Many small and medium-sized organizations see the value in refining their brand now and again. Then when they get to it, they lunge forward armed mostly with personal opinions and their best guesses to produce what they think is a more modern, nifty look, logo and website … then they call it a day. Even in academic circles, where we’re teaching this stuff, I hear talk about branding as if it were synonymous with building externally-facing design elements alone. Look, it’s cool, I get that everyone wants to look young again at least some of the time. But that’s not branding, it’s aesthetics.
That’s not to say that there’s no value in design updates. But the greater branding value is found in truly re-evaluating and adapting your brand. If you’re going to dive back into branding for your organization, for your sake, do it right. Dig deeper than the surface. Take a hard look at all that inspired and still inspires you and drives your work. Reflect honestly and with an open mind, upon your past and present, your vision and mission, your actions and offerings with customers and in your respective communities. Then clean out all which doesn’t belong there today and replace it with all that does – not just aesthetically, but across all areas of strategy and execution. Anything worth doing generally takes some effort to do right. The solution for truly revitalizing an organization’s brand isn’t a facelift, it’s a spiritual colonic (which I’m not personally recommending for human beings, but which works for my intentionally crude metaphor here). Truly self-aware, authentic brands have greater meaning and equity for internal and external stakeholders alike. And true, meaningful branding, from which true self-awareness is achieved and meaningful brand experiences are successfully delivered to your audiences, is much more comparable to engaging in a full-body cleansing – a detox, so to speak – than it is to Botox injections, a touch of silicone or some make-up and rouge. Like any invasive medical procedure, rebranding may seem a daunting thing to take on. While it’s probably gonna be uncomfortable at times and you may wonder mid-process whether it was a great idea, in the end (no colonic pun intended), doing it right and wisely will lead to greater overall health and a purer “self”.
No two brand campaigns are identical, but my experience has shown the following model to work for brand re-development across industries:
PHASE 1 – EXPLORE
- Re-evaluate and focus internally, within your organization. Search your brand’s soul, so to speak. Delve into your organization’s core – your principles, your marketing and operations and your strategic decision-making criteria – and ask yourself, “What’s the difference between who we think we are and who we want to be?”
- Re-evaluate and focus externally, outside of your organization. Relearn your customers and prospective customers with a hungry curiosity. Assess who they are, what they want and what they want from you. If you’ve been established for any time at all, you can now base your analysis in part on your experiences with those customers. Still, don’t make assumptions. Research, analyze, rinse and repeat. Openly explore, as if for the first time, how your markets see you, your offerings and your brand’s distinctions. Regardless of how cool or strong you may think your brand is, you’re ultimately just static without your audiences. And if you’re internal conclusions are unmatched to external perceptions, you may go a long way down the wrong path and have trouble finding your way back.
- Consider whether you need an external party’s perspective to help address the two items above in an unbiased and untainted manner. Although I’m a proponent of self-reliance, at least philosophically, the potential here for comparisons with conducting serious medical treatments on one’s self does come to mind. My own experiences with clients, former employers and my own organization has shown me time and again that there’s tremendous gain in checking your own understandings against observations from outside your organization. If you agree, secure those resources.
PHASE 2 – STRATEGIZE
Based upon your brand exploration and research, determine what the critical elements of your brand are today and build your strategy upon them. Clearly identify for yourself that which is the same and that which must be different. What’s your USP and does it still hold up? What’s your brand baggage, the stuff you can get rid of? What are your branding goals and how do they align with your brand promise? Yup, I know, goal-setting is generally first. That’d be fine if you based your brand mostly on what YOU want and what YOU believe. Step outside of that. I recommend starting with the search, keeping an open mind, and then determining what your findings mean in terms of where to go from there.
PHASE 3 – RE-BUILD
Focus every new brand decision about the new logo and website, the choice of social media, the business cards and the color palettes, as well as your copy and messaging, your prioritization, your product and service offerings, on elements that directly support your newly defined brand core. Then, once you’ve solidly established your core, make sure you leave room for flexibility within implementation. While brand focus and consistency will contribute to your brand’s value, building in some adaptability will serve you better in the long-game. Offering a nod to Emerson, devoted adherence to consistency is more appropriate for politicians and theologians than business leaders and independent spirits. Authenticity is not bound to consistency from day to day or year-to-year and truth can’t continue to be realized without continuous discovery.