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Not RS, but BS

Ok, so I’m a big believe that the basics of branding have not really changed much…ever! Establishing a brand has always been about affecting the perceptions of all audiences to achieve a desired outcome. Usually that outcome is for customers to always choose your product over another one. As I like to say, it’s not rocket science, it’s brain surgery. Branding is about changing the way people think and manipulating their perceptions.

Simple right? Um, no!

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people use platitudes to talk about brands. “A brand is a promise.” “You must be able to communicate your brand in one word.” “Awareness is the key to brand success.” “Your brand is your word.” There are too many to count – many of them the title of some catchy book on branding by some author who made a name for themselves building a single brand. (Ironically, many of them were let go by their companies when their “brands” growth stalled or their brand failed to evolve.)

According to these philosophies, all you have to know to build a strong and successful brand is follow a simple rule or two and you’re good to go? If that were the case, then every brand would be a strong brand and they would all be successful. The truth is that building a strong brand is hard. Very hard.

To me, brand perceptions are affected by the holistic experiences of all audiences – internal and external. Brand is engrained in the culture of the organization and not limited to a slogan, tag line or marketing campaign. In companies with very strong brands, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between business as usual and a defined, brand program.

In many companies, however, the biggest misnomer about brands and branding is that they are the property and institutional domain of marketing. While marketing is usually the source for all outbound, customer focused brand related materials, it is not the only department in a company that affects perceptions. Product development, sales, customer service, accounts receivable, and accounts payable, Public Relations, senior management, investor relations, grounds keeping, housekeeping, security and many others all play a significant role in how a brand is perceived.

Again, if you think of your brand as how everyone, both internal and external, perceives your company, it helps significantly broaden your perspective on how to develop and manage a brand. And don’t take your employees attitudes and perceptions for granted. I have been in a number of situations where the external perceptions of the brand were very different from the employees’ perceptions.

Often this disconnect can persist for years without affecting business, but if there is a crisis or other impact to the business, the differences can quickly manifest themselves in unpredictable ways. The results are often negative and from a brand strength perspective, can be very difficult to recover from.

So what does all of this mean? In a nut shell, if you think about “brand management” as really being about trying to affect the way all interested parties think about your company, then you can better understand the challenges it presents and the opportunities it represents. Your true brand is cultural. It is why people come to work every day for many years, buy your products, tell others about you and almost unconsciously give you endorsements when talking to others. Remember, it’s not rocket science, it’s brain surgery.