Brand development is no joke. It’s hard. It can feel unrewarding. There’s no real quantitative way to test that you’ve nailed it. These are a few of the reasons why it’s often an afterthought for early stage companies until they are faced with writing a boilerplate or coming up with copy for a booth display. The marketing tactics, like events, press releases and media interviews, are elevated to the top of to-do lists because they have built-in deadlines. But there’s no required timeline for creating a brand strategy.
Struggling to develop a strong brand identity isn’t limited to early stage companies. Some of the largest, most well-established companies struggle with branding. That struggle can be tied to shifting market conditions, a changing competitive landscape or changes in target market. These events often trigger a change in brand strategy, or at least, a re-evaluation of the brand. Think of all the brick-and-mortar retailers that are reassessing their business and brand strategies today in light of the Amazon era.
Most brand strategists believe that the average lifespan of a brand concept and strategy is 5-7 years (we think it can be a bit longer, when done right). Your brand isn’t just about nice colors, a logo and a tagline. Your brand, specifically your core values and purpose, sets the foundation for decision-making and communications within your organization.
So why bother investing in brand development?
If you’re still not convinced, there’s hard-number evidence that showcases the importance of establishing a strong brand out of the gate. Here are some facts and figures to consider:
It will help your revenue grow. Consistent presentation of a brand increases revenue by 23 percent, on average. We’re not talking about plastering your logo on everything; it means that your sales, product, marketing and customer strategies all embody your brand. That starts by developing brand positioning and messaging that resonates in and outside of your organization.
Brand values build trust. According to a survey by the Corporate Executive Board, 64% of consumers say that shared values help them create a trusted relationship with a brand. What values define your brand? Does your leadership team know what they are? What about your employees and customers
Authenticity matters. 80% of people cite “authenticity of content” as the main factor as to whether or not they follow a brand. However, how can you be authentic if you don’t know what your brand is or the values it represents?
Talent cares about your brand too. Research from the CMO Council shows that 90% of US marketing and human resources leaders say brand persona is key to hiring new staff. Record unemployment and a skill shortage mean there’s no end in sight for the talent gap. Your employees should be proud to work for your brand; their friends should be envious.
Our tips for nailing brand development
Brand development is a high-pressure activity. We have helped dozens of companies create or redefine their brand identities. Here are the top three lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Don’t go it alone.
You may have the best marketing and communications team, but keeping a branding exercise within the four walls of your company is a risk. Sure, that sounds like self-promotion, but working in-house taught me this lesson firsthand.
Whether you’re head of marketing or the CEO, you’re too close to the challenge you’re trying to solve, often too grounded based on past experiences. Some executives focus too much on one competitor. That could mean trying to too closely align your company with theirs, or refusing to be anything but the polar opposite of a competing brand. Other executives only want to fit into an existing category, missing critical opportunities to define a new one. It’s also difficult to put aside prejudgements and office politics to see people’s ideas objectively (after all, most people want their idea to be the most loved).
Our advice: find an outside firm to guide you through the brand development process.
Pick your core team wisely and keep it small.
Getting ten people to agree on a restaurant for dinner is a challenge. Getting ten people to agree on a positioning direction and branding concept? Good luck to you!
When you embark on a branding exercise, think hard about who will be on the core committee and try to limit it to 5-7 people. That doesn’t mean that others can’t be involved in the process. That customer success director who knows your top clients the best? Set up an interview so your chosen branding partner can pick their brain. Same goes for that investor who has been an evangelist in the market for many years and your head of sales who has “lots of ideas.” Just because someone isn’t on your committee, doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in the process.
Once your committee has selected the top 1-2 branding concepts that the firm has presented, then you can open up the process to other stakeholders to socialize those ideas and ensure their hitting the mark.
Don’t put unnecessary time constraints on the process.
Yes, it would be great to put new key messages on that trade show banner that needs to be ordered in two weeks, but that deadline (or ones like this) shouldn’t drive the timeline for your brand development project.
The discovery process, ideation to define 3-4 concepts and the final selection process take time. We move pretty fast at CXO, but trying to cram in a branding project in 30 days or during a busy season (like the blink of an eye between Thanksgiving and Christmas) puts false pressure on your team and your partner. Shortchanging any part of the process, particularly the discovery, will hinder your results.
A branding exercise shouldn’t start on a whim. Ideally, it will be baked into an annual plan with all key executives in agreement about the timing and overall investment needed (time, resources and budget).
If you’re struggling with whether or not to embark on a branding or rebranding exercise in 2019, take 10 minutes on us to talk through your challenge and tap into our collective brainpower. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.