Over the years, there are some basic things I have come to believe about branding:
A brand is an authentic reflection of the company or product it’s representing. A good brand positions your best qualities. It shows the true beauty inside, it’s not just makeup on top.
A strong brand is built by consistent execution of a strategy over time. This doesn’t necessarily require additional effort, it just requires focused effort.
It doesn’t cost more to strengthen your brand. In fact, it costs less. A consistently executed brand creates efficiency, it makes decisions easier for your organization because they are all coming from a central strategy. It’s your marketing effort that will direct your dollars.
Every company or organization needs a brand. I’m not just saying this to get more biz. A company or nonprofit doesn’t have to be a certain size in order to have a brand. My little company of two has a well-defined brand that we follow. However…
A company needs to know itself before a strong brand can be expressed. CEOs, if you haven’t done some soul-searching on your mission, vision, audiences, corporate culture, and goals for the future — that is, if you don’t really know what your company is all about — you are probably not ready for a brand. That said, a branding workshop can help you get there more quickly by raising all the questions you can’t answer.
I don’t usually do a straight reprint of another blog article, but this one is too important not to share with my clients — most of whom are B2B (business to business). My perception is that frequently technology and financial marketers think their brand needs to feel uber-professional, so not much personality is revealed. But after all, it’s still speaking to people, albeit people representing a company. According to Marc Di Somma of Brand Strategy Insider, this is just one mistake. Here’s the reprint:
1. Build your authority – the fastest way to de-risk the decision to go with you is to show that you are a wise choice. Do that through story and demonstration not hype and hope. Shape what you say about yourselves so that you make sense as the choice to everyone who will make the decision about whether to use you. Much of the perceived value of powerful B2B brands like GE is predicated on the market’s understanding of the worth of their vast knowledge across all the markets they choose to do business in.
2. Be uplifting – genuine energy is hugely infectious. People want to do business with brands that are passionate about what they do and the difference they can make. Present problems internally in ways that inspire people to solve them, and present your findings and answers with gusto but humility. There’s huge power in suggestion. In areas like consulting, for example, the most powerful B2B brands are those that people want to be in the room with because they’re excited about what they’ll hear.
3. Problem solve – it’s not about what you offer, it’s all about what they need. Yes, everyone says they know that, but precious few act on it. Instead, they focus on displaying their own expertise rather than discussing how that expertise could be applied. Market yourselves as a brand that understands and is working to positively address the issues that come between your clients and their objectives. Put what you know in the context of what your client or prospect needs to address. Ideo is a great example of this approach in action.
4. Have real personality – so many B2B brands are afraid of being anything other than beige. They worry that it compromises their “professionalism”, whatever that is. Not true. Stand apart by presenting yourselves in a colorful and savvy way – in your actions and in your marketing. Mailchimp are a prime example of an email marketer with a strong and instantly recognizable voice. Remember, your brand puts a face to the resources you have available. It brings your experience and knowledge alive. It telegraphs powerful messages quickly and decisively. Work with that. In today’s aesthetically aware world, beauty inspires confidence because it signals attention to detail.
5. Listen carefully – monitor the market, provide input, shape debate, engage with others and take onboard what you get back. Then share the insights you’ve gathered generously. A brand that listens and reports is a brand that others also come to look to for cues. Take up a cause. Speaking for the industry to consumers or on behalf of consumers to the industry bestows authority and authenticity and makes you a critical pivot in the journey to resolution. IBM with its Global CEO Study and Edelman PR with its Trust Barometer are great examples of B2B brands that have put themselves at the center of valuable and dynamic conversations this way.
6. Start relationships early – expressing an interest in doing business with another brand and then exhibiting the patience to wait till a slot becomes available shows planning and discipline. Look for ways to involve your executives as an unofficial sounding board for difficult decisions that the target company is facing. Show them you want to see them prosper before you ask them to help your bottom line. Pitch doctor Neil Flett has said that a high stakes pitch is often won or lost long before the presentation takes place.
7. Open doors – making introductions that display no self interest reinforces trust and helps businesses perceive your brand as connected and enabling. You are part of the solution, despite the fact that you didn’t actually contribute directly in addressing the issue. Those introductions don’t have to be to other people or firms – they can be to thinkers, books, presentations or alternative viewpoints. LinkedIn has of course literally built a business out of being that global introducer.
Branding is finally picking up steam in the nonprofit world. The 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report lists “Raising brand awareness” as one of the top three communications goals of nonprofit leaders, right behind “Engaging community” and “Retaining existing donors.” Nonprofits who don’t pay attention to their brand are going to get left behind. A strong brand can help nonprofits achieve all their goals much more efficiently. As an investment, spending more on brand building earlier is ultimately cost-effective over time. Here’s my quick take on why nonprofit organizations should grow their brand.
1. Develop clear, consistent communications.
Defining brand requires your team to look closely at who you are and what you are saying, and to commit to being consistent with all your communications. Not only will this present a clear picture of your organization to anyone your staff and Board come into contact with, but the message will always be the same. That’s how you begin to build a strong brand which will….
2. Win more eyeballs and help people remember you.
A solid brand strategy that is also well-executed enables communications that look great and are guaranteed to win hearts as well as minds. Strive to be unforgettable so that you can…
3. Raise more money and increase engagement.
Community engagement and increasing donorship are tops on the list for nonprofits. The more trust a person feels in a brand, the more likely they will engage and give. And of course this will enable you to…
4. Make a bigger impact.
Yup, you get it—everything builds on the last thing. The bigger brand share you’ve got… the more donors / volunteers / partners / constituents / recruits you have… the more money you raise… all these add up to be able to doing the work your mission calls for! And things begin to get easier, which inevitably enables you to…
5. Achieve long-term savings.
Here’s one thing I know from my experience doing this work over the last 20 years: when you do things correctly from the beginning, it pays off as time goes on. So if you make the investment into building a strategy, defining the brand, creating a corporate identity and design system, and developing a messaging strategy now, you will need to spend less later because the work is done, you’ve built your foundation. Whomever is running the next initiative has lots to use and build upon, saving time and money.
While working on an update to my portfolio and this website, I happened to go back and count how many logos I’ve designed over the years. Just to remind myself where I’ve been, I guess. (The number is somewhere around 60.) A bunch were created from scratch for newly branded companies, but most were redos of existing logos.
It’s always a thrill to try to distill the ambitions of an enterprise into a tiny piece of art that will represent them wherever they go. And redesigning an existing brand has its own special set of challenges.
Of course, when some things are easy, others are hard:
Some individuals inside and outside the company may be very attached to the existing brand, possibly creating roadblocks.
Once the new brand is done, it can be difficult to get everyone on board with making the switch and using it correctly.
Along the same vein, it can be difficult to get some team members on board to see the brand in a new way, especially during concept development.
A rebrand requires a total re-do of all of the company’s collateral with the new look and feel, and the new approach to the copy.
There is a bit of work required with thoughtfully rolling out a new logo and identity to your audiences to help them with the transition.
Of course, the company’s leadership needs to decide whether the benefits of a fresh brand outweigh the challenges that lie ahead for their team (usually “Yes!”). We do the heavy lifting to make the process seamless, enjoyable even. Click here for examples of brands we’ve face-lifted.