I was recently asked to explain what brand means to an industry group. So I shared some thinking and background on how to look at the importance of branding within the mix of a business or a nonprofit organization. My background includes large brands like American Express, Marriott and MasterCard, along with a large non-profit organization (over $50 million a year raised for charities) and many smaller associations and charities, where I found that branding was even more important in the growth of the organization.
A few high level thoughts:
1. Brand is not the logo (although the logo is a key brand element), the colors, the ads, or the website.
2. Brand is a promise. It is the outward meaning, understanding and value of the company (or product or service) being associated with that entity.
3. Brand must be aligned with the organization and what it represents.
4. Brand is the split second relationship feeling associated with an organization, its employees and the clients.
5. Brand is the spirit, the feel of an organization.
6. A powerful brand is 100% aligned with the value, the meaning, the movement forward of an organization/product/service. It is the most honest thinking and conversations you will ever have – if not, the brand promise is hollow.
So many people end up spending way too much time on colors, business card designs and web page images when they say brand, but they miss the underlying key thinking and drivers to a truly great brand. In technical environments this urge to jump into tactical stuff too soon is always prevalent. Branding should be the anchor point for the whole organization and the thinking from which other things flow – like design, message, actions within marketing, sales, customer service, operations, etc.
Doesn’t matter if it is in a digital footprint or a physical one – the brand must be reinforced in all areas.
Key: Brand allows for alignment of the whole organization. It brings the history and the future vision into the mix. It challenges us to ask, How is what we say we are demonstrated; how is it coming to life? Brand is the experience. It is the proof that what you say you are, you really are and it is demonstrated day in and day out.
The fact is, the more aligned the brand is with the value you bring, and the people in the organization are living to that brand promise, the more successful you will be in growing and reaching more people. The more off you are, the less alignment there is – well the fact is you can actually create negative brand value and drive the business into the ground.
Brand is a challenge, because if left untended and cared for it can grow all weedy and diminish over time. People begin to change it, shape it to their view and next thing you know you are no longer aligned and it is hard to be honest with yourself and the organization all the time. Quickly the market feels the loss or shift and they say “hey these people are not what they say they are” and you begin to diminish over time. So every few years you need to stop, look outside yourself inwards (have clients, have industry partners, even the competition help you better align what you are vs what you think you are).
Don’t leave brand to chance, or to the market to shape, or luck. Own it, shape it and live it.