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Branding strategy must make the right connections

London branding agency

Before joining BergHind Joseph two years ago, I’d worked client-side for a number of different organisations. The majority of my previous roles included some arm’s length involvement with design agencies and although many were good and successfully delivered on the brief, others, who had sold themselves in as being experts in branding, couldn’t actually deliver a viable finished product. There were two main reasons for this:

Poor strategy. The organisation and the branding agency didn’t take a customer centric approach to developing the brand strategy. The company values were developed by a small team of people, generally drawn from the communications functions, who gave little consideration to understanding what people (both internally and externally) were actually saying about the company and its brand. This, in turn, led to internally focused values being developed which looked good on paper but meant little or nothing to the outside world.

For example how many companies have ‘innovative, dynamic and approachable’ as their values? These values are now so over-used that they will not help companies set themselves apart from their competitors. It would also be a foolhardy company which says it is ‘stale, apathetic and inaccessible’, but this may be exactly what customers and employees are saying about it, so there is a huge disconnect between how the company thinks it is behaving and what its stakeholders actually experience.

Weak execution. Other branding agencies were strong on strategy, helping the client’s communication director sell in what was often a difficult or misunderstood subject to a sceptical Board, but were weak on execution. Once the company’s directors had been won over by the agency’s presentation, they were then allowed to get on with creating an “exciting” logo, colour palette, bespoke font, image world, tone of voice – the list goes on - without any guidance or challenge from non-communications team members on how these would actually be used on a daily basis by all the other employees within the company.

So what started out as being a great strategy ended up being poorly executed because the brand tools weren’t flexible enough to cater for everyday use. (It is surprising how many branding agencies are unaware of the number of headline weights that might need to be used in an annual report.) Employees didn’t understand the new brand and the part they needed to play in order for it to come to life and no one liked the logo so the whole project ends up being an expensive damp squib.

So, when considering a branding project I’d recommend that you take the following approach:

Question why you want to change or update your company’s brand. Has your marketplace changed? Are you losing out to your competitors? Do you want to move your company to the next level? Sit down and think about your ambitions, current challenges and how you want to come across in your marketplace.

Take a customer-centric approach and research what your customers and employees are really saying about your company.  Does this match with your own views, and if not, why not? Keep an open mind and work out what you want people to say and feel about your brand and make these your brand values. Then identify what you need to do differently in order for you to live these values on a daily basis.

Once you’ve done this, consider how changing your brand might help you achieve your goals.

Remember, it is about either reconnecting with existing stakeholders or attracting new ones. It is generally not a good idea just to rebrand because your company fancies a change - you may just end up confusing your target audience.

Don’t underestimate the power that social media can have on your brand. If your company is not honest in living its values, then people’s experiences are likely to be shared on Facebook and Twitter. And it won’t just be your customers telling the world; your staff will be, too.

Engage with your staff. It’s a simple concept but is often missed as companies focus all of their efforts on their external audience. A brand is so much more than a logo or strapline. If your employees can’t or don’t engage with the brand, then it’s likely to fail. It is your people, from the chairman down, who are the living embodiment of your brand and so anything created has to resonate with them in order for it to be delivered consistently to the outside world on a daily basis. Engaged employees will help promote the brand and protect the company from the threats related to poor product quality or service levels. A survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in 2006 found that 70% of engaged employees indicate that they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs, while only 17% of non-engaged employees say the same. A Gallup survey conducted in 2003 found that engaged employees advocate their company or organisation – 67%, compared with only 3% of the disengaged. A total of 78% would recommend their company’s products of services, against 13% of the disengaged. So engaged employees will help to improve your business’s performance.

Be consistent. It’s easy for companies to become bored with their brand as they’re dealing with it every day. Avoid the temptation to play around with the logo, add an extra font or colour to the palette or tinker with the strapline. Your customers, who may only come in to contact with the brand once or twice a year, may just end up confused or alienated as you’re not communicating to them in a consistent way.

A version of this article was published by Marketing Week in its “Opinions from Design and Branding Consultants” in July 2010.

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About the author

Ian Brownhill is Managing Director & Senior Consultant at BergHind Joseph.

Ian has over has over 20 years’ experience of working in research, project management and strategic leadership roles for a range of organisations including Which?, London Transport and the Prince of Wales’ Charities Group.

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