Lucy Gillman, junior copywriter at B2B Marketing, spoke with Brand Symphony Marketing’s CEO, Jill Pringle on all things brand: how your brand identity should travel through your organisation, the key challenges facing marketing and the importance of keeping your brand fresh.
LG: To start out, how do you define brand identity?
A brand’s identity is what people perceive about your company from everything they see, hear and experience. It’s really about your DNA, who you are at the core and making sure that, above all else, shines through in all you do.
Brand identity is built up from a myriad of different elements which you can use to intentionally shape and influence what people might perceive. But you must always remember that you can’t fully control it.
LG: Why is it so important to have the brand flow throughout the entire company, i.e not just from the marketing department?
Well, your customers, employees or shareholders don’t just deal with your marketing team! Their first experience of your brand might be something that your marketing team created (they see your logo on the side of a building, an email, or some slides presented at an event) but it’s what else they experience, from other departments in your organisation, that will influence their perceptions of who you really are.
Brand identity should be a bit like a symphony. All the different parts of the orchestra have a different part to play, but the overall sound is orchestrated to be played together. Good marketers – especially in B2B or service-led businesses – will spend as much time marketing internally as they do externally. They orchestrate the brand through the business and help other departments figure out how that identity can be conveyed in their own role.
LG: Who often makes the decision of what your brand is and how to convey that with the rest of your organisation? Does this start with marketing, from the very top of the chain (i.e CEO) or something else?
All too often identity is defined by marketing, and then that’s where it stays! It becomes a logo, font and colour-policing exercise. Or, equally unsuccessfully, an identity is imposed by a CEO. Your CEO is an important stakeholder – they are often the personification of your public brand identity. Choosing a brand identity that conflicts with their style is a real recipe for disaster. But equally, they alone are not the brand.
Whenever I’ve worked on brand identity projects, I’ve always got a 360 view of how the business is really perceived and any dissonance in those perceptions. How do customers perceive you? Prospects? Competitors? Employees from your CEO and your receptionist? Are they all experiencing the same brand, and if not, why not? I do this by talking to them, not via a survey.
Practically I work very closely with the senior leadership team and especially the CEO, head of sales and head of HR. And it always starts with showing them the outside-in view I’ve collected, and asking, “is that what we want people to perceive?” and “what is it we’re doing that leads them to see us like that?” That way they buy into the work that’s necessary to change how we influence that perception; it starts the process of alignment.
LG: What are some of the common hurdles you face when trying to make your brand present throughout the whole organisation? How can marketers remedy that?
The common hurdle is often relayed as getting “buy-in” but I think what’s really behind that is time and practicality. Marketers can be guilty of telling other departments what they have to do, rather than listening to what would help (or hinder them) in their role. As a marketer you have to understand what the different teams in your organisation actually do, day-to-day, and therefore the impact of what you’re asking them to do.
If you’re changing your brand identity, does that mean that someone already working overtime in a customer operations team now has to re-work 85 different word documents, change all the voicemail messages, adapt the customer service scripts etc? If you engage people from these teams early on – sit by them and see what they do – you can foresee the hurdles they might have and actually help them to help you!
LG: During the move to, effectively, an all-digital world, how has this impacted conveying your brand? Has it made it easier for you to get a uniformed message across, or is it harder than ever with so many different touchpoints?
A bit of both. The fact that people use cloud-based templates or that the online customer experience is programmed, both give marketers an opportunity to influence those digital touchpoints directly. But there are also many more channels with many differing formats to consider these days, and the perception that it’s all-digital means that the need to involve and engage employees is even more overlooked.
Social media is an interesting example: employees can be great advocates for your brand and amplify your message. 20 diverse employees in differing roles all commenting on your new product, a local initiative, or a client win is great…. but only if they know and believe they are part of the identity you want to convey and so actually convey it naturally, in their own words. If they don’t believe they have a part to play in your brand identity then they will either stay silent, say nothing meaningful at all or worse, convey something really contrary to what you want.
LG: To expand a bit more on the above question, if you’re a global organisation, how do you build a brand that is recognisable worldwide, while still taking into account regional considerations/nuances?
The core value proposition behind your brand should be the same worldwide. As should the core beliefs and values. Some things can be the same worldwide (a logo being an easy example) but even things like colours can get very different reactions in different countries. McDonalds is a good example – red and yellow and the golden arches are consistent global brand marks – but the colours and fit-out of their outlets in the US vs. UK are very different. The same values are conveyed differently to match the perceptions each local territory takes from such elements.
LG: How can marketers keep their brand fresh and relevant, whilst not losing their brand recognition and value?
I love Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” – it’s a real desert island book for me because the central premise is so simple: “be true to your own value proposition with all of your decisions”. Marketers need to keep their value proposition central – be true to the real DNA and core message – and just change the way that proposition is expressed over time.
As you probably gathered, I’m a musician, so I’d ask you to think about it like a piece of music – however your song develops, it keeps coming back to the central theme or chorus. It gets cover versions, it might get a new tempo, be played by synth not an orchestra, have a rap section in the middle, but it is still the same piece of music which always starts and ends with the same notes, reinforced over and over.
If you want to hear more from Jill, check out her bestselling book
The Brand Symphony
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