Keep your branding to yourself.
By Dan Monroe
Whether your company is called Coca Cola or Jimmy-Bob Joe-Bob & Frank, you have a brand. You may not realize it since, after all, brand happens mostly on its own (more about that in the “On Brand” column in the BHM BIZ April/May edition). But whether you’ve spent a century and trillions of dollars developing an international company or you’re just getting out of the gate with a startup, you should know how to protect your brand. Let’s start with a little background.
People talk about brand in a lot of highfalutin ways, but the notion of a brand started with the lowly beef steer. Brands were identifiable marks that allowed others to recognize the “product” by what was burned into its hide. When we first started to create identifiable marks for companies, it wasn’t much of a leap to call them “brands.” Now we recognize brands by identifiable marks (logos), colors, typefaces, graphic devices, the brand tone of voice, spokespeople, etc. There are so many aspects of brand that I could devote a whole piece just to them. Layer onto these brand trappings all of the experiences people have and the stories they tell about a company, and we begin to see the brand as the aggregation it truly is.
So, now that we know what brand is, let’s say yours is trucking along nicely. How do you keep it on track? How do you protect it from hitting a pothole and taking a big left turn in the big marketplace highway? Let’s start with why.
Commandment 1: Know Thy Why. The why of a brand goes by lots of names: value proposition, single most important message, single-minded proposition, mission, USP (unique selling proposition). But it’s all the same stuff. Ideally, it is that single thing for which your company is known—its raison d’etre. Examples: Volvo: safety; Subway: fast, healthy fare; IKEA: contemporary design for all; Nike: empowerment of the everyday athlete. Whatever your why is, you should know it—even if your why is as simple as putting a truly quality Billy-Bob Joe-Bob & Frank-brand widget in the hands of your enthusiastic customers.
Commandment 2: To Thine Own Why Be True. Let your why be the litmus test for everything you do. Southwest Airlines is a great example with its why: “be THE low-fare airline.” Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s founder, once explained his why by posing the following scenario: You work for Southwest, and Tracy from Marketing comes into your office and presents survey results indicating that passengers on long flights might enjoy something more to eat than nuts. She thinks a chicken Caesar salad would do the trick. What do you say? Answer: You ask Tracy from Marketing if serving the chicken salad will help make Southwest THE low-fare airline. If it won’t, then don’t. Herb was true to his why. They don’t serve salads.
Commandment 3: Know Thy Audience. I recommend profiling. (Yes, this is one instance where profiling is acceptable.) Personify your key audience. Think of it this way: If the bell curve that represents your audience is broad, try to select the type of person who would be part of the highest point of the curve. Is this person typically male or female? How much money do they make? Where do they live? What do they wear? What book is on their nightstand? What sites do they visit online? Are they on social media, and if so, which ones? What do they love? What do they hate? This is important. The better you know your audience, the better you’ll be able to communicate your brand to them.
Commandment 4: Know Thy Brand’s Written Voice. Here, it helps to profile your brand. Ask yourself: If your brand were a person, how would he or she speak? Would the voice be humorous? Erudite? Does it have attitude? Is it matter-of-fact? Or does it like to use analogy and metaphor to explain things? Is it the voice of an engineer or a poet? Is it simple or sophisticated? Once you feel like you have a handle on brand voice, think about how that voice speaks to your audience. How will your audience react to your voice? It’s vital that your company voice match your target audience.
Commandment 5: Know Thy Brand’s Visual Voice. This one’s tougher. If you don’t have a graphic designer in-house, either hire one or sub out the work. You want the visual language of your brand to be consistent and on target. If you’re wondering what I mean by visual voice, it’s everything from the typefaces you use, to your primary and secondary color palettes, to graphic patterns and emblems, to the texture of paper you print on. A graphic designer spends years learning the discipline of the visual voice of brands.
Commandment 6: Be True to Thy Voices. Once you know the written and visual voices of your brand, you must stick with them. Consistency in how you communicate verbally and visually with your customer creates comfort and confidence. To put a sharper point on it, if your communications are all over the place, your business will look like it’s all over the place. You definitely won’t look like you’ve got all your gear in one sock. You’ll look like a newbie.
Commandment 7: Train Thy Brand Ambassadors. Think about all the people who have the opportunity to share your brand with others: employees, subcontractors, customers, and clients. Are they all telling the same story? We created a brand story for our company. It’s not a script, mind you, but it does give our employees what they need to be able to understand how the owners see the brand and how we want to communicate the brand to the world. I recommend you use the same approach. Develop your elevator pitch. Develop the language you use to describe your company and your why. And then share that language with your brand ambassadors.
Commandment 8: Map Thy Touchpoints (and Use Them). There’s no definitive answer as to when and by whom the word touchpoint first started to be used in connection with the human encounters customers have with a brand. I’ve heard that Disney perfected the notion of touchpoint mapping, but I can’t even be sure of that. What I do know is that the technique is useful. Here’s what you do: Gather in a room around a whiteboard, roll your sleeves up, and map out your customer’s experience with your brand from the time they first encounter it throughout the history of your experience with them. Do they encounter your brand in advertising or online before any sort of engagement begins? When they pull into your parking lot, what do they experience? What is the experience of calling you on the phone? What is it like in your building? Every one of these instances is an opportunity to communicate your brand. We recommend that you identify the touchpoints that give you the best opportunity to really engage your customer with your brand and then craft those experiences so that they best communicate the way you want people to perceive your company.
Commandment 9: Have a Code That You Can Live By. (Apologies to Graham Nash.) What are your company’s values? What are your company’s passions? What are the lines you do not cross? For example, is your brand smart but not conceited? Is is humorous but not silly? We’ve talked about how your brand looks and speaks. What we’re trying to get at here is how your brand behaves. At the very foundation of your brand are these behavioral cues. These are the principles that guide the way you treat your customers, partners, employees, and vendors. You could equate this to the character of the brand persona you developed in accordance with Commandment 4.
Commandment 10: Be The Vigilant Protector. Someone in your company must own the job of being the brand police. The larger your company, the more locations you have, the more people you hire, the more opportunities there are for your brand to be misused. The brand police must be concerned with brand standards. Brand standards govern the strict use of your brand elements: How is your logo used? What are your colors? Are they defined in terms of a Pantone color or a CMYK build? What are the ways your logo and colors are not to be used? What are the typefaces that are acceptable and in what circumstances? These are a few of the questions a brand standards guide should answer. Adopt brand standards and use them. If you have questions about brand standards, consult a graphic designer or a branding company. They can help. Your brand police must also be dialed into content that is or is not on-brand. Prepare a social media policy, or at the very least, ensure that all of your people know what you expect of them in their online behavior as it relates to your company. Watch for instances where the visual or verbal voice by which your company is being represented are not
Brands are hard to start and even harder to nurture and grow in the direction you want them to grow. Knowing how to manage them as your company grows is key. So, here you have it: 10 basic rules to live by when it comes to protecting your hard-won brand.