Forging a Brand: Do It Right or Watch the Sparks Fly
My grandfather was a blacksmith when he first immigrated to this country from a small German town near the Black Forest. Since he passed away before I was born, I never saw him engaged in his profession. But what little I know about blacksmithing tells me it was fraught with occupational hazards – from a recalcitrant horse to an errant spark.
Forging a company or organizational brand is fraught with hazards as well. Executed properly, branding can pay remarkable dividends. But failing to do it right can cause some serious sparks to fly and bring the whole initiative down in flames.
Two of the most common mistakes I have observed are creating unrealistic expectations and failing to educate and engage the employees in the program.
Effective branding is strategic, not tactical. Identifying a brand strategy must factor in past history as well as realistic aspirations. For example, an organization that has historically been very conservative and decidedly low tech cannot suddenly try to re-position its brand as progressive and high tech. Such a radical departure would simply not resonate with the target audience and be doomed to fail. The essence of Apple’s brand is its innovative product development. Walmart’s is its low pricing. McDonald’s is its universal consistency. Effective branding involves knowing who you are and what you stand for. Once that historical base is understood and articulated, the brand can evolve but it must do so in realistic, achievable ways.
Expectations for a branding program also come into play internally. Branding is not a silver bullet. It will not cause marketing problems to magically disappear. So if the benefits of a branding initiative are oversold to the sales or management team, disappointment is almost inevitable. The greatest value of effective branding is to provide a focal point or touchstone for the organization’s marketing efforts.
The other common pitfall of a branding program is the failure to educate and engage the entire organization. As we have often stated in this space, employees are the ultimate ambassadors of a brand. If they do not understand the brand, do not live it and breathe it on duty and off, or simply feel estranged from the process, the initiative will, at best, fail to achieve its full potential and, at worst, will flame out and come crashing down.
I bring these potential, but very real pitfalls to your attention not to be negative. The last thing I would want is for someone contemplating a strategic branding program to back away out of fear. Branding is a powerful tool. Like any powerful tool, it should be used with proper knowledge and an appropriate measure of caution. The best brands are the ones forged through sound strategy, disciplined implementation and a healthy awareness of potential dangers. This approach will temper the strength of your brand and it should shine brightly for many years to come.
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