Why “do branding?” Because branding works. As I outline in my book, the largest, most successful companies deploy millions of dollars and their armies of marketing MBAs to design, deploy and monitor their brand strategies.
Strong companies “do branding” for many good reasons, not the least of which is to improve financial performance. The data is clear on this score:
- Companies with strong brands delivered 57% higher stock price than others in a CoreBrand study.
- A customer survey completed by Lynn Parker and Joe LePla found that, when purchasing an item, customers were willing to pay up to 25% more for their preferred brand than for other brands with the same features/functions
- Companies with high-relevance brands delivered up to 289% greater earnings growth (before interest and taxes) compared to low-relevance brands evaluated in a Y&R Brand Asset Valuator report
Strong companies “do branding” for many good reasons, not the least of which is to improve financial performance.
One principle to creating lasting client and employee relationships is managing and “living” a holistic, integrated brand. Achieving this objective means:
- The brand is built on the company’s actual strengths — its “unique and sustainable competitive advantages”
- The brand is also built on what your clients and employees value — what is resonant and meaningful to your markets
- The brand is deployed and activated organization-wide through both words and deeds
Four Steps to Live Your Brand
At root, developing and activating a living brand is about three things: clarity, leadership and communications. Distilled to its essence, to live your brand means the leadership and the organization exhibit four simple behaviors: Know, Say, Sell, Do.
Great brands are not fabricated by agencies or consultants, even brand managers. They are not applied to a company or product; they arise from the very DNA of the product, service or organization. Consider the Starbucks experience — which is not just about the taste of the coffee, but how and where it’s grown, how employees are benefited, what the café environment is, and even what music you listen to while you are there. The living brand relationship is rooted not just in content (the actual product or service and its quality), but in context (the meaning, story and values) as well. To be effective at living your brand, you must first define it completely and know it intimately. What is the organizing principle of your company? Why does it exist? What’s its purpose? And how does this matter to your employees and customers? To find these answers, conduct customer research that shows you how relevant your brand is and how well it resonates with your key audiences.
Adrienne Rich wrote a book of poetry called “The Dream of a Common Language.” I don’t remember any of the poems, but the title has never left me. Your brand strategy must create a “common language” for your organization — it must infuse the dialog of executive leadership, sales, marketing and customer service. To be effective at telling your brand story cohesively and cogently inside your firm, you must develop and deploy a system of brand narratives — your common language. In our practice, we use a system of Brand Leadership Frames — including the Brand Purpose, Brand Principle, Brand Promise, Brand Story and Brand Values — to codify and clarify exactly what the brand is and stands for. These Brand Leadership Frames create implications for communication, customer service and company culture.
Getting clear inside the executive suite and then getting aligned across the employee base leads to articulating your special brandedness outside the organization. You “sell” your brand by taking it public, making newbies aware of it, persuading prospects to try it and customers to recommend it. Impatient entrepreneurs and hungry, sales-driven organizations naturally want to jump right into the “sell” phase. It comes naturally, it equates to revenue and it is highly accountable. But it’s easy enough to see in this short-course that simply selling is not enough. Without underlying strategic clarity and overarching employee alignment, the promise you are selling is likely to be vacuous and short-lived. It will eventually disappoint — probably sooner than later. Your brand is a promise that you can fulfill day in and day out, which brings us to “do.”
“Actions speak louder than words,” the old saw goes. Clearly, to “live your brand” implies behaviors. And company behaviors are where the great brands shine. Think about Southwest Airlines. Its brand purpose is to “democratize the skies,” to make air travel competitive with car and bus trips. Roy Spence tells a great story about watching executives in the early years lobby CEO Herb Kelleher to replace the peanut snacks with candy bars — Southwest was taking a reputational beating when compared to the legacy airlines that were still serving “real food” to passengers. “Do you know how much a candy bar weighs? Do you know how much more fuel it will take to fly candy bars millions of miles around the country every day, every year? Forget the cost differential of the candy bar; think about what those fuel costs are going to do to our ticket prices,” Kelleher answered. Southwest still serves peanuts, doesn’t it? “Doing,” or living your brand, means that your unique points of differentiation are so baked-in, so evident, so inculcated, that an entire system of speech acts, behaviors and customer service experiences continually demonstrate to your customers how special you are.
There you have it: Live Your Brand in a nutshell. To “do branding” well, just know who you are and how you’re unique. Say it internally, sell it externally, and do it like you mean it.
Interested in what else “living your brand” can do for your company and revenue? Check out our case studies to see how our clients have benefited from clearly defining and strategically activating their brands.