There’s an old joke among farmers that ‘a brand, is a cow’s only return address.’ Considered properly, the same is true about a brand and the business associated with it. I write and speak a lot about brands because they are the most important factor of the success or failure of a business, but also the most misunderstood and incorrectly defined.
Despite already being titled a ‘brand specialist,’ I remember the moment when it became clear to me exactly what is a brand. The word ‘holistic’ was getting bantered around a lot in regards to taking a ‘holistic approach’ to brand development, but having only associated ‘holistic’ with health, I first had to understand what it meant when applied to brand development. Holistic means dealing with wholes and complete systems rather than with parts.’ As it pertains to our health, it is true that caring for one component of our system does not mean we are caring for all the components in our system. (Think about the ‘muscle-head’ with the huge upper body and toothpick legs. His endless bench pressing isn’t doing anything for his calf muscles.) However, if our lungs are healthy, than our ability to be physically fit is enhanced and therefore our muscles are strengthened which allows us to run and in return makes our lungs healthier and our muscles stronger and so forth. Around and around we go. Reflexology and pressure point massage are indicators of our physical connectedness.
This revelation made it suddenly clear that just as we need to nurture our entire body for the sake of our entire self in order to achieve complete health and not just portions or pieces of our self, as that will result in breakdowns in function and form, the same is true for nurturing an entire business and developing a complete brand. Just as our body is fully connected to itself or as the song goes ‘the thighbone is connected to the shinbone and the shinbone is connected to the ankle bone…’ every aspect of our business is connected and we can sing ‘the price point is connected to the product and the product is connected to the customer service and the customer service is connected to the sale….’ The point being, that brand is everything. A company’s brand is everything from the itsy-bitsy pieces to the big, bold basics. IT IS EVERYTHING! To discount one thing is to discount everything. To improve one thing demands that everything improves.
However, believe it or not, this is not recognized, understood or even considered by most business people including high-level executives and more discouraging, people who claim to be ‘branding’ professional. It’s like an exterminator who doesn’t recognize a bug.
I cringe when I hear someone claim to ‘do branding,’ but who are only responsible for a portion. Designers and marketers are especially quick to make the claim. Recent interaction with many marketing professionals has me convinced that very few people understand the dynamics of the complete brand process.
Part of the confusion stems from design components such as signs, logos and websites being called ‘brands.’ It is common to see a logo or hear a slogan being referred to as the brand. Most people refer to the Nike ‘swoosh’ as the brand, but it’s not. It’s the Nike logo. The brand is everything we have come to know and associate with Nike. Insert Michael Jordan or insert Tiger Woods and consider how they have effected the brand.
In fact, most design agencies will promote themselves as brand creators and this is not possible. The only entity that can fully create a brand is the business itself. We all ‘do branding.’ Design is a visual component of a brand and part of the brand process, but it is not the brand. A business can have the most beautiful sign and creative logo, but if the product or customer service fails so does the brand. This is what is meant by a holistic approach to brand development, but also, in my opinion, the only approach that will succeed. Otherwise, we get a distorted brand that doesn’t make sense. If a business fails should we blame the sign or logo? Will the designer take the heat for the failure? It would seem appropriate under common perception, but after the sign is in place and the collateral has been delivered, the agency has been paid does it make sense that they should be responsible for what the business does next? No. They provide only the visual identity. They are a link in the preverbal chain, but not the chain. Similarly, although important to the process, a prep cook isn’t the reason for a five star restaurant and the sax player isn’t the Boston Pops, but rather a component of the big picture. Played right and in tune, the sax makes the orchestra whole, but a squeaky sax will negatively impact the orchestra’s harmony and thus, the brand.
Another common mistake is for marketing people to be fully accountable for a company’s brand. Although, this person or department should be closely tied to the engineering of the brand, they are also not solely responsible for its creation. Marketing professionals range from those calls that interrupt your dinner to sell you insurance to someone who will stamp a logo on the moon. Marketers typically deliver marketing and promotional messages, but brand messages are delivered by everyone associated with the business starting from the first step in the process and follows through to the consumer’s experience. The inability to understand this and therefore, implement proper brand management is ultimately the cause for failure in any business.
When there is a lack of seamlessness of the brand message, dissention on many levels is the result. It is this dissention that creates the breakdown that leads to failure. If one brand message is not being communicated to each person involved with the business and ultimately to the consumer, it creates confusion for everyone. This results in an identity crisis within the brand and therefore the brand becomes weak. Five people asked to draw a picture with clear instructions on the topic; colors, size and frame will still produce five different images. The game ‘telephone’ proves this theory in messaging. The same is true for the vision and messaging of a business brand.
There are four basic stages of the brand process; Brand Creation; Brand Development; Brand Execution and Brand Evolution. These stages threaded together bring life and longevity to the brand. It is effective Brand Management that ensures all things are created, developed, implemented and evolves in perfect harmony and form. Brand Managers are the company quarterback, orchestra conductor, head chef, boss, chief, general or any other person who has the role of overseeing all aspects of the brand process. Knowing that it takes a holistic approach to create a complete brand will lead you to success.