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Oct

12

2017

Brand Strategy 101: 7 Essentials for Strong Company Branding

Published by in category Brand Building | Leave a Comment

Let’s say you’ve come to the difficult realization that quite frankly your brand — if you can even call it that — is all over the place. Or perhaps worse, you have a defined brand, but you’re noticing that it just doesn’t seem to mesh with who you really are and what you really do.

Don’t panic.

Before you get all hung up on what shade of green to use for your logo or what tone you’re going to use when engaging with people on Twitter, you need to step back and take a look at the big picture.

What is Brand Strategy?

Brand strategy is a plan that encompasses specific, long-term goals that can be achieved with the evolution of a successful brand — the combined components of your company’s character that make it identifiable.

(We’ll get into that more in a bit.)

A well-defined and executed brand strategy affects all aspects of a business and is directly connected to consumer needs, emotions, and competitive environments.

First, let’s clear up the biggest misconception about brand strategy: Your brand is not your product, your logo, your website, or your name.

In fact, your brand is much more than that — it’s the stuff that feels intangible. But it’s that hard-to-pin-down feeling that separates powerhouse and mediocre brands from each other.

So to help you rein in what many marketers consider more of an art and less of a science, we’ve broken down seven essential components of a comprehensive brand strategy that will help keep your company around for ages.

7 Components for a Comprehensive Branding Strategy

1) Purpose

“Every brand makes a promise. But in a marketplace in which consumer confidence is low and budgetary vigilance is high, it’s not just making a promise that separates one brand from another, but having a defining purpose,” explains Allen Adamson, chairman of the North America region of brand consulting and design firm Landor Associates.

While understanding what your business promises is necessary when defining your brand positioning, knowing why you wake up every day and go to work carries more weight. In other words, your purpose is more specific, in that it serves as a differentiator between you and your competitors.

How can you define your business’ purpose? According to Business Strategy Insider, purpose can be viewed in two ways:

  • Functional: This concept focuses on the evaluations of success in terms of immediate and commercial reasons — i.e. the purpose of the business is to make money.
  • Intentional: This concept focuses on success as it relates to the ability to make money and do good in the world.

While making money is important to almost every business, we admire brands that emphasize their willingness to achieve more than just profitability, like IKEA:

Source: IKEA

IKEA’s vision isn’t just to sell furniture, but rather, to “create a better everyday life.” This approach is appealing to potential customers, as it demonstrates their commitment to providing value beyond the point of sale.

When defining your business’ purpose, keep this example in mind. While making money is a priority, operating under that notion alone does little to set your brand apart from others in your industry.

Our advice? Dig a little deeper. If you need inspiration, check out the brands you admire, and see how they frame their mission and vision statements.

2) Consistency

The key to consistency is to avoid talking about things that don’t relate to or enhance your brand. Added a new photo to your business’ Facebook Page? What does it mean for your company? Does it align with your message, or was it just something funny that would, quite frankly, confuse your audience?

In an effort to give your brand a platform to stand on, you need to be sure that all of your messaging is cohesive. Ultimately, consistency contributes to brand recognition, which fuels customer loyalty. (No pressure, right?)

To see a great example of consistency, let’s look at Coca-Cola. As a result of its commitment to consistency, every element of the brand’s marketing works harmoniously together. This has helped it become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Even on the surface of its social media accounts, for example, the seamlessness of its brand is very apparent:

To avoid leaving potential customers struggling to put the disconnected pieces of your business together, consider the benefits of creating a style guide. A style guide can encompass everything from the tone of voice you’ll use to the color scheme you’ll employ to the way you’ll position certain products or services.

By taking the time to define and agree upon these considerations, your brand will benefit as a whole.

3) Emotion

Customers aren’t always rational.

How else do you explain the person who paid thousands of dollars more for a Harley rather than buying another cheaper, equally well-made bike? There was an emotional voice in there somewhere, whispering: “Buy a Harley.”

But why?

Harley Davidson uses emotional branding by creating a community around its brand. It began HOG — Harley Owners Group — to connect their customers with their brand (and each other).

Source: HOG

By providing customers with an opportunity to feel like they’re part of a larger group that’s more tight-knit than just a bunch of motorcycle riders, Harley Davidson is able to position themselves as an obvious choice for someone looking to purchase a bike.

Why? People have an innate desire to build relationships. Research from psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary best describes this need in their “belongingness hypothesis,” which states: “People have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior.”

Not to mention, belongingness — the need for love, affection, and being part of groups — falls directly in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which aims to categorize different human needs.

The lesson to be learned? Find a way to connect with your customers on a deeper, more emotional level. Do you give them peace of mind? Make them feel like part of the family? Do you make life easier? Use emotional triggers like these to strengthen your relationship and foster loyalty.

4) Flexibility

In this fast-changing world, marketers must remain flexible to stay relevant. On the plus side, this frees you to be creative with your campaigns.

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, how am I supposed to remain consistent while also being flexible?”

Good question. While consistency aims to set the standard for your brand, flexibility enables you to make adjustments that build interest and distinguish your approach from that of your competition.

In other words, “effective identity programs require enough consistency to be identifiable, but enough variation to keep things fresh and human,” explains president of Peopledesign, Kevin Budelmann.

A great example of this type of strategic balance comes from Old Spice. These days, Old Spice is one of the best examples of successful marketing across the board. However, up until recently, wearing Old Spice was pretty much an unspoken requirement for dads everywhere. Today, it’s one of the most popular brands for men of all ages.

The secret? Flexibility.

Aware that it needed to do something to secure its place in the market, Old Spice teamed up with Wieden+Kennedy to position their brand for a new customer base.

Source: Works Design Group

Between new commercials, a new website, new packaging, and new product names, Old Spice managed to attract the attention of a new, younger generation by making strategic enhancements to its already strong brand.

So if your old tactics aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to change. Just because it worked in the past doesn’t mean it’s working now.

Take the opportunity to engage your followers in fresh, new ways. Are there some out-of-the-box partnerships your brand can make? Are there attributes about your product you never highlighted? Use those to connect with new customers and remind your old ones why they love you.

5) Employee Involvement

As we mentioned before, achieving a sense of consistency is important if you wish to build brand recognition. And while a style guide can help you achieve a cohesive digital experience, it’s equally important for your employees to be well versed in the how they should be communicating with customers and representing the brand.

If your brand is playful and bubbly through Twitter engagements, then it wouldn’t make sense if a customer called in and was connected with a grumpy, monotone representative, right?

To avoid this type of mismatched experience, take note of Zappos’ approach.

If you’ve ever been on the line with a customer service representative from Zappos, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, check out this SlideShare which details some of its most inspiring customer support stories.

Zappos is so committed to ensuring that not only its brand, but all brands, remain consistent across digital and human interactions that they’ve dedicated an entire department to the cause called Zappos Insights.

Come join us and learn the Zappos WOW approach to customer service! Learn more about the Zappos School of WOW: https://t.co/g3tU4179q9 pic.twitter.com/eRkpcfYAKD — Zappos Insights (@ZapposInsights)
August 21, 2017

By holding all Zappos employees to its core values
and helping other companies implement the same approach, Zappos has built a strong reputation for solid, helpful, and human customer service.

6) Loyalty

If you already have people that love you, your company, and your brand, don’t just sit there. Reward them for that love.

These customers have gone out their way to write about you, to tell their friends about you, and to act as your brand ambassadors. Cultivating loyalty from these people early on will yield more returning customers — and more profit for your business.

Sometimes, just a thank you is all that’s needed. Other times, it’s better to go above and beyond. Write them a personalized letter. Sent them some special swag. Ask them to write a review, and feature them prominently on your website. (Or all of the above!)

When we reached 15,000 customers here at HubSpot, we wanted to say thank you in a big way, while remaining true to our brand … so we dropped 15,000 orange ping pong balls from our fourth-floor balcony and spelled out thank you in big metallic balloons:

And while it may have seemed a little out of the ordinary to some folks, for those who know our brand, the gesture made perfect sense.

Loyalty is a critical part of every brand strategy, especially if you’re looking to support your sales organization. At the end of the day, highlighting a positive relationship between you and your existing customers sets the tone for what potential customers can expect if they choose to do business with you.

7) Competitive Awareness

Take the competition as a challenge to improve your own strategy and create greater value in your overall brand. You are in the same business and going after the same customers, right? So watch what they do.

Do some of their tactics succeed? Do some fail? Tailor your brand positioning based on their experience to better your company.

A great example of how to improve your brand by learning from your competitors comes from Pizza Hut:

@TheRealElysium You know our vote. ^AB

— Pizza Hut (@pizzahut)
March 20, 2016

When a pizza lover posed this question to his Twitter following, Pizza Hut didn’t miss a beat, and playfully responded in minutes, before Domino’s had a chance to speak up.

If Domino’s is keeping an eye on the competitors, they’ll know to act fast the next time a situation like this arises.

For HubSpot customers, keeping tabs on your competitor’s social mentions is easy using the Social Monitoring App. Check out this article to learn more about how to set up custom social streams.

And while staying in tune with your competitor’s strategies is important if you want to enhance your brand, don’t let them dictate each and every move you make.

Sure, you probably sell a similar product or service as many other companies, but you’re in business because your brand is unique. By harping on every move your competitor makes, you lose that differentiation.

Oct

7

2017

Want to Be a Better Marketer? You Should Be Keeping Up With The Kardashians [Video]

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Sep

14

2017

The 6-Step Brand Build to Grow Your Business on a Budget

In marketing, it seems like the word “brand” is used a lot — the leading brand, off-brand, personal brand … you get the picture. 

But there’s often confusion around its meaning in business. What does it entail? Do I need to hire an expert? Branding is expensive, right?

To that very last point, it doesn’t have to be. As it turns out, there are some pretty creative ways to brand your business without a ton of cash. And while it can require an investment of time, the ROI won’t go unnoticed — in some cases, it can actually help you save money, while also growing your business.

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Building your brand is a crucial part of developing your business. As you’ll see below, it’s the foundation of giving your organization a voice, identity, value, and awareness among consumers. And, thanks to the plentiful number of resources, tools, and platforms available today — a brand build might not be as burdensome (or costly) as you think.

So read on, and see how you can use the following six steps as a guide for your brand build.

Listen to an audio summary of your post:

The 6-Step Brand Build to Grow Your Business on a Budget

1) Know your personas.

It’s no coincidence that 82% of companies with better value propositions also use buyer personas — the semi-fictional “characters” that encompass the qualities of who you’re trying to reach.

The needs, goals, and behavior of your potential customers dictate how you convey your product or service. Understanding those things helps you determine what kind of media your personas are consuming, what motivates them, and where they “live” online. You can see why having that information helps develop a compelling, effective brand — it helps you reach the right people.

Figuring that out doesn’t have to come at a price. A great way to get started is with our free MakeMyPersona tool, which guides you through a series of questions about the ideal person you want to reach. Take your time with it. The questions are meant to get you thinking about how you want to be perceived and by whom — and that shouldn’t be a quick process.

2) Develop an identity and a voice.

Once you’ve identified your buyer personas, your brand can start to take shape. That involves creating a brand identity — the things that make people aware of what your brand is — and its voice, which is the tone you use in any copy or public communication.

As a writer, I’m particularly interested in the voice aspect — but what does that like for you? Figuring that out follows a process not unlike the one that’s used to determine your personas. But instead of answering questions about your target audience, you’re answering questions that are a bit more introspective to your brand. What are its values? What does it represent? How do you want people to talk about you?

Even if you’re not starting from scratch, establishing a strong(er) brand voice can be valuable. Just take the instance of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation — during its recent rebrand, finding its voice was a top priority. The results? Its overall online presence increased by 343%, with website traffic alone seeing a 63% boost.

3) Have a consistent social media presence.

So, we know who your personas are. And now, we know what to say to them — and how to say it. But where are they?

Since you might have a clear picture of the different pieces of your audience, it’s important to figure out where they’re spending the most time, especially on social media. We’ve talked before how effective it is to reach people where they’re already present — that includes their online behavior, too.

We recommend checking out Pew Research Center’s Demographics of Social Media Users, which profiles the users of five major social media platforms — Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Pay attention close attention to the data. Maybe the majority of your personas spend most of their time on one network. While that doesn’t mean you should ignore the others, it does give you an idea of where to dedicate the most resources.

And once you do establish that presence, maintain it. How many times have you gone to a brand’s Facebook Page only to find that nothing has been posted in the past three months? Chances are, it didn’t have a positive impact on your perception.

That can be avoided by diligently planning and scheduling social media posts like you would with any other marketing calendar. Something like our free Social Media Content Calendar can help, and get you thinking about things like the seasonality of what you post. That’s a huge part of staying relevant to your audience — by sharing content that pertains to what they’re likely thinking about at a given time of year.

4) Blog. 

We’ve covered the importance of blogging before, and we really can’t emphasize it enough. It’s a core part of our Inbound Methodology, especially the “attract” stage — the one that turns strangers into visitors to your website.

In fact, blogging might be the most fundamental step of inbound marketing. It helps you reach qualified customers, like your personas, by creating the informative content that matches the information they’re searching for. That’s why it’s so important to make it relevant to this audience — when you’re writing, make sure the content is optimized for those searches.

Believe us — your personas are definitely looking for the information that you’re able to provide — if you write about it. After friends and family, blogs are the third most trusted source of information. Plus, that content will also serve as material to populate your social media networks, and we’ve already covered what a crucial part that plays in branding on a budget.

While blogging is fiscally inexpensive, one of the biggest struggles we hear about is the cost of spending time on it. For that, we reference the joke about a doctor asking his patient, “Would you rather work out one hour per day, or be dead 24 hours per day?” The inbound marketing version of that question would ask, “Would you rather blog for one hour each day, or always have insufficient content to draw in visitors?”

Like planning your social media presence, having an editorial calendar for your blog can be helpful in maintaining consistent timing and fresh content. That’s why we put together a free blog editorial calendar template, complete with instructions and content management tips.

5) Make customer service a priority.

When we hear the name “Zappos,” most of us immediately think, “unparalleled customer service.” The online apparel retailer built this level of service into its core approach to doing business — and into its core values.

Why is that so important? For Zappos, making excellent customer service the cornerstone of its brand actually saved money on marketing and advertising. That’s because it created word-of-mouth among existing and potential customers, which is what we call earned media — the recognition that your brand has earned, not paid for, from people talking about something remarkable you did. (Psst — U.S. businesses, as a whole, lose about $41 billion dollars each year because of bad customer service.)

Whether you’re serving customers or clients, the goal is to create a delightful, sharable experience. And when the client or customer experience is a priority, it shouldn’t cost you much for them to talk about it — remember, your work earned it.

But that revisits the importance of your identity and voice. As you go through these brand-building steps, think about the values that you want to be resonated in those things. Is excellent service one of them? Those values are what shape the brand’s culture, and that influences the voice you project to an audience.

6) Take advantage of co-branding.

I’ll never forget what my colleague, Lisa Toner, told me when I asked her about negotiating co-branding agreements.

“Larger companies may have a large reach,” she said, “but what do they not have?”

When you’re just starting to build a brand, you might not have the reach that Toner’s talking about. You can take the steps to build it, like we’ve described so far, but that takes time. Until then, one way to get your name in front of a broader audience is to partner with a brand that has one.

But don’t just pick any old brand to work with. Make sure it’s one that’s aligned with yours — the partnership has to make sense in the minds of your audience. Here’s what we recommend in seeking a co-brand:

  • Consider your partner’s audience. Would it be interested in your brand? Is it that difficult for you to reach without this partnership? How well does it trust your co-brand? That’s crucial to getting them to listen to you, too — people don’t trust traditional advertisements anymore. So make sure your partner reaches the audience in a way that instills confidence, not doubt.
  • Have something to offer your co-brand. Just like Toner asked, “what do they not have?” The experience should be a win-win-win: for you, your co-brand, and the consumer.
  • Consider selecting a well-known and respected nonprofit as a co-brand. More and more people’s purchasing decisions are based on a brand’s social responsibility — in fact, 85% of millennials say that makes them more willing to recommend a brand.

Get Branding

Building a brand might seem like a huge undertaking, especially when resources are limited. But as we’ve seen, there are plenty of economical ways to not only get started, but to continue the momentum you start with these efforts.

And please, have fun with the process. Of course, there has to be a degree of strategy and logic involved — that’s why we’ve built the tools to help you determine what the different pieces of your brand will be. But it’s a creative exercise, so keep that in mind if you get bogged down in technicalities.

free guide to social and PR branding

  

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Aug

11

2017

How to Build a Remarkable 21st Century Brand

Published by in category Brand Building, Daily | Comments are closed

Economic disruptions produced by the ongoing technological revolution, rising uncertainty in global markets, and crises of complexity generated by social media all make this an exceptionally challenging time for organizations seeking to create or refine their brand identities.

Explored in what follows are critical issues to address in assembling a comprehensive branding program, based on challenges and opportunities that we at Siegelvision consistently encounter with clients.

The Inside-Out Approach

Henry Ford is often quoted as having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether the words were his or not, they reflect what we call the “outside-in” approach — trusting customers to provide critical insights to help define a brand identity. But relying on customer feedback alone is akin to treating symptoms rather than the underlying illness.

While customers may be able to pinpoint certain problems they would like to see addressed, they rarely have enough information to understand the organization in sufficient detail.

An “inside-out” approach, on the other hand, helps achieve a distinctive and credible branding program by tapping insights that emerge from within the organization itself — a process largely contingent upon leadership support.

Validation research is then conducted, bringing employees and outside audiences together to react to concrete ideas, and helping ensure that the resulting strategy will be clear, compelling, and relevant.

Driving Brand Identity Through a Clearly Defined Purpose

Most organizations spend months devising predictable, and often garbled, mission or vision statements that employees ignore and that fail to guide decision-making in both day-to-day management and big-picture strategic planning.

An effective purpose statement defines your reason for being in business, the calling your organization aims to answer in the marketplace, and the problems you strive to solve.

Moreover, defining a clear and concise purpose statement creates coherence for your employees — coherence about what your company stands for and what inspires its work, beyond just the pursuit of money. Effectively crafted, it should be the driving force behind strategic decisions, investments, and other critical matters.

The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to “help solve the problem” of inner-city poverty. Over the years, it’s become a respected source for intelligent, accessible analyses of economic and social policies. But despite the institute’s admirable aims, its impact was long undermined by a verbose and confusing mission statement, which read:

“The Urban Institute gathers data, conducts research, evaluates programs, offers technical assistance overseas, and educates Americans on social and economic issues — to foster sound public policy and effective government.

The Urban Institute builds knowledge about the nation’s social and fiscal challenges, practicing open-minded, evidence-based research to diagnose problems and figure out which policies and programs work best for whom, and how.”

The Urban Institute certainly does all of those things, but, as we learned during our immersive branding project, they do not comprise the organization’s core purpose. We replaced the institute’s lengthy and impractical mission statement with a powerful three-word purpose statement:

“ELEVATE THE DEBATE.”

The Urban Institute’s cogent new expression of its purpose — its essence — resonated deeply with all stakeholders. Defining the organization’s role in simple, concrete terms provides a strong guide for decision-making and acts as a beacon for employees at every level.

Creating Bold, Action-Driving Positioning

Americans are daily bombarded by vague, generic taglines that masquerade as brand positioning. Such identity imprecision appears everywhere, including among institutions of higher education.

“Fierce Advocates for Justice,” the highly effective positioning that Siegelvision developed for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, provided the touchstone for an aggressive campaign to change the public’s perception of the school as a “cop college” into a view of it as a comprehensive educational institution, one that boasts a liberal arts curriculum coupled with world-class criminal justice courses for undergraduate and graduate students alike.

In a 2012 conversation, Jeremy Travis, the college’s current president, told me that the “Fierce Advocates for Justice” positioning “has allowed every member of our community to see a place for his or her interests in the brand of the college. The language we now use … [reflects] who they are and want to be. When we first put up [signage with our new tagline,] a student told me: ‘That wakes me up when I come to school every morning, to remind myself that I’m here because I’m a fierce advocate for justice.'”

Defining and Implementing Your Brand Voice

We define “brand voice” as the distinctive tone and style of an organization’s communications, which should reflect its personality and positioning and provide coherence for its brand across all communications platforms.

I find that these voices can be fragmented, driven to a large degree by advertising and public relations, direct-response mailings, and the uncoordinated management of financial and internal communications.

In recent years, corporations have strived to unify their diverse communications, but the internet has proven disruptive to such efforts. The production of corporate communications has now gone from being a professional operation to a free-for-all in which everyone, at all levels, communicates internally and externally via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other platforms. Brand voice is becoming increasingly decentralized and social; the most successful organizations understand how to engage audiences and leverage the voices of employees and consumers effectively.

As digital platforms become more sophisticated and audiences grow more distinctly delineated, organizations must keep up by embracing experiential and personal communications that harness opportunities for consumers to engage with them.

Finally, the information immediacy that now so powerfully defines our lives means that messages are spread far and wide very quickly, a fact that underscores the importance of having an organized and unified brand voice.

Our work with The College Board provides valuable insight into the process of developing an effective voice that enhances and reinforces brand messaging. Driven by the College Board’s dynamic purpose statement, “Challenging All Students to Own Their Future,” we defined its voice as:

  • Refreshingly clear
  • Credible
  • Supportive
  • Galvanizing
  • Forward-thinking

Each of these terms was then defined to reflect the College Board’s messaging and public persona. To describe its most distinctive quality — galvanizing — we recommended the following: “We make things happen. We challenge students to persevere and make the most of their education. We rally our member organizations to challenge the status quo and extend the promise of education to all. We are motivating and collaborative, not confrontational.”

Culture Trumps Strategy Every Time

Employees will thrive and become powerful brand ambassadors if their organization’s culture embraces a set of values that resonate deeply and authentically. Building an atmosphere in which this happens depends on what you do, not just on what you say.

Wells Fargo, today a textbook case of poor corporate culture, communicates a vision and values that are shockingly discordant with its recent behavior. Even now, in the wake of its management scandals, Wells Fargo continues to speak of “integrity,” “principled performance,” and a tireless commitment to valuing “what’s right for our customers in everything we do.”

In an extensive 2015 document, “The Vision and Values of Wells Fargo,” CEO John Stumpf (who was fired the following year) defined the bank’s vision as being “about building lifelong relationships one customer at a time,” with the promise to “never put the stagecoach ahead of the horses.” What comedy.

A positive, top-down culture is crucial to the success of your organization and the people who work for it. This is powerfully demonstrated in the 2014 book “Any Wednesday” by Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the global advertising firm DDB Worldwide. The title stems from the brief, encouraging memos he sent to everyone in the agency on Wednesdays to help them finish the week with optimism.

Even from his seat at the head of the table, Reinhard did not forget the importance of connecting creatively and personally with all employees. His memos show a person who has served at all levels in an organization and who understands better than most that there is no substitute for an inspiring and inclusive work culture. Here’s one of our favorites:

“When I first became head of the agency, I gave board members small potted plants with a note saying I expected each one of them to cause his or her plant to grow. It was a simple — perhaps simplistic — reminder that talent, like the plant, must be nurtured. Neither plants nor talented people can be instructed or commanded to grow.”

Impact

Ultimately, the best test of an organization’s voice is its impact on the market. ROI (Return on Investment), a conventional measure of impact, may work well in measuring tangible outcomes but does little to predict the effect of a product or program on an intended audience. We recast this formula as Relevance, Originality, Impact. The omission of any of these three elements can spell disaster for a branding program; by contrast, the most successful rebrands embrace each one with care and authenticity.

Our work for John Jay College exemplifies the importance of this ROI and its effectiveness in the marketplace. “Fierce Advocates for Justice” was a call to action to the younger generation to respond to the social injustices troubling our nation.

The motto was a stirring expression of purpose that made waves in the higher education community and inspired other schools to follow suit. And it was accompanied by a comprehensive campaign — aimed at having maximum impact on the targeted demographics — that included striking subway advertisements and geofencing around high school campuses to help attract prospective students — achieving relevance, originality, and impact.

Various metrics were developed to gauge the campaign’s reach, including measurements of awareness, familiarity, and reputation, as well as a willingness to provide financial support. “Fierce Advocates for Justice” generated highly impressive results: the number of alumni donors has increased by 35% since 2013; and the Justice Campaign — a comprehensive digital and subway ad initiative than ran in the fourth quarter of 2016 — has sparked an increase in applications of more than 40%. As a result, for the first time in its 52-year history, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has a waiting list for enrollment.

Clarity Above All

Building a brand for the 21st century is no easy task. The advent of social media has provided podiums for customers and employees to voice their criticisms of once-impervious brands. Rather than fight this pervasive change, organizations would do well to evolve toward more transparent and authentic identities.

Siegelvision’s own mantra is “Clarity Above All,” which means clarity of purpose, expression, and experience. It is only getting easier today to identify organizations that fail to practice what they preach. Therefore, it is in the interests of everyone in your organization that you define and deeply believe in your purpose and positioning, express your voice coherently and empathetically, and promote an internal culture that eschews disingenuousness and places a premium on authenticity.

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Aug

10

2017

How to Build a Remarkable 21st Century Brand

Economic disruptions produced by the ongoing technological revolution, rising uncertainty in global markets, and crises of complexity generated by social media all make this an exceptionally challenging time for organizations seeking to create or refine their brand identities.

Explored in what follows are critical issues to address in assembling a comprehensive branding program, based on challenges and opportunities that we at Siegelvision consistently encounter with clients.

The Inside-Out Approach

Henry Ford is often quoted as having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether the words were his or not, they reflect what we call the “outside-in” approach — trusting customers to provide critical insights to help define a brand identity. But relying on customer feedback alone is akin to treating symptoms rather than the underlying illness.

While customers may be able to pinpoint certain problems they would like to see addressed, they rarely have enough information to understand the organization in sufficient detail.

An “inside-out” approach, on the other hand, helps achieve a distinctive and credible branding program by tapping insights that emerge from within the organization itself — a process largely contingent upon leadership support.

Validation research is then conducted, bringing employees and outside audiences together to react to concrete ideas, and helping ensure that the resulting strategy will be clear, compelling, and relevant.

Driving Brand Identity Through a Clearly Defined Purpose

Most organizations spend months devising predictable, and often garbled, mission or vision statements that employees ignore and that fail to guide decision-making in both day-to-day management and big-picture strategic planning.

An effective purpose statement defines your reason for being in business, the calling your organization aims to answer in the marketplace, and the problems you strive to solve.

Moreover, defining a clear and concise purpose statement creates coherence for your employees — coherence about what your company stands for and what inspires its work, beyond just the pursuit of money. Effectively crafted, it should be the driving force behind strategic decisions, investments, and other critical matters.

The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to “help solve the problem” of inner-city poverty. Over the years, it’s become a respected source for intelligent, accessible analyses of economic and social policies. But despite the institute’s admirable aims, its impact was long undermined by a verbose and confusing mission statement, which read:

“The Urban Institute gathers data, conducts research, evaluates programs, offers technical assistance overseas, and educates Americans on social and economic issues — to foster sound public policy and effective government.

The Urban Institute builds knowledge about the nation’s social and fiscal challenges, practicing open-minded, evidence-based research to diagnose problems and figure out which policies and programs work best for whom, and how.”

The Urban Institute certainly does all of those things, but, as we learned during our immersive branding project, they do not comprise the organization’s core purpose. We replaced the institute’s lengthy and impractical mission statement with a powerful three-word purpose statement:

“ELEVATE THE DEBATE.”

The Urban Institute’s cogent new expression of its purpose — its essence — resonated deeply with all stakeholders. Defining the organization’s role in simple, concrete terms provides a strong guide for decision-making and acts as a beacon for employees at every level.

Creating Bold, Action-Driving Positioning

Americans are daily bombarded by vague, generic taglines that masquerade as brand positioning. Such identity imprecision appears everywhere, including among institutions of higher education.

“Fierce Advocates for Justice,” the highly effective positioning that Siegelvision developed for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, provided the touchstone for an aggressive campaign to change the public’s perception of the school as a “cop college” into a view of it as a comprehensive educational institution, one that boasts a liberal arts curriculum coupled with world-class criminal justice courses for undergraduate and graduate students alike.

In a 2012 conversation, Jeremy Travis, the college’s current president, told me that the “Fierce Advocates for Justice” positioning “has allowed every member of our community to see a place for his or her interests in the brand of the college. The language we now use … [reflects] who they are and want to be. When we first put up [signage with our new tagline,] a student told me: ‘That wakes me up when I come to school every morning, to remind myself that I’m here because I’m a fierce advocate for justice.'”

Defining and Implementing Your Brand Voice

We define “brand voice” as the distinctive tone and style of an organization’s communications, which should reflect its personality and positioning and provide coherence for its brand across all communications platforms.

I find that these voices can be fragmented, driven to a large degree by advertising and public relations, direct-response mailings, and the uncoordinated management of financial and internal communications.

In recent years, corporations have strived to unify their diverse communications, but the internet has proven disruptive to such efforts. The production of corporate communications has now gone from being a professional operation to a free-for-all in which everyone, at all levels, communicates internally and externally via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other platforms. Brand voice is becoming increasingly decentralized and social; the most successful organizations understand how to engage audiences and leverage the voices of employees and consumers effectively.

As digital platforms become more sophisticated and audiences grow more distinctly delineated, organizations must keep up by embracing experiential and personal communications that harness opportunities for consumers to engage with them.

Finally, the information immediacy that now so powerfully defines our lives means that messages are spread far and wide very quickly, a fact that underscores the importance of having an organized and unified brand voice.

Our work with The College Board provides valuable insight into the process of developing an effective voice that enhances and reinforces brand messaging. Driven by the College Board’s dynamic purpose statement, “Challenging All Students to Own Their Future,” we defined its voice as:

  • Refreshingly clear
  • Credible
  • Supportive
  • Galvanizing
  • Forward-thinking

Each of these terms was then defined to reflect the College Board’s messaging and public persona. To describe its most distinctive quality — galvanizing — we recommended the following: “We make things happen. We challenge students to persevere and make the most of their education. We rally our member organizations to challenge the status quo and extend the promise of education to all. We are motivating and collaborative, not confrontational.”

Culture Trumps Strategy Every Time

Employees will thrive and become powerful brand ambassadors if their organization’s culture embraces a set of values that resonate deeply and authentically. Building an atmosphere in which this happens depends on what you do, not just on what you say.

Wells Fargo, today a textbook case of poor corporate culture, communicates a vision and values that are shockingly discordant with its recent behavior. Even now, in the wake of its management scandals, Wells Fargo continues to speak of “integrity,” “principled performance,” and a tireless commitment to valuing “what’s right for our customers in everything we do.”

In an extensive 2015 document, “The Vision and Values of Wells Fargo,” CEO John Stumpf (who was fired the following year) defined the bank’s vision as being “about building lifelong relationships one customer at a time,” with the promise to “never put the stagecoach ahead of the horses.” What comedy.

A positive, top-down culture is crucial to the success of your organization and the people who work for it. This is powerfully demonstrated in the 2014 book “Any Wednesday” by Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the global advertising firm DDB Worldwide. The title stems from the brief, encouraging memos he sent to everyone in the agency on Wednesdays to help them finish the week with optimism.

Even from his seat at the head of the table, Reinhard did not forget the importance of connecting creatively and personally with all employees. His memos show a person who has served at all levels in an organization and who understands better than most that there is no substitute for an inspiring and inclusive work culture. Here’s one of our favorites:

“When I first became head of the agency, I gave board members small potted plants with a note saying I expected each one of them to cause his or her plant to grow. It was a simple — perhaps simplistic — reminder that talent, like the plant, must be nurtured. Neither plants nor talented people can be instructed or commanded to grow.”

Impact

Ultimately, the best test of an organization’s voice is its impact on the market. ROI (Return on Investment), a conventional measure of impact, may work well in measuring tangible outcomes but does little to predict the effect of a product or program on an intended audience. We recast this formula as Relevance, Originality, Impact. The omission of any of these three elements can spell disaster for a branding program; by contrast, the most successful rebrands embrace each one with care and authenticity.

Our work for John Jay College exemplifies the importance of this ROI and its effectiveness in the marketplace. “Fierce Advocates for Justice” was a call to action to the younger generation to respond to the social injustices troubling our nation.

The motto was a stirring expression of purpose that made waves in the higher education community and inspired other schools to follow suit. And it was accompanied by a comprehensive campaign — aimed at having maximum impact on the targeted demographics — that included striking subway advertisements and geofencing around high school campuses to help attract prospective students — achieving relevance, originality, and impact.

Various metrics were developed to gauge the campaign’s reach, including measurements of awareness, familiarity, and reputation, as well as a willingness to provide financial support. “Fierce Advocates for Justice” generated highly impressive results: the number of alumni donors has increased by 35% since 2013; and the Justice Campaign — a comprehensive digital and subway ad initiative than ran in the fourth quarter of 2016 — has sparked an increase in applications of more than 40%. As a result, for the first time in its 52-year history, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has a waiting list for enrollment.

Clarity Above All

Building a brand for the 21st century is no easy task. The advent of social media has provided podiums for customers and employees to voice their criticisms of once-impervious brands. Rather than fight this pervasive change, organizations would do well to evolve toward more transparent and authentic identities.

Siegelvision’s own mantra is “Clarity Above All,” which means clarity of purpose, expression, and experience. It is only getting easier today to identify organizations that fail to practice what they preach. Therefore, it is in the interests of everyone in your organization that you define and deeply believe in your purpose and positioning, express your voice coherently and empathetically, and promote an internal culture that eschews disingenuousness and places a premium on authenticity.

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