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Many business owners fail to see the value in branding. They have products to build, orders to fill and plenty of fires to put out without worrying about the “fluffy” stuff. They see branding as a luxury— to be handled by the artists in the marketing department like decorators on a cake… just sweeten things up a bit. Make it pretty.
Branding goes much deeper than that. Visionary CEOs know that intuitively. They embrace the notion of their brand as a living, breathing thing, and they nurture the brand as much as they nurture the business.
If you’re not quite there yet, here are five perfectly rational reasons why you should embrace the irrational world of branding.
- Because everything you do is branding.
Everyday business is filled with important decisions and tasks that you might not recognize as branding.
Take, for instance, your onboarding procedures. In most companies onboarding is purely an HR function. But believe it or not, it’s actually an important component of your branding effort.
Because your employees should always be your best brand ambassadors, if they don’t spread the word, who will? If they don’t have an understanding of your brand, no one will. If they’re not emotionally connected to your brand, no one will be.
When you start new employees, from day one, with a brand mindset, they will fit in better. They’ll be more likely to succeed, and you’ll have less turnover because employees that don’t get “it” and don’t get you will never be a good match.
That means the people doing the onboarding need to be fully invested in the brand. They need to articulate it and instill enthusiasm for it.
It helps to have an employee handbook that’s more than just the usual boiler-plate policies and procedures. Your brand values, purpose and promise need to be spelled out on paper. If you haven’t done that already, take time to do it before you hire anyone else.
In other words, write the book on your brand. Define your passion. Name your values. Think about what you really stand for and what you stand against. Articulate your commitment, and then align your operation accordingly.
Don’t worry if you find that hard to do. A lot of business owners need an outsider to help expose those fundamental truths and get them down on paper. It’s hard to take your life’s work and all that’s important to you and boil it down to one simple brand statement that your people will remember and live by.
- Because honest-to-goodness values and authenticity are good for business.
Branding begins with what you believe in— your core values and the promises you keep. That’s the foundation of everything.
That brand foundation is reflected in the words you use, the people you hire, the marketing tactics you choose, the experience your customers have and much more. It all has a tangible effect on your brand, for better or worse.
In “Built To Last,” Jim Collins and Jerry Porris talk about “core ideology” that drives successful brand. “The fundamental distinguishing characteristic of the most enduring companies is that they preserve a cherished core ideology… It’s what you stand for and why you exist.”
Your belief system is the core of your brand, and it’s more important than ever because consumers these days are hyper-sensitive to authenticity. If your branding is not aligned with your operation, you’re in trouble.
In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says, “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”
The book, “Authencity,” spells it out quite clearly: “In a world filled with deliberately staged experiences — an increasingly Unreal world — consumers choose to buy or not buy based on how real they perceive an offering to be. Business today, therefore, is all about being real. Original. Genuine. Sincere. Authentic.”
People want to do business with like-minded people. It’s as simple as that. Their favorite brands are mirrors of themselves, so they’re demanding transparency. They’re saying, “I’m not going to buy your brand unless I know what you stand for, how you build things, what’s your impact on the environment, how you treat your people, and what’s your political stance.”
Branding is the process of communicating all that, delivering on your brand promise and helping people feel that they’ve made the right choice. It’s not just social media or advertising, it’s an entire approach to business.
- Because you’re going to get trounced if your biggest competitor is good at it, and you’re not.
This really stings… You’re going about your business when suddenly, a great, multi-media ad campaign from your biggest competitor starts popping up everywhere you turn.
Their eye-catching graphics and ear-turning messages start dogging you, everywhere you go. On your phone. On LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. On the radio. On TV. At local events and national conferences. Even on the chairlift and in the local brewpub… you can’t escape it.
Next thing you know, your best sales person leaves and goes to work for that competitor that has all the exposure. All the momentum. Then you lose a few accounts and see a dip in sales, so your CFO says you have to cut costs and trim your marketing budget. It’s a slippery slope.
On the other hand, if you can cement your brand in the minds of your target audience, you’ll be insulated from threats like that. A strong brand is your best defense.
- Because branding happens with or without you. Do you really want to leave it to chance?
It’s been said that a brand is a story. You can tell your own story and help guide the perception of your brand, or you can let stories get told about you. Yes, people will make stuff up.
It’s always interesting to assess the gap between what CEOs think they’re known for and what consumers really believe about a brand. Insider information almost always skews the CEO’s perception of the company, to the point of being counter-productive.
That’s why the perspective of an outsider can be tremendously valuable. You need someone else to look at the big picture, see what brand signals are being sent and figure out where those signals are getting crossed.
From there, you can map out a plan to be more proactive about your branding. You can’t control it completely — people will make up their own minds about your brand — but you can influence their perception by making sure every touch point is communicating the same, consistent message.
Otherwise, who knows what your brand will be.
John Furgurson is CEO and creative director at BN Branding. He works directly with CEOs and founders to imagine new brands, rebrand existing companies, and help turn ordinary businesses into iconic brands. You can reach him directly —JohnF@BNBranding.com