Building a Timeless Brand
Building and managing a brand is the most strategic contribution marketing managers can make. Regular readers of this blog will recognise that this is exactly the sort of obvious statement I like to make to start off with. But when it comes to branding, I have found that even the most obvious can sometimes seem opaque; we all have a clear idea of what a brand should be and what it should achieve. But knowing those things does not make it any easier to develop a brand. Gartner says that, “ Effective branding aligns the strategic vision of the company’s top management with the organizational culture and the company’s image in the eyes of external stakeholders”, and just like that, we move from the surprisingly opaque to the obviously difficult.
Creating a brand for your company means asking a lot of questions, and sometimes only guessing the answers. The first of those questions? Well, what exactly is a brand?
A brand is many things. It is:
- Voice: The coherent outward expression that an organization projects
- Actions: The result of alignment between an organization’s corporate strategy, personality and capabilities
- The ability to deliver on promises: A reputation that orients the organization in the minds of customers and employees
- Personal appeal: The perception of an organization’s values and value, and how they differ from the competition
Most importantly in the B2B world, business buyers rely on brands when your solution is intangible: technology purchases for businesses are much more complex than for a consumer – your benefits may not be easy to quantify or easy to compare to your competitors. Buyers in this space are taking leaps of faith every day; your brand is what can push them off the ledge.
As an activity, branding begins with examining your position in the marker and your strategic intent. It requires you to figure out where and how your vision, your culture, and your reputation align, and hopefully results in a promise you can deliver on for all time.
Again, these are all varying degrees of obvious, but understanding your vision, your culture, your reputation: none of these are simple tasks. They require hard work and concerted investment (oh yeah, its going to cost you: Gartner suggests that a proper branding initiative requires sustained investments for at least three years after the initial launch of the brand, so, simply put, if you want to do this, you need to get your priorities straight, and you’ll need to budget accordingly.)
I can only speak as someone who has been in the middle of this process for longer than I care to remember: it is a long and hard journey ahead, akin to paddling your boat upstream, with one hand tied behind your back. Oh, and did I mention your paddle was a snake? And seriously, watch out for those rocks. (metaphors are also quite difficult, but still not as difficult as branding.)
It is a rewarding process though, intellectually as well as – one would hope – financially. If there is any wisdom that I can impart in my role here as blog person, it is to make certain that you do the following:
- Make sure there is absolute buy-in from everyone in the company regarding your brand. Everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction, working towards the same goal. Your brand is doomed to fail without that. Trust me
- Make sure to brand your company itself, not your individual products. Branding your products individually fosters only confusion, making it hard for customers to understand why they should be interested in those products in the first place. Its counter-productive.
Ultimately, if you create a good brand, it will be timeless. But this also means you really have only the one chance to do it right. If you understand that, you can start to have the right conversations, ask the right questions, and allow yourself enough time for the process. If you do that, it will eventually stop being opaque: your brand will become clear; easily identifiable. If you’re lucky, it might just become obvious.