Branding is not a new concept. It’s a mature discipline practiced by creative agencies and strategy consultants right around the world.
Despite this pervasiveness, we still sit at the odd table with smart capable people who evidently see the need, but need to inform us that ‘the boss hates the word ‘brand’, so don’t use it’.
Often this is in a not-for-profit or government organisation, in which leaders associate branding with FMCG product offerings from companies that saturate our urban and digital environments with their logos and taglines.
However, it can also happen in a private business, where leadership has a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality’, and branding is seen as the livery not the experience. A cost not an investment. And, something that is static, not responsive to the rapidly changing context in which an organisation’s employees and customers are comparing options and sometimes, making life-changing decisions.
We empathise. We really do. Our job is to help internal champions in organisations that are doing important work to define the value and get the project up. So, here are some key points to make when having that meeting.
It’s about identity.
We can all relate to our personal situation. Ask yourself how you perceive yourself, and how would you like others to perceive you? Consider how a choice of clothes, car, employer, and home address are all expressions of your identity: who you are, and how you want others to see you.
Identity also decides the tribes we run with. The different communities we inhabit have a distinct identity, shaped by their purpose, activities, and people. By joining these tribes, we take on their identity by association. We feel belonging and gain a platform for self-expression while the community grows and strengthens.
And that’s why identity (‘brand’) is important for an organisation seeking to connect with, and grow, its audience. Whether they are employees, customers, service users, or members of the public to reach with a rallying cry, policy or program that will benefit them.
A strategic approach to identity means taking control of how you are perceived rather than letting public opinion or competitor marketing decide it for you. People fill any information and communication vacuum with half the story, baseless opinions, or, at worst, conspiracy theories hatched in a dark corner of the internet emerging as mainstream.
It’s also about experience.
An identity is a concept you shape before the mirror, informed by all the feedback you have sensed or had from those that matter to you. It becomes a lived experience when you intentionally express who you are and what you stand for in the company of others.
Brand experience is what people think and feel when at the meeting table, in your foyer, on your website or when they see your vehicle cruise by. In most organisations, the primary expressions of the brand are:
- employee and customer behaviour;
- physical experience in an owned or public place; and
- digital experience via a web or mobile app, or social media channel.
In all cases, the experience should humanise the interaction, using a tone of voice, imagery, video content and interactions that evoke the identity. You should feel you know this organisation via the consistency of experience every time you are in its presence.
Of course, the experience also needs to influence. If someone is looking for a disability worker, they should feel safe interacting with the brand and confident navigating the process to find the right match. If it’s a car brand people are seeking, the smell, sound and attitude of the salesperson should all say, this is the right choice for you – this car is you.
And, it shouldn’t feel like any other experience that can be gained elsewhere.
In the age of user and customer experience design we have become highly technical about creating a journey for the people we want to attract and engage. What we commonly see is a narrowing focus on technical considerations such as navigation, content hierarchies and conversion points. The brand should be present as a feeling or a clear signal at each point in experience design. It is the welcoming, reaffirming backdrop to the stage the designer is working on.
Branding has a value that can be measured
Brand Finance analyses over 3500 companies, releasing its valuation leader board reports and sector summaries every year. In 2022, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain, Woolworths, maintained its spot as the most valuable brand in Australia for the third consecutive year. The value of its brand: AU$13.7 billion. That’s the value of its brand only, and as a component of overall company worth.
But what does that mean, ‘brand value’? Brand Finance has its algorithm, but any company can assess the value of its brand by asking its employees and customers, understanding their behaviour and benchmarking against valuations of similar companies.
- The reduced cost of finding, and increased productivity or growth from keeping, the best and most committed talent.
- Growth from customer acquisition, and reductions in marketing spend from customer loyalty and advocacy.
- Growing vertically and laterally as loyal customers and new customers trust the company to innovate and pivot.
- The intangible financial value, recorded on the balance sheet, used to attract the investors and partners so important to growth.
- Optimisation of program or policy implementation investment as target audiences share, support, and advocate for the organisation and its social mission.
In summary, if you were to ask, ‘how much will it cost us to succeed?’, and you look at the money you have in your hand, you’ll know that being known, trusted, and (yes!) loved makes that job much more rewarding, cost efficient and achievable.
But we know brands aren’t just valued by accountants.
They are valued by people for reasons that have nothing to do with money. So, brand value needs to evolve to record how deeply people connect with brands based on the stands they take on issues, and the material difference they make to people and planet.
Because, in the complex world of 2022, a fully formed identity needs to be relevant and, when expressed, it needs to feel genuine and authentic.
Experience speaks a lot louder than words.