Random Acts Of Branding

 Random Acts of Branding

What happens if everyone in an organization decides to engage in branding activities without first engaging in an internal conversation? This question prompted an extended conversation with my friend Janet MacLeod, who like me, is a communications professional. This post is the consequence of that discussion and so our joint offering.

So what happens when an organization starts to perform random acts of branding? A commercial in one area, a public relations program somewhere else.  Essentially, a variety of initiatives delivered over time that are unrelated but intended to improve profile or set a tone for services? Even if the initiatives aren’t identical, they would at least get attention right? Raise the profile of the organization and if luck is with the organization, it might even result in a viral moment.  It’s possible that many of those individuals will have a brilliant idea…right.  Who are we kidding? First of all, there aren’t that many geniuses and second, if you have different people doing their own “thing” with a brand, then that probably means that they have no communications experience.  Even a mediocre communicator understands the benefit of being consistent.  A good communicator would say that inconsistencies in branding eventually result in diminishing the brand and yet so many organizations allow their brand to be shuttled about with little regard. Despite what you might think, it isn’t just the little organizations who do this either. Unless you are an organization that sells products like soda or toilet paper, items that live and die based on brand, you may not fully understand the strength and impact of brand.

Too often the description of a corporate brand can sound like little more than jargon to employees. And really, it’s often treated as a descriptive phrase that illustrates what corporate leaders would like employees, clients or customers to think and feel about a company. The thing is, brand is a pretty loaded word. It represents a concept that seems to mean a multitude of things to people and can also mean next to nothing. Brand is color, it’s a logo, it’s a font, it’s how you are perceived, how you deliver service and how your products perform.  It’s the feeling the public gets when your name is mentioned. It’s the choices that people make to use or not use your offering.

Brand is the unique features that distinguish one organization from another – it may be the words used, the procedures you follow and most likely it is a combination of all these things.  Brand becomes the things people see, hear, feel, and touch so that a perception or idea develops about what can (and should) be expected of the organization. The authentic feelings and emotions that are triggered by brand – whether factual or not – become the reality. In effect, the brand is the organization.

Since internal activities drive the brand exhibited and understood outwardly, it is concerning (to say the least) when those activities lack cohesion. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, companies sometimes “run with scissors” and become susceptible to brand breakdown. Change is often the trigger. Whether it comes as a result of shifts in culture, technology, finances, staff turn- over or simply poor strategy, changes that are poorly executed or poorly communicated, can lead to dysfunction and can put a huge dent in what had been a perfectly fine brand.

A living example is BlackBerry. It used to be RIM or Research in Motion. It was Canada’s technology darling. People loved it, trusted it, and expected good things from it. Then it changed. It went into the consumer marketplace (and grew itself accordingly). But soon it went from being the industry leader, to being perceived as the industry follower. In truth, it was still making reliable, secure devices, but because it didn’t do what the iPhone did, it was perceived as being a poorer product. BlackBerry lost momentum. Investors stopped coming, people stopped buying the product. Layoffs ensued.

So although the quality of the actual product had not altered the perception of the product had to the point that the brand was seen as waning.  The changes that impacted BlackBerry happened in the market, yet organizations often inflict negative shifts in perception on themselves by ignoring or poorly attending to their brand. Brand is a powerful device. It needs care and attention and there should be nothing random about it.

What do you think about branding?  Do you have favorite products you buy because of their brand?  Do you have a favorite beer, pop or paper towel? Do you know what your own brand is? 


0 responses to “Random Acts Of Branding

  • I do tend to have brand loyalty particularly when it comes to food, household items and cars. I guess consistency in the product is as necessary as the consistency of branding.

  • Interesting article. I found the timing of this post particularly applicable as the small business I work for is currently re-identifying our corporate brand. Helpful info!

  • jbutler1914 says:
    January 12, 2014 @ 09:50 pm

    The only thing that I am brand loyal to is with tennis shoes. It’s usually Nike or nothing.

  • Debra- Branding your company is the sole important act your company can do. It is the same when you decide to change your logo. I decided to make a logo change. The one thing that I stressed to the designer is that I wanted the new logo to have some of the same colors as the new one. He agreed. It worked seamlessly.

    Many companies think it is a good idea to shorten their to initials. KFC was able to do that with no problem, but most businesses flop at this.Poor branding can make or break you.

    Wishing you a Happy New Year

    • I agree Arleen. I can see why people take or leave personal branding, but if you have a business, there are no options. You define yourself in the market or the market will define you, or worst still, the market will ignore you.

  • Like countless others, I gravitate toward Apple when it comes to iPhones and iPads, but I still use a PC. Probably because that’s what I was raised on in high school, plus hubby kinda didn’t want to to try a Mac since he works for the competition. I do have a few brands I stand behind such as Merrell running and hiking shoes. I’ve worn them for years and know they are sturdy and comfortable. I will just die if they ever stop being manufactured. I have all sorts of food brands I’m partial to because a lot of stuff made by some folks really is 20x better in taste and quality… A recent letdown was buying Kirkland paper towels. It was the first Costco product that I would say totally sucks. Nothing like wiping one’s face while eating with a piece or material akin to low grade sand paper. As for my brand, I keep trying to nail that one down. I just can’t seem to get the stuff inside my head to come together to be presented in the right package. I think I’m pretty close with my new tagline, “Making meaning in the digital age.” If only I could be happy just writing stories… Maybe I’m just doomed to the ability to develop great lesson plans. Who knows? Great post topic.

  • I’m not usually brand loyal, but I’m starting to realize how important branding is. When people talk about “branding themselves” I always thought that was a little pretentious. Now I’m forced to eat my words as I’m trying to do just that for my blog!

    • Meredith I think we’ve always been inclined to think about how we are perceived by others. Whether we worried about our personas, our personal style or whether we had character, we worried. The difference today is that we can all advertise and that brings a completely different dimension to the discussion. I wonder if our children’s children will have personal brands or whether they will become recluses as a result of all the exposure.

      • Angela Vink says:
        February 16, 2014 @ 04:43 pm

        Individually, I think we always have had and will continue to have a personal brand. The difference is in referring to it as a brand. It used to simply be your reputation or, more loosely, the adjectives others used to describe you in the aftermath of the question “what’s she like?” I do not like applying the word/concept of brand to a person. I associate it with a company and/or product, generally – and I don’t think of people as products (although some people are clearly products – but never mind that). It reminds me of how I felt when I would hear people in the music industry speak about some band’s product … um, you mean their music? It’s depersonalizing and I don’t see that as a good thing in such instances.

  • Yes, brand does make the difference. If I was out here in the blogosphere for monitory reasons, I wouldn’t be switching the visual design of my blog as often as I do because I would lose readers.

    I like Cocoa Cola. I know exactly what the cans and bottles look like so I spend very little time finding what soda pop I want to buy. The design tells me that there isn’t quite as much sugar in the drink and the taste isn’t syrupy, which is what I want to avoid.

    • I love that you had a very clear idea of what the Coke design is saying. They are a company the fully understands the power of brand and go to great lengths to engage their customers and protect their brand.

  • Exactly, Debra. Why in this day and age are there still companies that don’t understand that they have to have a strategy for their brand? A normal well meaning employee can easily change the perception of a brand in a detrimental way. There needs to be guidelines for employees using social media so that they all portray the same brand.

    • Catarina it is typically the well meaning employees that do the most damage. You might question the motives of someone who is openly criticizing an organization but when they are earnestly and lovingly misrepresenting it, you just think they are being honest. 🙂

  • Brands are so powerful and yet often taken for granted. I have a logo that was created with a purpose. I had hoped (still do) that it will reflect and represent what I am all about. That said, I am in the process of changing it ever so slightly along with my blog. Where it will end up is anyone’s quess. 🙂

    What branded products do I buy? Hummm … Apple for one. King Arthur flower are the first that comes to mind. 🙂

  • Debra, this is a very timely post, as I’m about to embark on an article about branding. As you can imagine, it’s practically a religion with the car manufacturers. Yet so few people truly understand how deeply it works. And all of us, as individuals, have our own “brand”, whether we like it or not. Some would call it “style”, but those of us in the marketing biz know to call it like it is!

    • Brand loyalty when it comes to cars is hilarious. My husband routinely says, “poor guy” when he drives by someone who has a truck but doesn’t have his truck. 🙂 As to the personal brand I find it often the people with the most distinct brands who think they are brand free.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Debra – brand really IS a super loaded word. I think businesses ignore or poorly attend to their brands simply because they don’t understand it. You cannot really measure brand awareness. Oh, wait – not that you cannot measure it but you cannot give your CEO the numbers as you could give the sales reports, right? See, i know what branding is, i try to not poorly attend to it and still- it’s hard to explain it LOL

    As to your questions – most of the things i buy are out of brand loyalty. I guess i am the dream customer 🙂 It’s not necessarily a famous or a popular brand but once they win my heart, i am theirs for life (or until they ruin their product :D)

    • I am also loyal to certain brands unless they teach me not to be. Some I can tell you exactly why I am loyal, then there are those that I am loyal to for no explicable reason and will stay loyal to unless someone else comes along shows me why I should change.

  • Deb, as always you’re bang on. In terms of Blackberry, it’s a great example. Still a good product but bad perception. One thing though, is the name change. To me that is poor branding. It says that it is a one product company, a blackberry. Before, RIM could stand for innovation in a variety of ways.

  • Debra — The downfall of Blackberry is so sad. They were the pioneers but didn’t keep up. I hope they survive. Some companies do dumb things like changing their name which was so recognizable in the marketplace. In order to instill brand loyalty you need to have a consistent brand promise and deliver on that promise. FedEx is a well-known example and built the company by promising to deliver your package the next day without fail. They’ve kept to that promise — although maybe not in the past week with the mountains of snow and freezing weather we’ve been experiencing in North America!

    • I agree Jeannette. It’s a great product and was a source of Canadian pride, we expect high tech south of the border. 🙂 FedEx is brilliant and I love their logo, it’s one of the most obvious and yet understated word marks I’ve see out there.

  • Messy, cluttered stores do not appeal to me, nor do products or services offered in a haphazard manner. If the message is not delivered in an organized manner, it leads one to think the product or service is also going to be inferior.

    • I hear you. Nothing turns me off faster than a store that seems sloppy or poorly thought out. Target in Canada has watched their brand credentials do a dive as a consequence of a series of bad moves. Their shelves have been empty leading many Canadians who have not visited their American stores to wonder what all the fuss was about. Then during Black Friday they had a security leak that meant thousands of shoppers had their credit card information stolen. Although the leak was limited to Americans, it made Canadians think twice.

  • For the most part we are not brand loyal. But this isn’t set in stone. There are somethings we buy specifically because of the prroduct itself.

    Mayo comes to mind. We prefer mayonaise and not dressing. Helmans is real mayo, Miracle Whip is something else entirely. We don’t always buy Helmans, but it has to state that it is mayonaise for us to consider it.

    I have a brand? Have I been marked? Get it off, get it off it feels icky…

  • Good piece, Debra. It’s a paradox how consistency in our brand and messaging is so important, while at the same time our culture is always churning with change. We (and our organizations and brands) HAVE to change, in order to stay relevant and connected, yet we somehow also have to keep a consistent identity — at the same time that we’re navigating our boat through the turbulent ocean of change, like the picture of the boat in your masthead. Sometimes I find it hard to keep my head above water. But your blog helps me. 🙂

    • Thank you Alison. It’s all about finding the balance. I think change is a necessity too, but it has to be managed, assessed and weighed. While I may change my hairstyle, clothes etc., my values and my personality will remain more or less intact. When and if they do change it will be at a healthy and no doubt gradual pace.

  • This post is spot on. I have encountered, recently, some well intentioned, yet unrestrained branding for a current endeavor. It’s a little maddening and frankly a bit like herding cats when trying to get everyone on the same page with the same message.:) In terms of Blackberry, I have the new Q10 and couldn’t be happier…best device I’ve ever owned. I do get tons of flak from my IPhone friends…mostly everybody, that is. But along with becoming a follower, as you so deftly pointed out, their customer service has suffered probably as a result of the layoffs. In terms of branding, they don’t seem to be getting a message out about what makes them different, unique, and the better alternative to the Iphone. Yep…poor branding, indeed.

    • Isn’t it bizarre how such a solid device has been tainted by perception? I’m still a BlackBerry user myself, so we can be out of style together. I do think the relationship between brand and service is symbiotic. No matter how good the service it will suffer if the brand suffers and often inferior products remain popular well past their due date because the brand is strong.

  • I like your catchy title – interesting take on Random Acts of Kindness and how randomness does not go well with branding. Consistency sure is important with branding. I remember how one client would produce totally different posters each year for a big public event. A PR person recommended keeping almost the same poster each year and just changing a color or two and maybe a bit of the design. In retrospective, the idea seems to have worked well – people see the poster and think, ah, it’s that time of year again, let’s get tickets.

    • Thank you, I had a a good giggle about the title and I also thought it was accurate to say that people think they are doing good when they perform these activities. I like your example about the poster. It’s not about never changing anything but being aware of what you are conveying when you do.

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