Your brand is not your logo. It is not your letterhead. It is not your strapline, your corporate font or even a set of policy documents on how your company should interact with your customers. Despite the fees commanded by branding consultants they cannot create your brand for you (though they can help you find it).
The Concept of Brand
"A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer."
This gets much closer to what your brand is. It is an idea constructed out of expectations and experiences that can give rise to feelings in those exposed to it.
Your logo and all the elements that make up the corporate identity that a branding consultant might help you create are certainly part of the picture. These elements do influence people’s perception and expectation of your company, but the Internet and specifically social media have changed things massively.
As companies use social media to reach out to customers, both current and potential, the amount of contact people have with your brand has increased greatly and much of this contact is spontaneous and unscripted. In a very real sense every Twitter or Facebook post is a reinvention and restatement of your company identity.
This can seem very scary as it is a big change from the days when corporate communication could be closely held and controlled. It also represents a tremendous opportunity, as these unscripted contacts are perceived as more genuine and authentic than advertising and marketing messages, and in a sense they are. They certainly are a real experience of your company.
In this environment it becomes essential to connect your actual practice with your branding message. Brand strategist Graham Button explains this very well
using the example of parents needing to back up what they say with what they do in order to teach their children. The greatest peril for a company, and a parent, is when there is a disconnection between the marketing message and the practice.
The Opportunity of Branding Through Action
There is another side to this. Where there is peril there is also opportunity. The impression your company makes in every contact aggregates to create your brand, and every contact is a chance to make a positive impression, to create brand value in Seth Godin’s terms.
Seen in this context, the relatively lower impact of your visual identity (logos and so forth) makes more sense. I like FedEx’s logo, with the arrow cleverly portrayed in negative space
, but my experience of dealing with the company directly is much more important to me. Do they deliver my package on time, are their prices competitive and if I have a problem how easy is it to resolve?
Your Brand in Your Corporate Culture
The way to ensure that this works for you is to not only have a great product or service and great employees but also to create and nurture a company culture that embraces your brand. Those style guides and employee manuals all help but just like the parents in Graham Button’s model the most effective teaching is communicated through actions.
Actions communicate powerfully to your customers and they also communicate down your company hierarchy. If you are telling your customer service reps to be empathetic but their line managers don’t look after them eventually that will come through in the service you deliver. If you are telling your design team to come up with radical ideas but you force them to follow rigid processes you are unlikely to get that innovative product you want.
Every Social Media Post is Your Brand
It is all too easy for this kind of disconnected experience to be communicated through social media. A disconnection between my customer experience and your social posts is jarring. People can feel the dissonance even if they are not consciously aware of it.
The flipside is that if you can harmonise your company culture with your social marketing you can build a really powerful brand. You can create those relationships and experiences that will create that feeling in your customers that they value your company. They feel that your brand has real value and they will pay for it.
Using social media you have lots of chances to interact with people, to build good impressions and to create that brand image in a direct way. A logo can make a difference but a logo that is in sync with how your company acts and reinforces your customers’ experiences is a powerful thing.