What brand is, why it’s everyone’s concern, and how to operationalize brand building.
What is brand?
Some years ago, I read a book called Brand: It Ain’t the Logo by Ted Matthews. It was the first book I had read which dealt exclusively with the topic of brand. I started my career in direct marketing, an industry which saw brand building as a mere bonus to generating leads, and until I picked up this book, brand had always seemed like a nebulous concept to me.
The central idea of Matthews’ book is that brand is what people think of you. This applies not only to branding in business, but also to professional and personal branding. It’s about reputation. With every action you take, you are building or degrading a brand, whether it’s yours or that of an organization.
Brand is the sum of the impressions — some conscious and some subconscious — that you and your product, service, or company make on stakeholders, including investors, customers, partners, influencers, and the community.
Brand is everyone’s business
Every person in an organization is in the brand building business. This is true whether they know it or like the idea of it. Each individual employee is a steward of what stakeholders think of the company. Regardless of your role, your work has the power to positively or negatively impact what people outside the organization think of it.
For example, engineers need to build software that works as expected and creates value for the user. Marketers need to write copy, design websites, and run advertising programs that make a good impression and connect with the buyer’s needs and wants. Salespeople need to behave in a way that leaves the prospective customer with positive feelings about the company, even if they don’t make a purchase. Executives and founders need to be good stewards of their employees’ trust and their investors’ confidence.
Every person involved in a company has the power to affect the brand. With every decision, the brand is built up or degraded, and the value of the company along with it. It’s black and white. There is no gray area when it comes to reputation management for brands or people. The needle is either moving in the right direction or the wrong one.
The brand building mindset
Everyone in a company needs to buy into the concept of brand building. Marketers can’t think they’re just doing marketing. Executives can’t think they’re just running the business. Developers can’t think they’re just building software. They are ALL building the brand. Each employee needs to understand how their everyday actions impact stakeholders’ impressions of the company, and how those impressions influence the longevity and value of the business.
Brand building is about developing and maintaining a sense of pride, quality, and integrity in the work we do and the way that we interact with every stakeholder, inside the company or out. Drill this with your team until it’s rote. Each decision and interaction has the potential to build or degrade the brand. Don’t leave it to chance. Make it programmatic. Stitch it into the fabric of your company with values and a vision that speaks to these themes.
Three steps to operationalize brand
1. Make it known. The first step to operationalizing brand building is to educate your team. You might hold workshops or make a brief presentation on the concept and then invite discussion around it. Be especially cognizant of strong, dissenting voices. Those folks might need some one-on-one coaching, or in the most extreme cases, they may need to be fired. Continuously reinforce these ideals with regular review sessions that engage and inspire your team.
2. Operate with integrity. Being a leader within your organization, regardless of whether your hierarchy is flat, requires that you operate in a way that’s aligned with building the brand. It’s on you to set a good example and be a guide for others. The buck stops with you, so act like it.
3. Reinforce your standards. Make it everyone’s job to build the brand and to hold each other accountable for ensuring a great experience for all stakeholders, including fellow employees. Empower people to be great brand ambassadors and implement OKRs or KPIs that incentivize positive brand building behaviors.
Brand is the overall perception of your organization. It’s the sum of the impressions that you, your team, your company, its processes, and its products/services make on the world.
Every person in a company is responsible for building the brand and has the power to enhance or degrade it with their everyday actions.
To operationalize brand building, you need buy-in from everyone on the team. Train on it. Reinforce learning and standards by always bringing it up in all-hands meetings. Tie OKRs and KPIs to it if at all possible.