A few years ago, I received a call from a nice lady who was inquiring about our economic development marketing communications services. She’d heard that Brand Acceleration was “the best” (her kind words) in the industry. “We don’t need a brand,” she said, “We just got a new one. What we need is someone to help take our message to market.” Huh?
Such comments never cease to amaze me. “We don’t need a brand. We just got a new one.” It was apparent that she had no idea what “brand” is.
Whether a community or company, it’s very important to not only understand the definition of “brand,” but to know what your brand represents. To be clear, “brand” represents the feelings, thoughts and emotions that people experience when they think of your community or company. Simply put, your brand is your reputation.
But, here’s the twist. Your brand is not defined by you! It’s defined by others. How you, as president, mayor, marketing director or economic developer, define your brand is only one small part of the equation.
What does your brand represent?
About ten years ago, I was an account director at another advertising agency. One of my clients was a global manufacturer of industrial parts that were used by the automotive and consumer electronics industries. While the company made great products, the leadership just couldn’t overcome their own huge egos and accept the fact that their brand was defined by the marketplace.
In our early discussions, they told me all about how wonderful they and their products were. Terms like “revolutionary,” next generation,” and “cutting edge” rolled easily off their tongues. But, when I asked how their customers and prospects would define them, they looked at me as if I were speaking another language. I was. Not knowing how to answer this question, the begrudgingly agreed to brand research that, in their minds, would confirm their beliefs.
We launched a team of people to conduct brand interviews with their staff, prospects, customers and industry leaders worldwide. What we discovered shocked them. Their brand was virtually nonexistent. You know that sound you hear when you let the air out of a balloon? I swear I heard that same sound as their massive egos deflated.
How did they respond to this vital information? They denied the validity of the research, of course. The president of the company swore at me, challenged the credibility of the agency and basically said we were incompetent. We settled the debate by offering to conduct a second round or research – a series of telephone interviews to either confirm or discredit the earlier findings. If the finding were the same, the client would pay for the entire research effort. If not, they would owe us nothing. Do you want to guess how it turned out?
What does your brand really represent?
For many, the fact is that they have a very weak or non-existent brand. This is especially true of cities and counties. Even though they may be locally known for their long history in such industries as agriculture, steel making, etc., when you travel more than a hundred miles away, nobody knows them.
Lack of brand is not always bad, though. The good news is that you may have a blank canvas, allowing you to create your own brand position, within reason. You certainly can’t try to position yourself as something you’re not. If your staff, stakeholders or residents won’t buy into the effort, it will never work. It has to be believable. If your city is best known for the dark, dingy, nasty, abandoned factory at the edge of town, it’s kind of hard to convince prospective residents and employers that it is a center of a contemporary lifestyle and high-tech industry.
Where do you start?
For us, we prefer to have a clear understanding of the current brand position. Through brand research or even a few basic interviews, we strive to gather information about a company or community’s brand from its key audiences. Utilizing a well-defined set of exercises, we conduct on-line or face-to-face interviews to identify common beliefs. With this information, we can craft a message strategy that we know will be believable, powerful and effective. By the way, we never use focus groups. Want to know why? Send me an e-mail or give me a call.
Live the brand
If you really want to be known as the best, the place to begin is with the daily activities of every person on your team, from the leadership to the person on the factory floor. Everyone must live the brand, striving to be the best. A new logo won’t do it. I don’t care how beautiful your logo is, if the person who answers the phone is rude or unintelligible, that is your brand. You know what they say about first impressions.
My challenge to you is to grow a powerful brand by committing to brand excellence. From clean, beautiful entryways at the edge of town to the cheerleading company owner, always strive to be the best. If you’ll do that, you’ll make my job a lot easier.
As a marketing communications and public relations firm, we’ll proudly take that message to market.