TLDR: Define the bigger picture. Work iteratively before committing to a larger effort. Establish a process that fits the team so they can complete quality work efficiently.
rand is a word that comes with a lot of baggage. It means different things to different people, betraying the very nature of what it stands for, which is to provide clarity and distinction. Ironically, the word “brand” needs a rebrand. I have volunteered to be part of this project and expect it to be lifelong.
Brand is a word that comes with a lot of baggage. It means different things to different people, betraying the very nature of what it stands for, which is to provide clarity and distinction. Ironically, the word “brand” needs a rebrand. I have volunteered to be part of this project and expect it to be lifelong.
Definitions: Brand, Branded, Branding
Your brand is made up of everything that contributes to your company’s reputation—the way your company interacts with people, how your company attempts to be perceived, and, most importantly, how people perceive your company to be. Establishing a brand, whether for a B2B or B2C organization, requires ongoing effort to define. It will take on a life of its own if neglected, creating confusion for employees, partners, prospects and customers alike.
Branded is more of a layman’s term indicating that the visual design representing a brand has been applied to some piece of collateral or swag. Historically, “branded” was used in reference to a cow having had its owner’s mark burned onto its hide so it was clear who owned it. In business, a white paper is said to have been branded when a logo has been added to the cover and subsequent pages, and the colors and typography all appear to match. This term is often used to refer to a simplistic implementation of visual design, and has the potential to miss the real benefits of producing strategic content that reinforces brand meaning for various audiences.
Branding is most accurately used as an active verb. It begins with a deep exploration of a company’s purpose and positioning, driven by market research and an assessment of inherent strengths and weaknesses present in the organization. It serves as a guiding light not just for visual design, but for all the decisions a business makes to reinforce their position and live up to its claims.
Branding is one of the most undervalued exercises in business today, primarily due to a rampant misuse of the term by those who promote haphazard exercises resulting in flimsy value statements and generic visualizations. Businesses that don’t invest in defining what they stand for, and how to communicate that purpose in the market, risk not living up to their full potential. They may survive, but won’t thrive without it.
Branding is intended as a collaborative effort that requires an experienced brand practitioner to guide the process, and the selected leader or leaders (ideally the founder or CEO) who will engage in defining and governing the brand over time. The clarity that results from undergoing a more rigorous brand strategy process is mostly for the leadership’s benefit so they can guide decisions with confidence and informed authority.
What holds startups back from investing in brand strategy?
Without understanding what brand strategy can offer a business’s bottom line, it’s easy to see why a fledgling company wouldn’t prioritize it. Anything that requires dedicated time and a substantial amount of money can be seen as a threat to immediately measurable ROI.
The problem is that the longer a company waits to invest in brand strategy, the more potential there is to steer themselves into a position they didn’t want to be in. Rather than distinguishing their product to serve a particular sized business with a certain set of needs, for example, they may be tempted to expand their feature set as new sales opportunities emerge. They wind up with a bloated, Frankenstein product that’s hard to sell, let alone maintain or scale on the backend.
When a company lacks boundaries, it becomes a slave to reactive ideation, scrambling to snatch up whatever feels like progress because they are starved for meaning. Everything looks good to eat when you haven’t had a nutritious meal in awhile. The longer a business has to search for its meaning, the more resources they use up trying to find it. It becomes more expensive—and more convoluted to untangle—the longer leaders defer brand strategy.
With so many businesses sprouting up, and so much social pressure to appear equitable and ethical, the burden to create meaningful distinction is only growing. Themes of transparency, trustworthiness, authenticity and having a bias for action aren’t unique or meaningful anymore, and are certainly not accepted at face value. If anything, companies that try to stand on these ideals will fall harder and faster because they will be scrutinized by an increasingly cynical workforce. Their own employees are the first to cry foul. Their customers will simply glaze over these values until they find something they can actually sink their teeth into.
Brands take on a life of their own when leaders don’t commit to defining the reason for their business decisions and the work they ask their people to do. Internally, tiny tribes will form in an attempt to sway the company in a direction they see fit, pitting teams and team members against each other rather than working in collaboration towards a common goal. Externally, audiences might observe what looks to be random probing as the company tries to learn what they want, like watching a frazzled tourist navigate a foreign city.
It’s hard to assign an exact monetary value to brand strategy, or express exactly what it can do for a company. What is clear is that when an organization values it, brand strategy saves time, energy, money and prevents painful memories for the people involved. ⚑
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