NOTE: Published in the advertising and marketing trade journal ADGULLY here – Creating a Brand, Is Like Raising a Child - and reproduced below:
There is a huge misconception in the marketplace, with the word “brand”. What does it mean, how is it different from a product, does it have a monetary value, can it be measured, where does the brand live, can I feel it, touch it, know it; is a soap a brand, are shampoos brands and on and on it goes. And of course each product line in large companies having its own “Brand Manager”, complicates this. If we are fundamentally unclear about what a “brand” is, what happens to the “brand” manager and more so what is his or her role?
Now, the purpose of this article is not actually to go down that road or to give a textbook definition of a brand and how it’s different from a product. If you are reading this, you already have a high level of clarity on such issues. The only thing that I would add is that brands live in the “minds” of your consumers/users/stakeholders (who are first and foremost people like you and me) and since brands live in people’s “minds”, and people are not a universal or homogenous lot, brands can live in different “ways” in different “minds”. This confounds the problem even more. It means your corporate brand can “persist” very differently in the same set of people. So where does one begin with this amorphous entity termed the corporate brand?
One option is to take an “inside-out” approach. By asking the right questions internally and amongst key stakeholder groups, you become more and more clear on what your corporate brand stands on. Once you are clear what you stand for, your actions and conduct of your business over time, will naturally communicate that through your brands behaviour, communications, identity, personality, employee relations and what have you [all the possible attributes you may have heard brand strategists mention -:)]
Over the years I have found enduring corporate brands, stand on and have strong associations with “values” and these often co incidence with long-held value systems, of the kind you see in personal life and living. Simple values such as sincerity, care, trust, excellence, honesty and even transformation become guideposts for great corporate brands. Do not forget, no matter how much you speak of “corporations”, it’s made up of people, and corporations function and work in society, and society is again made of people. People today are getting more and more savvy and perceptive. They can sense, intuit and pick up the values that your corporation transmits, weather through your products, sales team, corporate communications, online activity or your annual general meeting. In each case it is your values that your target group picks up; and thus comes into being the “brand” in the persons “mind”. A brand is not simply built by your visual identity, logo, design or your corporate brochure. Your brand is defined by how you stand and what you stand for. Your basic value system, your ethos and your grooming, all show up in your corporate brand. And that is why creating a stellar corporate brand takes long term effort and is akin to raising a child.
When you raise a child you start from a blank slate [lets ignore for the moment the karma it comes with of course -:)], nurture it, impart values, education, skills, instill introspection and communication in the child, make strategic investments of time and money, sacrifice a lot sometimes and at the same time carry on the conduct of your business and day to day responsibilities, live, laugh and carry on. The effort is that finally the child can shine, conduct himself in a manner akin to universal value systems and shine with the pedigree it has inherited, and be reflective of the effort and energy gone into its grooming. This for many is a life long effort.
So is it with a corporate brand. A corporate brand clearly stands out and communicates a company’s basic values whether it be excellence (BMW), trust and society (TATA), execution (Reliance), fun (Pepsi), learning (Harvard), personal transformation (Franklin Covey), honesty and uprightness (BBC), Self & God (Sri Sri Ravi Shanker), freedom (Madonna), beauty (Switzerland) and it can go on.
In any corporate brand programme, certain basic values need to be first articulated and then operationalized internally by all stakeholder groups – employees, managers, board members, suppliers, CEO and others. Your “method of conduct” needs to be communicated, shared, ideated and internalized by your own organization. Once the basics of the corporate brand are in place, processes and systems can be set-up internally to evangelize the brand values and ethos. Several methods can be used and often brand story telling is an effective tool. This nurturing takes time and the expression of the same takes a lot more. The Tata’s did not create their corporate brand overnight. It happened over hundred years and the Tata’s now have a whole bank of legends and stories that propagate their corporate brand values through coming new generations of TATA employees, stakeholders and other groups.
Of course your corporate brand is not set forever. You can course correct, change your positioning and instill a new value system at any point of time. As your business develops, or as the corporation grows, new dynamics come into place, new values prop up. As society evolves different expectations are created from our institutions. Your company needs to stay up to speed with all of this and make a strategic impact in the environment. But none of this happens overnight. If you think you can change your identity in three months, you would be fooling yourself. When you embark on a corporate brand programme, remember it needs patience, sincerity, long-term thinking and the ability to make tough business decisions. You are taking steps to clearly define who you are and then communicate that ethos and value system, through your method of conduct. Only the brave enter this territory.