Six Steps to a Winning 2013 Branding Initiative

Six Steps to a Winning 2013 Branding Initiative

If you’ve been tasked to revisit your organization’s brand—strategically or creatively—in 2013, here are six tips to consider that can help you achieve a better brand initiative outcome.

1. Begin with “what” and “why”

Ask 100 marketing professionals to define “branding” and rest assured you’ll get 101 different answers. Some believe brand is reputation, others define it as what people think of when they see your logo and still others see it as an expression of the values you share with customers. These aren’t wrong, they’re just too narrow, and all of them represent an external-only view.

If there’s no comprehensive definition of what you’re trying to impact, then how do you define success? And if you can’t define success, how do you know which steps to take, stakeholders to engage and ideas to push?

Start by answering what you do and why you do it. It sounds simple, but it impacts so much. And it’s why the best companies are, well, the best. The core purpose and promise of the organization affect everyone involved with the company and should be tangible everywhere your company is. Together they set the tone, serve as unifying beacon and rally those inside and outside your organization.

2. Understand the role of promise makers, promise keepers and power wielders

Gone are the days when branding was the exclusive domain of marketing. Marketing can formulate the positioning, develop the advertising and generally tell customers: “This is what we promise we’ll do for you.” But that’s where the marketing department’s job stops.

Promise keeping is the real art of branding, and it’s the responsibility of everyone in the company. Employees who are involved with sales, operations, customer service, product development—these are the people who are keeping your brand promise. Think about it, is it the great ad that impacts how you see a brand, or a surly customer service agent? When you bring together an internal team to work on redefining your brand, it is crucial that it comprises a cross-functional team that represents both the promise-makers and the promise-keepers.

It is also critical that you have the endorsement and active participation of senior management. You know all those great brands you love? Apple. Starbucks. Southwest. Zappos. It’s been well documented that senior leadership not only participated in the process—but owned it. And the results speak for themselves.

While your CEO may not be on the core team or attend all the meetings, she will be the one ensuring that the promises are being kept by demonstrating, encouraging and rewarding actions and behaviors that support the brand. So when considering your team, don’t just think about those who can get things done—but those who can mandate and inspire change too.

3. Do your research, inside and out

When developing their brand story, organizations often make one of two countervailing mistakes. They either make a promise that’s “all about me” or “whatever you want.”

Your promise must address what’s true about your organization AND the needs of your customers. Marketers are very familiar with the tactics for understanding customer needs, but you should also be sure to plan for internal research. This usually involves internal interviews and employee engagement surveys that explore the inside view of what you’re best at and what you value. Interestingly, when the internal dialogue is honest and open, the feedback from employees often mirrors what is heard from customers. Your employees really can be the voice of the customer if you simply allow them to be heard.

4. Be bold

The world is filled with forgettable brands. Outrageous claims. Highfalutin headlines. Overly designed logos. Most organizations these days tend to think that the world will notice when their font changes, or their logo has a small tweak. But the truth is, the world doesn’t notice and likely doesn’t care. If you are going through all the effort to engage your senior leadership and aspire to engage your customers in a new way—take a leap and be bold. And by bold we mean take a stand in your industry. Define who you are and who you are not. Make the tough decisions about legacy names, sub-brands, messaging and thinking. Think about design as a strategic tool that can redefine how a category is viewed. And focus on your brand experience touchpoints to drive home that any brand relaunch is more than lipstick on the proverbial pig—it’s real, meaningful change.

5. Start keeping the promise before you make it

Historically, rebranding programs include developing the strategy and communicating it to external audiences. However, the best organizations recognize the importance of internal communications and training as part of their launch plans. But communicating to employees about the brand is only the first step—what is much more important is to make sure that employees know how to deliver on the brand promise, and that they are empowered to do so.

This requires looking at the customer’s experience of your organization through their eyes. It is amazing how few companies do this. Even the savviest companies, those with some kind of customer process map, have usually developed the map from the standpoint of how the company interacts with the customer, not how the customer experiences the company. For instance, the company may have “background” functions, such as order processing, that affect the customer experience but the customer is unaware of these mechanics. If we look at the customer experience through the company’s eyes, delays in order processing make sense because of all the complicated steps we have to go through. But if we look at it through the customer’s eyes, delays are simply a sign that the company doesn’t have its act together, because they don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Mapping the customer’s experience and then assessing (qualitatively or quantitatively) how well you are delivering on your promise at each step is the true foundation for an internal launch—not emails and company newsletters. From these maps, you can then begin to focus on the high-priority touchpoints and ensure that employees who manage those touchpoints are trained in the brand, understand how to deliver it and, most importantly, have no obstacles in place that would prevent them from delivering.

Think about the “friendly” service team mentioned above. Even if they didn’t have surly dispositions and really did want to try to provide the friendliest service, they are encouraged to get off the phone quickly. As long as this is what they are compensated for, this is what they’ll do, no matter how much brand training they’re exposed to. The key is to remove the obstacle and align compensation with desired brand-behaviors to keep the promises you’re making to customers.

Only when you’re prepared to keep your brand promise at your highest priority touchpoints should you start making that promise to the marketplace.

6. Think long-term

Marketers often ask, “How long does it take to relaunch an existing brand?” The true answer is, if your strategy is bold enough (which it should be), it takes about three to five months to develop the strategy and then two to three years to implement it. Your plans need to consider the long haul—including aligning all your touchpoints to deliver on the promise. And with some touchpoints like the web, that takes time.

This means you have to find employees who share your brand values, recruit them, hire them, train them so that they know what is expected of them, and remove obstacles to their performance. It also means that you may have to redesign products or processes. You may have to create or dismantle certain infrastructures. You may have to eliminate and replace certain cultural norms within the organization. These things take time.

You will also need to measure your progress. You should be benchmarking and annually assessing whether your company is being increasingly associated with your brand promise, and whether that is driving preference and loyalty among your consumers. You should also benchmark and annually assess progress in delivering on the promise at key touchpoints—and then work with internal teams to develop methods to close the gap.

And lastly, you will need to continually evolve your brand to keep it fresh and relevant. This evolution may take the form of brand extensions, fresh advertising campaigns or an online experience that employs all the latest technology.

The reality is: sustaining your brand is more important—and can be more challenging—than building it in the first place.

A new branding program is an exciting time, full of potential for transforming a company. Considering that a brand is a promise that must be kept at each interaction provides a framework not only for developing the brand, but for assembling the right internal team. The brand promise must be true to your organization, and thus both internal and external points of view need to be explored and considered. And your story—from messaging to design—should be bold. Remember, the world didn’t ask for you to rebrand, so make it take notice.

Following the above recommendations will help ensure that your company is relevant to your customers, that they understand and experience the unique value that you provide and that they will continue coming back to your company even after your 2013 brand strategy plan is a distant memory.

Jason Cieslak is managing director for Siegel+Gale’s Los Angeles office.

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