Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been sharing with you some of the shifts in how brands are perceived of late. The change has been triggered by the availability of so much data in the forms of ratings, reviews and Internet searches, and the lasting impact of viral storms that can be triggered by a single angry customer or prospect.

While I don’t discount the new variables and their influence on our perceptions of brands, I also don’t think building a strong brand is a lost cause. In fact, I think all of this bright light of scrutiny being shone on brands is a good thing. Many of the examples I shared in my column and that were outlined in the book that triggered all of this (“Absolute Value” by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen) showed how companies were exposed for claiming a brand that they didn’t truly live or own. I think many companies play that game; they come up with a clever tagline and put it on their website, business cards or ads, but that’s about it. It’s a marketing gimmick.

Fortunately, it’s not every organization’s intention to bamboozle the public with a façade of a brand. A company that understands that a brand isn’t a marketing sleight of hand, but instead is the expression of a deeply held belief and business absolute, can still benefit from a successful branding effort.

So how as a consumer do you determine the difference? And how as a marketer do you make sure that your brand isn’t an inch deep and a mile wide?

A brand is genuine and in place to benefit both the consumer and the company when you see it woven into every aspect of the organization.

Here are some good signs:

Every employee can tell you how their department and their position impacts the brand: A brand is a organization’s ultimate promise to everyone who comes into contact with that company. It’s easy for the marketing department to understand how it might deliver on the brand, but you know a brand is more than skin deep when the accounting department, HR and the guys on the dock also understand and can articulate how they help bring the brand to life.

The brand promise is infused into every aspect of HR from hiring, reviews, employee awards and even in the exit interviews: One of the best ways to help employees understand that the brand is not just the CEO’s passion of the month is to create policies and programs that include it. When the brand is reflected in your interview questions, in how employees are reviewed and rewarded and even in how you separate from team members, that speaks volumes.

The brand isn’t a cliché that anyone could claim: You know the ones I mean. We see them every day. “The difference is our people” or “Your satisfaction is our guarantee” types of brands sound great but they don’t really say anything. Or they don’t say anything unique or specific to that company. No business purposely hires incompetent, uncaring people or doesn’t want its customers to be satisfied. A real brand of depth is a bold promise that uses strong language to make an audacious promise. Don’t let pretty words fool you and don’t try to use pretty words to fool your customers.

You know a brand is built on a wobbly foundation when three to five people sit in a room and decide what it should be. That begs for a superficial brand that’s mostly fluff and little substance.  

Next week we’ll dig into how to discover and seed a brand that will truly benefit your organization and the people you serve.