “engine” on the Options list. Having a great brand isn’t about just setting it loose upon the world. It’s about doing everything you can to obtain, maintain and police brand consistency across time, channels and categories.
A good brand certainly has a clear identity. It’s got a “reason for being” that resounds with stakeholders and target audiences alike. But if a marketer isn’t paying attention, even the strongest brands experience an “identity creep” that stems from a variety of sources:
- Undervaluation — For all the hallway talk that goes on in most firms about the importance of “the brand,” many people inside those organizations often don’t really embrace what the brand truly stands for, or understand the importance of branding in general. But a survey a few years ago indicated that for most Fortune 500 companies, up to 60% of their market valuation derives from intangibles that include consumer goodwill and category position, “name” value, and more…all of which are tied inextricably to branding.
- Inattention — A brand doesn’t necessarily take care of itself. Like any aspect of a business, it demands regular monitoring and tending. That includes conducting regular brand audits that survey various audiences’ perceptions of the brand…and it also requires assigning a brand champion, ideally within your organization, whose job it becomes to understand and nurture the brand, with a thorough-enough understanding of branding and brand marketing that they can anticipate issues before they happen.
- Dilution — This usually happens by extending the brand in ways that diffuse its core principles and meaning, either through slapping the brand on products that have nothing to do with core competencies or by the slow,metastatic process of allowing the brand to blur at the “fringes,” through product or offering extensions that seem to make sense, but actually serve to pull focus away from the heart of the business. When IBM sold its laptop and PC business to Lenovo, some questioned the move on a sentimental basis…but the fact was that Big Blue was divesting itself of a consumer line (with thin margins) that only served to distract from the enterprise solutions and global consulting business that are IBM’s real meat. So even if a branded extension is profitable, smart marketers should take care it’s not taking your consumer or customer’s eye off your main game.
- The Buzz — Sometimes, what you’re saying about yourself just isn’t enough. You’ve got to be aware of what your audience is saying and thinking about your brand…and what memes your competition is trying to plant, too. One of the most important things to remember is that your brand isn’t entirely your property once it’s “gone live” — it’s living in the minds of others, and it’s subject to the vagaries of media and industry buzz unless you actively manage and protect it.
Bear these in mind as we run down the steps you can take toward establishing and maintaining a brand that’s benefitting from consistency and continuity. None of them are that difficult, or arcane: they just require the kind of commitment any good brand deserves from its organization if it’s going to shine bright and stay effective and successful:
- Audit, then act: Before you even assume your brand is broken, conduct a Brand Audit with your intended audiences to see what perceptions they’ve got of your identity.
- Get the basics right first: Make sure the brand offers a clear, compelling, unique and believable promise, delivered consistently at each point of audience contact. And reinforce it through a considered brand personality, look-and-feel and messaging/content platform that each derive tightly from the brand promise.
- Test your branding before you launch it: Get evaluative responses from key stakeholders and target audience members. They’ll appreciate being looped into the process!
- Don’t just react — anticipate! Your branding platform and identity system should look at future needs and potential usage, not just at where it’s been applied in the past and present day.
- Strict standards: Develop a set of brand usage guidelines, and make sure you police them. Where it’s possible, build accountability into those guidelines so that employees and vendors realize there’s real pain associated with improper deployment of the brand: it’s a company asset that’s just as important as a fleet car or an expense account, so treat it accordingly.
- Manage usage: One simple way to assure compliance in terms of logomarks, graphic standards and the other visual assets for your brand is through a digital asset management system where you can control the disbursement of proper branding, logos, et al. Another way? Hold regular branding reviews that examine where, how and why branding elements are being used across your organization.
- Appoint a brand cop: It’s great to have everyone on board with what your brand represents, but it’s also good to appoint a manager (or managers) who’ll own that duty and police it down to its smallest detail. They steward the brand’s development and implementation, and can even oversee a “brand council” that screens and audits every application of branding and messaging to keep it on-strategy.
Do these, and your brand will keep that “new brand smell” for years and years after you unboxed it!