Becoming a Brand That Matters

You are not who you were, and you are not who you're going to be.

One of the toughest things we deal with as people is change. Very few of us handle it well and even fewer enjoy it, but it is part of all our lives. Change is just as tough, if not more, in an organization. Change is sometimes self initiated but just as often it is required due to outside forces beyond our control. This begs the question, How does a brand change? or Should a brand change? This is not an easy answer and we'll need to set the ground work for why it's not so easy.

Your brand is the collective perception of who you are as an organization. This means that you need to decide if it's the perception you want to change or if your identity is changing. Both situations are valid and we've written about perceptions a few times as well. For this article I want to focus on the issue of a changing identity first and move on to self initiated change to move your brand toward one that matters.

Who are you?

This is not the easiest question to answer. For a person it's the collection of personality traits, and upbringing. It's often referred to as Nature and Nurture. For organizations it becomes a lot more complicated. There are goals/vision of the leadership, the capabilities of the employees and the expectations of all stake and/or stock holders. For this article we'll assume you have all that figured out and you're doing a stellar job of communicating who you are and your Brand (public perception) is on track with who you are. What do you do if who you are is not who you want to be? Maybe you aspire to be a brand that truly matters and do things of significance. These are things beyond just making a profit. Good for you. You're embarking on a tough journey that will require many tough decisions.

Starting Points

First, and I think importantly you need to realize that you're in the minority. You may even be breaking new ground for your industry. Start by developing a brand brief of who you are today. A brand brief summarizes the qualities that make your organization who it is. It includes vision statements, values, and characteristics. Next write another brand brief for who you want to be. Imagine that you've reached your goal what does that organization look like. Be sure to include the fact that you're brave enough to become a brand that matters in this process. Again, you are now in the minority and that bravery is a part of your new identity.

Understanding the Scope

If your organization is going to change it has to deliver consistent experiences that perpetuate that change. You'll need to meticulously define all the experiences and communications that your new organization will deliver. This includes things like:
-Physical Space
-Design Standards
-Web Experience
-Customer Service
-Business Practices
-Employee Benefits
-Charity Involvement
-Manufacturing Standards
-Sustainability, etc.

This list will be different for every organization and should be more than just a list. Define the new characteristics of these items. Be thorough and dream big, but also be truthful with yourselves. If what you want to become isn't realistic whether it be cost prohibitive or you don't think your people will be able to live up to the challenge or whatever it may be, don't lie to yourself. If you try to be something your not/not capable of it will negatively impact the perception of your organization.

Backwards to go Forwards

Take each item from the list and work backwards. For example if reducing your waste by 70% is one of your new goals, list all the programs, and practices that need to be in pace to make that happen. Then think about all the things that need to change for those to happen, and then the changes that need to happen before that. Do this exercise for each item on your list all the way back to where you are today. Next put a realistic time schedule for these steps and begin moving forward.

The horse pulls the cart

Things like infrastructure and shared values/goals among your people need to be developed first. Just as with defining your identity for the first time you shouldn't start saying you're something that you honestly can't deliver yet. This is a slow process and shouldn't be rushed. Some aspects will take less time than others but remember "things take longer than they do." Don't follow the example of many of todays large brands that are constantly "re-inventing" themselves every couple years. More often than not it is just a visual change and their substance is exactly the same.

Take JC Penny (now JCP) for example. A couple years ago they released a new visual identity system for their organization and spent millions of dollars refitting their online and physical stores to reflect these visual changes. Then just a couple months ago they did it all again. It's crazy making if you ask me but obviously they didn't. Often the reason organizations engage is this behavior is because they want a new look that will hopefully improve sales, but they don't realize that people don't buy what you do but buy why you do it. JCP has brought a new look to "what" they do but my experiences there still tell me that their "why" hasn't changed a bit.

Being a brand that matters is all about they "Why." Improve you why and deliver meaningful experiences to your intended audience. Change your internal practices to get your team on board, and then when you're sure you are who you say you are, you can let others know. Remember you're making these changes because you want to things of significance, not to look good to others. If your motives are clear the recognition and desired perception will come.