Most marketers know what their brands do, who they connect with and how they perform. Here, brand strategist and consultant Brent Heatley (pictured below) explains that now more marketers are seeing value in examining who their brands are.
A growing theme in client briefs on brand development, positioning and comms projects seems to be around identity. Not the brand’s visual identity – the logo and its visual/verbal expression – more like who is our brand?
It’s there in sentiments like ‘We’re not connecting with hearts and minds’, ‘We need a reality check on how our brand comes across’ and ‘We don’t know who our brand is anymore’.
Across corporates, SMEs and NFPs in a range of sectors, there’s a growing appetite for diving deeper into the marketing advantages of brands becoming self-aware.
Socrates tells us the unexamined life is not worth living. Psychologists tell us that having a clear and present sense of self opens a window into our own minds as well as into the complex motivations of others. Brands aren’t all that much different.
At a fundamental level, ‘who is our brand?’ usually means things like ‘what does our brand stand for?’, ‘what’s its purpose?’, ‘what are its values?’, and ‘how does it come across?’.
At a business or organisational level, it can mean ‘who do our customers, our partners and our staff want to work with?’.
And at a marketing level. it can open up questions like ‘who should our new brand go to market as?’, ‘what’s its reputation? or ‘what is it capable of, or stretching to?’.
That marketers are wanting to understand more about who their brands are is a good thing.
Brands who know who they are will, broadly speaking, be more successful in designing how they make themselves more desirable.
There’s something really attractive about a brand that feels free to confidently be itself – without having to shout, be always in your face, try too hard or dress itself up as something it’s not.
Brands with a clear and present sense of self are generally more enduring – being more resistant to fluctuating market forces, category insurgents or disruptive trends.
Brands who know themselves are more likely to freely acknowledge and accept their limitations, so they’re less likely to run off and do stupid things like over-promising/under-delivering, competing against brands they shouldn’t, selecting inappropriate channels, or telling their stories in embarrassing ways.
And where there’s no clear and compelling functional value proposition to be found, brands who know they are find it easier to differentiate themselves through how they tell their stories.
Here are some things that characterise brands who stand out from their peers by really knowing who they are:
- They’re usually equipped with 360-degree vision of the competitor landscape, market forces, trends and drivers, which makes them better placed to spot sector opportunities and own vacant positioning territories.
- They’re driven more by inspired ideas, less by the mountains of data that often seem to pass as ‘strategy’.
- They speak to us of purpose, values, personality and behaviour. They tell us as much about who they are as about what they do.
- They’re built from a human insight or a core product truth, which speaks of respecting our intelligence, rather than mindlessly throwing stuff at us.
- They connect with our beliefs, not just our needs and desires.
- They make us feel as much as they make us think. They’re fully across their customers’ motivations and connect strongly with their customers’ values and emotional states.
Getting to know who your brand is takes a bit of work. Asking the right questions of key stakeholders will usually get the qual part started. Workshops work well when you can measure similarities and differences between who an organisation thinks its brands are now versus who they’d like them to become. Well-designed quantative surveys will measure the strength of possibilities.
Brands who know who they are will likely have built their identities, positioning and comms strategies around an evidence-based brand blueprint – aka brand on a page.
Brand blueprint components may vary, but they’re essentially a structural representation of the brand’s core working parts – its purpose, values and personality, as well as its functional and emotive propositions.
Supporting a simple compelling brand idea that drives the brand forward, a blueprint becomes the brand’s true north – a definitive model that all your brand decisions, actions and behaviours can consistently align with. The brand idea then gives creative minds a clear direction of where and where not to go.
So, if you’re up for a challenge, take a bit of time to really get to know who your brand is.
Instead of just defining its customer value proposition, preparing some comms and throwing a bucket of cash at your channels, try getting up close and personal.
Have a deep and meaningful. Don’t just dig and probe, have a stretch and a laugh. Play with the abstract and the absurd. Tease out truths. Have it be okay that your brand may not be market leader next sales quarter. Above all, be more than just your brand’s custodian.