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?