It’s a dilemma: the economy is in the toilet, panic sets in, and long–range planning gives way to short-term thinking. It’s completely rational and logical, of course, and that just makes it worse. Now managers who should really know better are merely looking to the end of the quarter – or next quarter at best – and holding their breath instead of keeping their eyes on the big picture. Truth is no one upstairs wants them to look at the big picture right now – they just want company in their crowded Chicken Little suites.
Despite the vagaries of economic conditions new brands will always require sturdy foundations of rigorous, disciplined construction, and that takes time and money. To develop and launch a healthy, connective and authentic brand considerable groundwork must be done in advance; what any branding expert worth their salt considers due diligence. I call it Forebranding™ – all the work that is done before that brand’s identity is manifested in visual and verbal identity.
A brand can be dumped into the marketplace with a casually developed visual and verbal identity wrapped around it. But if that identity isn’t based upon a relevant, authentic personality and truly reflective of the corporate culture behind it, consumers will ultimately smell a phony and not connect or remain connected.
WHY FOCUS ON CULTURE?
Consumers today are so highly and thoroughly connected and informed that a brand identity that doesn’t: (a) authentically reflect the values of the culture behind it, and (b) respond to consumer’s perceived needs and emotional drivers will not build lasting, long-term (i.e. profitable) relationships with its target audience. In other words, without investing in the work to determine those crucial elements, branding efforts are merely penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Think of it this way: THE BRAND expresses THE CULTURE which expresses THE MISSION which expresses THE VISION which addresses THE NEEDS of a target audience or THE OPPORTUNITIES of the marketplace.
That means there needs to be a considerable effort to achieve Internal Congruence. And that means making sure that your organization’s culture is coherent and clear before communication and brand strategies are developed. Done properly, this results in that elusive and rare creature, successful internal branding.
WHY IS THIS VALUABLE?
This is of tremendous value because internal branding reflects a congruent culture, which in turn reflects a healthy, authentic brand, and healthy brands communicate more potently and more efficiently.
Since every organization has a unique, definite culture, it makes good sense to see what it would take to minimize the lack of congruence in a culture and then develop internal brand identity and messaging. At the very least, understanding and acknowledging the ways in which a culture is dysfunctional allows for compensation and honesty in communication and brand messaging.
It could be said that enduring brand/audience relationships begin with internal communications based in a healthy brand culture. Besides, doing Forebranding work helps assure that from the board to the trenches, everyone has a clear view and understanding of the brand’s vision and mission:
Everyone experiences the vision.
Everyone utilizes the same language.
Everyone has the same clear goals.
Every person is engaged and connected.
All messaging becomes consistent.
Imagine how effective and powerful brand messaging can be when it is founded on the two true pillars of sound branding: A Clear & Authentic Identity, and A Specific & Unique Point of Differentiation, and comes in loud and clear from a position of coherent internal branding.
I know that plenty of my colleagues are going to say what they’ve been saying to me for about a year now – “This is too esoteric. Just give ‘em their logo and a tagline, be happy for the work and be done with it.”
And in all honesty, most marketers don’t want to be bothered with vision and mission work, having suffered through ineffective and laborious versions of the process. Often they’d rather not have anyone worrying about optimizing opportunity for the long term when they can launch and make money needed today by winging it. A rare enlightened marketer may see the benefits of Internal Congruence clearly enough to invest in the process. I’ve found that the general reality lies somewhere in the middle. I’ve painted what I consider to be a perfect scenario. But, as Winston Churchill said “If you want ‘perfection’ you must spell it ‘paralysis’.”
My advice: as you enter the branding process, see how much of this early, foundational internal work you can include. You will undoubtedly have to compromise, but the more you accomplish, the stronger and more sturdy the brand identity will be and the more likely chance your brand will have to build durable relationships with consumers. And here’s a side benefit: because Forebranding results in more efficient messaging and a greater degree of clarity, you will have protected the client’s investment of resources along the way.