As originally featured in Forbes on December 28, 2017
It’s the quality of the thread and substance of the workmanship that create fine fabric. Likewise, it’s the sum of the people and their actions that comprise a brand.
Brand is the heart and soul of an organization — it’s what it stands for, how it treats its employees and the way in which it relates to its customers. It is those hard-to-measure actions that take place throughout the course of the day that reflect the core values of what an organization truly represents. There is a distinct and important difference between a holistic look at a brand and the type of branding exercise where one chooses the color of a website or the font on a business card.
Today, companies are being struck by cyberattacks, facing the awakened world of #MeToo and dealing with unease in world affairs. The culture of a company becomes even more important as organizations try to guard themselves but stay flexible enough to respond and adapt in a world of unknowns.
According to Guy Alvarez, founder and CEO of the digital marketing agency Good2bSocial, “You can no longer control your brand. The best that you can do is to participate in the conversation so that you can guide how your brand is perceived.” It is no longer enough for brands to impart news about their products. They need to be prepared for a dialogue with consumers.
Branding used to be represented by the one-way communications of classic advertising, such as Leo Burnett’s 1952 television commercial creation Tony the Tiger and his roar, “They’re Grrreat!” We now know that the future of any organization and the strength of its brand depends on leadership, culture and product differentiation. Elements of graphic branding will only do so much. For example, take the strength of brands affiliated with iconic colors, like Tiffany’s robin’s egg blue and Hermès’ orange. These companies do an incredible job maintaining brand consistency in their culture, packaging and product quality. But brand is more than branding. Consider if Tiffany retained its color but stopped selling jewelry, or if one walked into an Hermès store only to be treated poorly. The consistency of branding through packaging is not enough. Brand is the full deliverable.
The law firm Kramer Levin recently went through a true branding exercise. Siobhan Burns, a principal with the firm Clarity, recently worked with Kramer to examine and refine its brand strategy. When asked about the thinking that went into considering her client’s brand characteristics, Burns said, “It all starts with research — hearing from Kramer people and their clients about what sets the firm apart.”
“We didn’t just talk to the senior-most people at the firm. We involved partners, associates and members of the firm’s senior management team,” says Jennifer Manton, Kramer’s CMO, who helped develop the strategy and launch the new identity system. “We thought it was critically important to include the next generation of our firm’s leadership in the conversation about our brand strategy.” Initially, the project was intended to require 40 interviews but the team conducted 60, as they recognized the value in digging deeper into the firm’s ethos. Only once the interviews were done did they turn to the top-flight designers at Carbone Smolan Agency to help execute the graphic aspects of the brand.
Sometimes the best thing for leaders to do is to let others lead the discussion. All levels of employees were involved, and the result of the hard work was the creation of a refreshed graphic identity, modernizing the external visual brand to match the current culture of the firm.
For leaders who are involved and care about the brand, there are some easy steps to take when considering an external brand refresh.
1. Consider at the start who needs to be involved in the process. Involve those who will be opponents as well as proponents. Involve power users, innovators and a diverse internal audience to get a good representative sample.
2. Concentrate on the key messaging that you need to impart. Avoid being the copycat. Try to capture what it is that is unique about your own brand.
3. Consider what the firm does and what it aspires to do best. Numerous general counsel have told me that it just isn’t credible for a law firm to say that they can do it all. That doesn’t mean the brand shouldn’t apply to the whole firm, but rather that the firm needs to be examined in this process and definition needs to go into where the firm excels.
4. How does the company understand its target audience? It’s important to know who they are, what they do, how they make their buying decisions and what keeps them awake at night.
5. SWOT analysis has been around for a long time, but it is still a great tool for getting a jumpstart on branding. Start the discussion by focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
6. Lastly, how you roll out a branding initiative and other enterprise-wide programs makes a difference in adoption of the program. People want to feel part of the process, not just a recipient or a cog in the wheel. They want to be excited about the company’s new look and feel. When Kramer rolled out its new design, they showed it to everyone who was interested during its partner retreat and at briefing sessions for its staff. Everyone from the maintenance crew to the secretarial support staff was given the opportunity to see it prior to the public rollout.
Branding in a competitive environment requires focus, planning and attention to corporate culture. It is much more than Tony the Tiger cheering “They’re Grrreat!” It’s knowing the values you represent as an organization, consistently communicating those beliefs and demonstrating them in an authentic and meaningful way.