Why World Domination Starts with your Brand

October 23, 2019

What is a brand and why you shouldn’t do business without one

Brand is a big buzz word in business, but do you really know what a brand is and just how important they are? I am continually struck by the lack of understanding in this area – especially considering that brands are absolutely essential core elements to the functioning of a business. Despite their importance, I have found that brands are not only misunderstood but sometimes whole-heartedly disregarded by business leaders.

It’s always helpful to talk about what a brand is and what a brand is not, because I still see a lot of confusion on this front. It likely stems from the original meaning of a brand – literally a mark that was burned into crates of goods (or cattle hides). That’s usually the first level of confusion we face. People think the brand is the logo. (spoiler alert: it’s not)

Some business leaders understand that brand equals identity. That’s good. But clients still seem to lack a deep understanding of what brand and identity encompass and that their importance goes far beyond logos and pretty pictures and fluffy words. It is a failing of our industry that I am hoping to help correct.

You have a brand whether you like it or not.

Let’s start with a definition. Your brand is your identity. But just like your own personal identity, the identity of your company is complicated. 

Brands are a form of communication, so we want to think about this in terms of signal and reception. There are active (conscious) and passive (unconscious) signals. And there are interpretations of those signals (reception). Your brand is the consolidation of all of those signals and interpretations. The signals AND the interpretations.

As brand strategists, we work to control the signals you’re sending so that they are consistent and are telling the story of your identity that you want them to be telling. When we talk about “branding” we are talking about taking active control of the communication process. You have a brand whether you like it or not – brand strategy is all about defining what you want that brand to be.

It might help to think about branding as a department in the company – like Accounting. No one would let accounting just free flow and hope for the best. Nobody assumes the accounting will work itself out. But for some reason, companies do just that with their brands. Just like your accounting is managed rather than “organic,” your brand requires conscious cultivation and maintenance. 

The key to understanding the potential for brand in your organization is to understand the process and the extent that I feel brands should be defined and managed. There are two parts to this – the strategy and the execution.

The strategy is about definitions. Before you can project your crafted identity into the marketplace, you need to design what you want it to look like. You have to craft it. So we go through a process of defining your company’s reason for being (mission), what you stand for (values), and where you are going (vision). We also define where you stand within the marketplace and how you relate to and differ from other similar companies out there (positioning). That’s the strategy part, in a nutshell.

The perception of a brand is about what we say and how we say it.

The execution part is how we bring the strategy to life. How do we tell the story of the brand? What are the words we use? What’s our tone of voice? The perception of a brand is about what we say and how we say it. We’re judged by how we look, so we need to consider the visual execution as well. What does the brand look like? What are the colors that express your identity? And yes, what is your logo mark?

There is an art and a science to both the strategy and the execution, but it is a careful and iterative “two-steps forward, one step back” process that we go through to arrive at the end result. When we’re done, we know who we are and how to show and tell that identity.

Every company has a brand. Every company is sending messages about their identity all the time.

That’s of course great (and necessary) for marketing efforts and allows you to have consistency. Your advertising/media plan provides repetition. So that covers your bases for marketing. But knowing who you are solves other problems you may not have known you had.

If you’ve done it right, your brand, your identity, runs throughout all aspects of your business. It informs your decision-making process – everything can be passed through the brand filter with the question, “Does this decision fit with our brand identity?” In other words, does it help fulfill our mission, does it move us closer to our vision, and does it adhere to the values we’ve established. If not, maybe it’s not the right decision.

Think about how that kind of clarity can help your organization thrive:

  • Hiring: Knowing who you are and what you stand for helps you define the kinds of employees you want to hire. It helps ensure that the people you are hiring are like-minded. And it helps potential employees know what they are getting into. Cultural fit is so important in successful hiring, but if you haven’t defined your company culture, you can’t measure for a fit.
  • Business Strategy: Every day, you are making strategic decisions. Without the guidance system provided by your mission and vision, how do you evaluate these decisions? Some business decisions may make sense per se, but don’t fit with your brand or help you achieve your vision. A well-defined brand helps you avoid bad decisions.
  • Expansions: Where to expand, how quickly, and in what capacity can be clearer if you know where you stand in relation to your competition. And if you’ve defined that you’re focused on a certain population target, you can go where the people are – expand in their direction.
  • M&A: Like expansions, mergers and acquisitions can (and should) be guided by your brand. You can avoid or pre-emptively address cultural differences more easily and save significant time and money by letting your brand provide guidance for M&A efforts.
  • Associations (partners and suppliers): Associations can be powerful reinforcements of your brand. They can be extensions of your values in the marketplace and connect your company in a real way to the things that are important. Selecting the right partners and suppliers keep you aligned, avoid problems and misunderstandings, and ultimately saves you money.
  • Corporate Responsibility: Similar to associations, knowing who you are as a company helps drive the type of corporate responsibility you get involved in. That makes your assistance more effective because you’re involved with things you truly care about. It also helps this become a win-win, because you can focus on corporate responsibility programs that reinforce your brand identity.

To recap: 

  1. Your brand is your company identity (not just your logo). 
  2. Every company has a brand. 
  3. Every company is sending messages about their identity all the time. 
  4. The key is to take control of those messages and send the ones you want to send, with a conscious understanding of how those messages are received and interpreted. 
  5. Defining your brand is a specific process with specific deliverables. 
  6. Defining your brand helps make your marketing more efficient (better ROI).
  7. Defining your brand helps improve ROI across most if not all of your other business functions and processes.

So the question I will leave you with is this: can you afford NOT to invest in a cohesive brand strategy?

Chris Bodmann has always been fascinated with storytelling. He initially studied this through literature and creative writing, but quickly realized that storytelling was multi-faceted and communication happened across numerous mediums. Freed from looking only at words, Chris explored how images and even food combine into amazing expressions of meaning.

This led Chris into the world of brand strategy, and he’s been hooked ever since. Taking up the mantle of client champion, he found an agency home in account services, but his true passion is in strategic planning and brand identity work. He’s led full-scale marketing efforts across a plethora of industries and has run major product launches down to one-off social media promotions and everything in between – ever searching for stories to tell and unique ways to tell them.