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.

REALITY CHECK

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.

Jack Cuffari, Jack Cuffari Consulting and Brand Smacks Blog

  • pat fiore

    So Jack, how to we find those companies out there who are smart enough and open enough to take strategic advice and allow us to guide the branding process the right way?
    Is there a list of questions we can offer that when answered will separate the big thinkers from the “just give me a logo” people???
    You and I know no one on either side of the table needs to waste time on trying to convince companies that doing it the right way is the right thing to do.

  • pat fiore

    Insigtful and billiant perspective. Most companies don’t know that culture disfunctionality is pervasive and can distroy the most successful organizations. And, it only takes one person, or a small handful of people to change the culture in either direction.
    Do you find the influencer and engage them first?

  • Cedric Victor

    Yup! Great piece, Jack…a couple of things that come to mind…
    By defining the “value set” for a company’s own culture more thoroughly, it becomes more likely that other like-minded individuals or organizations will be naturally attracted into the fold. By this I refer to both employees and clients. This helps to ensure the longevity of that company in the marketplace.
    And in an environment where so much intra-company information is exchanged freely and casually on social networking platforms, actual values become all the more transparent, like it or not. So for any company, a nicely hard-wired “authenticity” becomes currency, partly because it is so hard to find… and yet so integral in putting out a message out there that considers a client’s process, strategy and culture more thoroughly. Also makes the selection process between client and agency much clearer.

  • Jack Cuffari

    Pat:
    1) The initial dialogue needs to immediately transcend “marketing” and get to the big picture (I know you know this): marketplace dynamics, projected direction, inconsistencies seen from the C-suite regarding what’s happening in the trenches, emergent technologies, pipeline realities, etc.
    A huge part of that initial exploration is the “health” status of internal congruence – from the top floor to the trenches and the external support structure that includes distribution networks, vendors, affiliates and partnerships.
    If the conversation keeps getting sent back to what color the logo should be and where the picture of the factory/owner/founder should go, you’re in the wrong arena, and should adjust your thinking and expectations accordingly.
    2) Going in you HAVE to know where the power lies, and that includes negative energy pods. Certain corners may have to be neutralized, but will ultimately have to be on board as well. Most importantly, the positive, visionaries have to be found and turned into champions of the process form the get-go. Capitalizing on their enthusiasm and forward-thinking attitudes is the secret to successfully propelling the process of building internal congruence.

  • Jack Cuffari

    Cedric: I knew we should have had more of these kind of conversations! Establishing what you call a “value set” is indeed a smart and authentic way to build congruence by pre-qualifying the right kind of people for the culture. And yeah – transparency is there whether we like it or not! Being authentic – warts and all – is still much more effective than building a higher-valued facade that won’t stand up to the scrutiny that is definitely in store from today’s wired and clever consumers.

  • Gil Cuffari

    More to Pat’s point regarding companies not knowing (or being willing to acknowledge..) cultural dysfuntionality, from experience working at a half-dozen remarkably disparate companies, that all too often, there is a desired culture, and an underlying layer of influence-makers (sometimes including one or more members of senior management) who create the reality of life within the walls of the firm. I’m reminded of the theory of masques worn by many of us, the “face we present at work” vs the “real you”. With this in mind, it’s important to enable a client company to discern the face it wishes to present to the marketplace, and to enable it to discover the keystones or branding icons which provide the most immediate and recognizable connection with the client on a root level. I’m thinking of companies like Subaru (who sell to the “trail cup” outdoorsy folks), Volvo (with their well honed safety message), and Toyota’s Prius (whose design and features fairly screams “high-tech friend of the environment”). The challenge would appear to be being able to idenntify those prime elements in the branding identity image which resonate immediately and strongly with those in the target market. Or, as Volvo managed to do, create an aura about the product which invites participation..
    Thanks Jack – good thoughts !
    Gil

  • Stephen, excellent piece that articulates the value of those tenets: vision, language, goals, connections, consistency‚Äîin relation to culture, mission, needs, opportunities/ uvp.
    Logo & tagline indeed. Relevancy, authenticity, transparency, value, and integrity are the stuff that sustainable brands are made of. The superficial aspects (visual identity, messaging platforms, etc.) all need to be validated by the aforementioned tenets. Short term makeovers will not carry the brand very far.
    More unfortunately is that this shortsightedness is not only symptomatic of a down economy as the article suggests. Even in good times, the .25% monthly marketing dashboard upticks get more attention than the idea of core transformational change in an organization‚Äîwhich would lead to far greater rewards. Watch the Marketing VP eyes glaze over when talking about brand. They don’t get it, and they don’t usually want to get it.
    Anyone… How does your agency successfully drive these core brand values & tenets to client?

  • Jack Cuffari

    Russell: This is why if at all possible a consultative approach that enters the picture well above the VP level is best. That’s because the C suite gets it – it’s not just about marketing: the brand is an asset that has to be managed horizontally throughout the organization, not just siloed in marketing.
    That’s how to build equity in the brand. And let’s not forget to remind our audiences that brand equity – something that cannot be touched by human hands – is on the balance sheet of firms in many global financials. I often point out that Coca-Cola’s brand name is worth tens of billions of dollars. And there’s a great quote from a former CEO of Quaker Oats about his brand name – something like “I’ll give you the products, the factories, the trucks, everything – but I’ll keep the brand name.”
    It’s a huge mistake to assume that the VP of Marketing knows what branding is all about – even if he’s a B-school grad. Eyes glazing over? Its’ our job the smack the table and holler “HEY! This is your bread and butter we’re talking about here – where you’re going to connect with the consumer – and the better we do this, the longer the relationship with that consumer will last and the more REVENUE the brand is going to generate. WAKE UP!”
    Service is giving ’em what they want. Solutions are giving them what they need.

  • Jack starts his article by saying:”It‚Äôs a dilemma: the economy is in the toilet, panic sets in, and long‚Äìrange planning gives way to short-term thinking. ”
    That assumption is incorrect.
    Americans ALWAYS think and thought short term.
    Short term is the main focus in business schools, it is the culture of most corporations, and it is the expected norm on Wall Street.
    It is now reflected in politics too.
    Obama is expected to finish everything he discussed in the election campaign, during his first year in office.
    We never gave way of long term planning, we simply never had it.
    When it comes to branding, external branding is manifested only in a new logo,or new ad blitz, and internal branding is completely neglected.

  • After going through this piece, i would say that no doubt forebranding is difficult to accomplish but it is the foundation upon which the entire organization will be built. This is the picture of the organization that the customers will see and hence this will be the reason people put their trust and money with any organization.
    If not in place accurately, this can lead to a brand not being able to withstand the test of time. Forebranding helps in ensuring that each individual employee buys into the vision of the brand. Employees serve the purpose of boundary spanners who are interacting with various outsiders who may be potential customers. Forebranding can initaite a strong wave of WOM marketing which leads to creating a solid brand image. This can not achieved on its own by external branding only.
    We all know that Brands are built through a combination of various elements which not only include the external branding initiatives and product / service experience. It entails the corporate culture, the treatment towards employees i.e the HR Policies as well as how the organization as a whole conducts itself in terms of business ethics and practices.
    In a nutshell all the above fall into the domain of branding, If the Management – CEO and MD understand this aspect.
    The trick for consultants is to identify successful case studies of Forebranding, next step should be to identify the decision makers or those who have a strong say in the matter and influence them with actual cases in point rather than just convince them. The idea here is to show them how dreadful it can be if proper forebranding is not acheived initially. different ways that it can negatively impact the organziations strength – despite great products and services.

  • We believe passionately that brands should be grown from the inside out and, like many others, we naturally refer to this as ‘Inside-out’ branding. I’m guessing “Forebranding” is your term for the same thing and agree with everything you have said… except in my mind the name you have given this process suggests that it is something which needs to be done before the brand can be created, but isn’t corporate brand best defined while understanding/creating the culture for the organisation. Some may ask; “which comes first, image or culture?” We would reply to say they both need to be realised equally as a direct response to a clear compelling brand strategy, however it is always best to first engage the internal audience (no matter how large or small) in all brand development activities.

  • jack cuffari

    Mark: Thanks for weighing in. One of the wonderful things about being a sole practitioner consultant is that I create and define my own models! The “chicken or egg” conundrum of image and culture is best clarified by understanding that culture is always in play and always exists – at every cycle of a brand’s existence. The perception of that brand and its culture is also always alive – but if the brand stewards are smart enough to minimize communication until a coherent and resonant brand image is forged, and the internal branding work is complete, managing the perception of the brand will be optimized and brand equity will be best served.

  • You’re on the right track. Bill Neal and I wrote about this extensively in ‘Value Creation: The Power of Brand Equity.’ We show that most current brand valuation approaches are subjective beauty contests.
    We also show a market-based way to determine overall brand value and break out the key components: the bundle of tangible performance based attributes, the bundle of intangible emotional-based elements (Brand Equity), and the price at which users are willing to purchase those bundles. Shown as BV = TA + BE -P.
    The brand value equation is highly diagnostic, and once you’ve measured the weightings of the attributes that make up each bundle, and the value (utility) buyers’ assign to each, you then have insight into how to max out your brand value within your competitive set. You can use this information in simulators to play ‘what if’ games, and then test the learnings.