This article was originally published in Forbes. To read the original, click here.
I don’t think you can take a marketing course or be involved in any kind of business without hearing the term “brand.” But it wasn’t until I was well into my entrepreneurial journey I realized it actually mattered. Like many, I didn’t place an importance on my company’s brand and often simplified it and made it analogous to a graphical identity. It was only when I realized the passion I had for my business, what it stood for and what I wanted others to understand about my company that I realized that a company’s brand is critical to grow and thrive.
To lay some groundwork, let me start by touching on some key aspects of what is in a brand.
• Logo and graphic identity
• Core values
• Mission and vision
• External perception
There are countless articles on how to develop everything listed above, so do a quick search to get some insights. The idea I want to express is that your brand is foundational to everything your company does and should not be minimized or put aside. I also believe an organization’s core values, mission and vision are what a brand is ultimately built around; it is your identity.
When you start a company, you will most likely have a small team going on the journey with you. They believe the company is special and they want to make a difference. However, once you grow and hire a large team, you will need to put different levels of management in place. The experiences that built the ethos of the company can be lost amongst the new ranks if the foundational concepts that make the company unique, aka brand, are not communicated to all staff. Not understanding your brand can lead to recruiting the wrong people, increased staff turnover, struggles to attract talent and new business, creating generic products and can be a ceiling to growth.
Chances are your brand will develop and evolve as your company grows and you start to refine and understand what your organization stands for. While the early experiences create the brand, these early experiences also shape the identity of the company bringing initial success and loyalty that, once understood and defined, can be used as a foundation to fuel the ongoing growth of the organization.
The question is, what can you do to make your brand meaningful? Please note, if you’re not going to take this seriously and only go through the motions of documenting who you are as a company, you’re wasting time and hurting your brand. Being generic and standard will demotivate staff and damage client relationships. Authenticity is crucial to driving value.
Here are some ways to ensure your brand is known.
Create a brand playbook that is given to every new staff member.
This should answer who (your brand), why (purpose), what (mission) and how (strategy) as it relates to your company, plus things like values and principles. Spend a serious amount of time going through what these mean and how they relate to the staff member. Instilling this from day one will help set the scene. These are more than statements you’re making. They need to flow through the lifeblood of the organization.
Ensure the world can see who you are.
On your website, in presentations and in other mediums, be sure to dedicate space to explain your brand and how it is reflected in everything you do, such as internal and external communications. In a world of competition and so many companies offering very similar services, your brand is what can differentiate and win someone over. For example, there have been several times someone applied for a job with me because they liked the uniqueness of our brand and felt it resonated with them. Remember, branding appeals to emotions.
Regularly communicate, both internally and externally, tangible results that exemplify the values of the brand.
Also, consider calling out the defining aspects. If your brand is about supporting the underdog, let people know how you’re doing that (e.g., a hashtag like “#supportingtheunderdog”). If your focus is on sustainability, communicate the impacts with something like “#sustainabilityrocks.” The old saying “actions speak louder than words” is still used for a reason. This doesn’t have to be in a long-form, wordy manner, it can be short (like hashtags) to get the point across. For my brand, it is phrases like “Learning is Cool” and “Simplicity is Key.”
Empower people to be authentic and empathetic when representing your brand.
Different is good, yet many are afraid to express it. Tell people the what and let them figure out the how. Remember it is the people that make a company who it is.
It takes a long time to build a strong brand. If you try to change it every several months it is going to confuse everyone. That is not to say that over time it can’t evolve, but even the smallest changes can have a negative impact unless properly and strategically communicated.
Remember to start early, document and stay true. Best of luck developing your brand.