McLellan: Branding from the inside out
Friday, March 28, 2014 7:00 AM
In last week’s column, we explored some of the mistakes that companies can make when branding themselves. These mistakes often cripple the effort, leaving it with more of a “theme of the month” feel rather than it evolving into what can and should be a defining truth that informs and guides the organization for years to come.
The three mistakes we explored last week were:
Trying to do it yourself.
Letting someone else tell you what your brand should be.
Restricting the branding effort to your marketing department.
The last potential mistake is not following the inside-out rule.
When a company identifies its brand position, the typical normal rollout process is to change its tagline, maybe update the logo and introduce the new positioning through its marketing efforts. The company might tout the new brand promise in communications with existing customers as part of its announcement. Some companies might even hold an internal unveiling to share the new assets with their employees as well.
That’s all cart-before-the-horse thinking. The truth is, if you want your branding efforts to be more than a new coat of marketing paint, then you’re going to be stepping out into the marketplace and making a bold promise. That promise isn’t going to just impact your marketing department or your sales team. It is going to change the way each and every employee approaches their work. It should change policy. It should change your decision-making process.
For your brand to have real meaning to your audiences, it’s going to have to be a promise that most of your competitors would not have the courage to make. You can’t pull that off on your own, and neither can just your marketing department or your C-suite. It’s going to take all of you to keep a promise that big.
Real branding needs to be built and nurtured from the inside out. It can’t be displayed on the outside of your building if it’s not on the inside of how the company is actually run. If your brand rings hollow in the accounting department, it’s not going to survive. If the human resources department doesn’t see its role in honoring the brand, it can’t possibly become a part of your culture. If your newest and your oldest employees both don’t understand how they either do or don’t keep the promise, then you’re sunk.
The most important step of building an authentic brand that truly will differentiate you from your competitors is the step that is almost always skipped. Why?
Impatience and short-term budget thinking.
Businesses and their leaders are under a lot of pressure. Things need to happen fast. I get that. But branding can’t be forced and it can’t be rushed. If you want it to work, you have to be willing to commit the resources.
The toughest to commit? The time. In the branding process that my agency developed, we allow for a year of internal work, identifying the policies, processes, products and internal workings that get in the way of someone keeping the brand promise and, one by one, removing them.
The value of this effort is twofold. It removes the things that prevent you from keeping your brand promise, and it communicates to your entire staff that this is not a passing fad. When they are a part of the process, you will get both their ideas and their buy-in.
That doesn’t mean you can’t externally launch the brand at the same time. But without the work on the inside, the brand’s candy coating shell can only last so long.
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