Why your brand identity shouldn’t just be down to the marketing department by Alan Williams and Sam Williams
By Guest Contributors Alan Williams and Sam Williams
Authors of The Values Economy, Alan and Sam Williams, explains what The Values Economy is and why your brand identity should not just be down to the marketing department.
THE ANSWER IS IN THE ‘HOW’
“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room” Jeff Bezos[i]
THE FACE OF THE ORGANIZATION
If you ask yourself the question: “Who is responsible for the organization’s brand identity?” you might well answer “The Marketing department, the Marketing Director” or similar. This is hardly surprising when many organizations operate this way. But an organization’s brand identity is too important to be owned by one function. This is especially so at this time in a super-connected world, where any shortcomings can be communicated to millions in a heartbeat.
Have you ever seen an expensive advertising campaign for a hotel brand on television and yet, when you drove past one of the properties, the external signage needed repair? Or a brand-new car showroom where there are boxes of brochures in the corner because the display racks haven’t arrived? Or a new website extolling the company value of ‘Excellence’ where there are spelling mistakes in the copy? Or a customer services agent who tells you something completely different to what you had been told by the in-store service people?
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Seth Godin[ii]
You can see that from a customer perspective, every single outward facing detail of the organization forms the brand identity, from the experience with employees (and even outsourced employees) to the built environment to the digital experience. Everything counts – just think about how important customer service employees’ uniforms are as a visual representation of the brand. And it goes even further than this. Are customers the only stakeholders who are influenced by the organization’s brand identity? Not at all – the brand is now co-owned by the various stakeholders. Increasingly decisions are being made on a stakeholder basis rather than by the organization’s senior leadership. A recent example was in September 2020, when Rio Tinto parted company with the CEO and two senior executives in response to the destruction of the sacred 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site, Juukan rockshelters in May 2020.[iii]
In practical terms, the Brand Identity is a combination of purpose/vision, values, brand attributes, unique positioning, SERVICEBRANDSignatures, visual identity and tone of voice. The terms ‘brand’, ‘branding’, and ‘brand identity’ are sometimes treated as interchangeable. Brand Identity is the first ‘Element’ of the SERVICEBRAND approach – think of this as the collection of all the brand elements that the company creates to describe its personality and character.
The brand identity is what makes an organization instantly recognizable to different stakeholder groups (customers, employees, service partners, local communities etc), creates the connection with these stakeholders and determines how the organization is perceived. Some leaders in organizations think that their brand is simply the name and logo. Of course, the name and logo are important parts of the visual identity and yet there is so much more to an organization’s complete brand identity. It consists of intangible elements such as the organization’s purpose and values as well as tangible elements such as visual identity and tone of voice.
IDENTIFYING PURPOSE AND VALUES
The starting point is to identify and articulate the organization’s purpose and values. The brand purpose or vision captures what the brand desires or promises to accomplish (usually for the buyer). The organization can use positioning and differentiation to communicate the brand’s purpose and ultimately enrich the brand’s identity. And this purpose can transcend the functional purpose to also express the brand’s higher purpose or reason for being or why it exists. The higher purpose suggests emotional and social benefits for the customer from choosing that brand. A strong purpose and values set the tone for the organization’s tribal purpose and code of conduct. The values need to capture the unique essence of your organization and then be lived, in practice. This area is of particular importance to employees because there is evidence that a personal commitment to an employer’s core values is the top driver of employee engagement[iv].
Philip Kotler’s 6-step branding conceptual model[v] is an easy to understand guide to developing a brand and the first three steps of Brand Purpose, Brand Positioning and Brand Differentiation all help in creating an effective Brand Identity. The last two steps of Brand Trust and Brand Beneficence are of particular relevance – Professor Kotler describes Brand Trust as customers believing that the brand will deliver what it claims and Brand Beneficence as creating value for the benefit of others.
In the new paradigm referred to as the Values Economy, customers are making decisions based less on a rational, financial basis but more at a deeper, emotional level. Brands therefore need to target the hearts and well-being of customers as well as their minds (Kotler’s Trust and Beneficence). The concept of emotional marketing has been described in several books and marketers such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Richard Branson of Virgin, and Steve Jobs of Apple have demonstrated great examples of this approach in Starbucks’ concept of ‘third place for drinking coffee’, Virgin’s ‘unconventional marketing’, and Apple’s ‘creative imagination’.
BRAND MESSAGING VS BRAND IDENTITY
In the past, it was commonly accepted that organizations owned their brand identity. The marketing function usually take the lead, decide what the brand identity is and then use marketing and/or public relations campaigns to ‘pump out’ this message to target audiences. In the Values Economy, however, this is no longer the case and an organization’s brand identity is co-owned by the various stakeholder groups e.g. customers, employees, service partner, local communities, investors etc. In the future, a successful brand will not be focussed on direct control of brand messaging. Instead, they will invest energy in being true to their brand identity, led by their purpose and values. They will then focus on enabling their stakeholder groups to communicate how they feel about the brand with these stakeholders effectively acting as the marketing department.
“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is—it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Scott Cook[vi]
This new thinking about the function of marketing in the Business to Consumer (B2C) arena is made more relevant by the role of social media in a digital world where information flows more freely and faster than ever before in networked communities. This creates a double-edged sword: on the one hand, organizations with a clear and consistent brand identity which is experienced as authentic will be lauded and on the other hand, inauthentic brands might not survive. Honesty, originality, and authenticity will become prerequisites to achieve sustained performance.
START WITH BRAND IDENTITY
The Brand Identity ‘Element’ is the starting point for the SERVICEBRAND framework. Once there is clarity about all aspects of the Brand Identity, this is then used to inform every facet of the organization, focussing on the employee and customer experiences. This ‘brand triangle’ ensures the organization’s brand identity is ‘alive’ and aligned at different levels: purpose and values-led decisions and behaviour of employees representing the organization; a uniform brand voice, across channels and stakeholder groups; a range of reinforcing SERVICEBRANDSignatures. Stakeholder groups consistently experience the brand with the same tone, the logo is always used in a similar way, typography and colour are consistent. The brand has its own style which enables the stakeholder groups to differentiate it from the competition and to relate to it on a deeper, emotional level.
How is your organization’s brand identity presented to employees, service partners and local communities? Consistency in messaging is key and, in the Values Economy, there is no place for organizations who try to present one face to one group of stakeholders and a different one to others.
[i] Jeffrey Preston Bezos (né Jorgensen) (born January 12, 1964) is an American internet and aerospace entrepreneur, media proprietor, and investor best known as the founder, chief executive officer, and president of Amazon.
[ii] Seth W. Godin (born July 10, 1960) is an American author and former dot com business executive.
[iii] https://www.riotinto.com/news/releases/2020/Rio-Tinto-Executive-Committee-changes accessed 12 September 2020
[iv] https://www.prweb.com/releases/2009/10/prweb3134014.htm accessed 18 March
[v] https://www.marketingjournal.org/brand-purpose-to-beneficence-philip-kotler/ accessed 20 November 2019
[vi] Scott David Cook (born 1952) is an American businessman, the co-founder of Intuit.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
ALAN WILLIAMS coaches progressive leaders of service sector organizations, internationally and in the UK, to deliver values-driven service for sustained performance. He is a published author and speaker whose projects have delivered measurable business results across a balanced scorecard and been recognized with industry awards.
SAM WILLIAMS works across the change management life cycle to deliver people-and technology-led business change. He is passionate about identifying the need for change, mapping out the path to benefit realization, and helping organizations to move from the outlined as-is state to an improved and more mature to-be state that improves efficiency and quality. His empathetic nature and strong social skills enable him to engage with a wide range of stakeholders to understand the unique nuances within organizations that influence their readiness for or resistance to change.
The exponential rate of change and disruption in the world mean that the traditional organization-structure led approach is no longer fit for purpose. In this book, The Values Economy, the authors explain how the three primary influencers of Choice, Communication and Control have created a new paradigm that they refer to as the ‘Values Economy’. Leaders of organizations can survive and thrive in this brave new world by implementing a tried and tested, detailed methodology which can be applied in any setting.
The core principle is alignment, with a specific focus on the areas of brand identity, employee engagement and customer experience. This helps to establish a sense of shared values with all stakeholders and equips the organization with the agility needed to deliver sustained performance in a dynamic business environment where disruption is the new normal. The authors’ combined Baby Boomer and Gen Z perspective provides a compelling, irresistible blend of sharp insight, operational know how and pragmatic hopefulness, bringing the theory to life with a range of case studies from different sectors, sizes and stages of maturity.