Within the pantheon of strategic marketing, brand strategies have often been marginalized. To tough-minded, data-driven tactical marketing types, building a brand seems like a soft, warm-and-fuzzy, touchy-feely objective (which translates into unmeasurable and disconnected from financial activities or objectives). Yet, the best branding agencies understand some things about your organization (and your brand community) that create definite ties between your brand and its bottom line. For example:
1. Brand strategy springs from business plan. A good business plan considers elements such as management preference, leadership temperament, current customer expectations, long-term needs (including elements to be adjusted). A brand plan parallels the business plan, communicating to its various audiences both the heritage and future of the brand.2. Brand must communicate product benefits. Whether it’s preventive care and the benefits of hospital-owned physician practices in health care branding, marketable skill acquisition in community education branding, or community involvement, cross selling in banking, and building core deposits in bank branding, an effective brand’s objectives parallel (and articulate) those of the business plan.
3. Local organizations need local brands. That does not mean that an Asheville, North Carolina company needs an Asheville branding firm, or that Upstate South Carolina can only be aptly represented by a Greenville branding agency (as an aside, some of the best branding work our South Carolina firm has ever done we for clients in Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, and Hawaii). But it does mean that your branding professionals must be committed to the discipline of discovering what matters to the “local guy,” and that your brand must be shepherded internally by people with a strong sense of what your community values.
4. Leadership IS brand. For years, we thought of distinctive chief executives with strong personalities as something that needed to be accounted for and branded around. But as we matured, we began to see that almost all great community institutions (hospitals, schools, banks, arts organizations) have one or two individuals who embody the brand. Think about what Apple would be (was) without Steve Jobs. Great community brands incorporate and leverage the personalities of their leaders.
5. People = brand. Particularly with service brands, people within the brand community are the strongest expressions of the brand. This can complicate things for brands with aggressive growth strategies, because it is difficult to find, train, and inculcate people fast enough, who are good fits both professionally and brandwise. Everyone knows a few stories of small companies that were beloved, until they got too big too fast.
The knock on branding as a soft discipline is somewhat legitimate. But the best branding agencies understand that what you’re all about is business. And the best brands go way beyond slick artwork and cheeky headlines. And while CPA and MBA types may never be convinced, the evidence is pretty strong that, all other things being equal, the company with the best brand wins.