Planning some disruption, or just need a brand refresh?

by Dan Pearlman , Bob Wolf Partners/TPG

You may not be Elon Musk (Tesla) disrupting the auto industry, or Jeff Bezos (Amazon and now Washington Post) seeking to disrupt the newspaper business. The former probably views himself in the technology/clean energy business. The latter, not in the book or news, but rather in the consumer service business. But disruption isn’t the only reason to consider a branding initiative. Many events can trigger consideration of a brand refresh. It’s not always necessary, but if a series of disappointing quarters, or new management, or upcoming new products are in the future, it may make sense. The undertaking may seem daunting, but the following points may help you get off on the right foot.

1. What are we and for whom?

The word “Brand” is a fuzzy one to most people… reputation, logo, price, packaging, advertising and so forth all add up to “brand.” But there are other intangibles such as culture, values image, service, satisfaction and so much more. In truth, it’s everything you do that adds up to what your brand stands for.

The best companies/brands do some heavy soul-searching to set forth their brand in a consistent way that touches or engages all of their stakeholders. A brand’s reason for being and its compelling (sometimes unstated) promise is why brands such as Starbucks or Apple have such a loyal following.

2. Who’s responsible?

Marketing can formulate the positioning, develop advertising, engage consumers via PR and social sites, events, in-store and so forth. A compelling and integrated campaign can convey (hopefully) a unique and important promise. But keeping that promise is also critical, and it’s the responsibility of everyone in the company…reception, R&D, sales, operations, customer service and others. When you bring together a team to work on redefining your brand, it is crucial that it comprises a cross-functional team that represents both your promise-makers and your promise-keepers.

It is also critical that you have the endorsement and active participation of senior management. You know all those great brands you love? It’s been well documented that senior leadership (e.g. Jobs, Welch, Ralph Lauren, Wynn, Schultz, Musk, etc.) not only participated in the process—they owned it. And the results were obvious!

3. Who are your stakeholders?

Everyone who will touch your brand inside and outside of the organization. Not just the end user or your employees, but your suppliers, franchisees, dealers, bankers, regulators and…of course, the Street (if you are public). It’s critical to do some research to understand all of these constituents…assuming you want a great brand.

4. Can you be courageous?

The world is filled with forgettable brands. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Take a stand. Define who you are and who you are not. Make the tough decisions about legacy names, sub-brands, and causes to support, messaging and thinking. Think about design and marketing communications as a strategic tool that can redefine how a category is viewed. And focus on your brand experience touch-points to drive home that your brand re-launch is more than lipstick on a pig—it’s real and meaningful.

5. Can you deliver on your brand promise before you make it?

Re-branding programs typically involve developing the strategy and tactics communicating it to an external audience. However, the best organizations recognize the importance of internal communications and training as part of their launch plans. But communicating to employees about the brand is only the first step—what is much more important is to make sure that employees know how to deliver on the brand promise, and that they are empowered to do so.

This requires looking at the customer’s experience of your organization through their eyes. Mapping the customer’s experience and then assessing (qualitatively or quantitatively) how well you are delivering on your promise at each step is the true foundation for an internal launch—not emails and company newsletters. From these maps, you can then begin to focus on the high-priority touch-points and ensure that employees who manage those touch-points are trained in the brand, understand how to deliver it and, most importantly, have no obstacles in place that would prevent them from delivering.
Only when you’re prepared to keep your brand promise at your highest priority touch-points should you start making that promise to the marketplace.

6. How long to re-launch a brand?

If your strategy is bold enough it takes about three to five months to develop the strategy and then two to three years to implement it. Your plans need to consider the long haul—including aligning all your touch-points to deliver on the promise. This means you have to find employees who share your brand values, recruit them, hire them, train them so that they know what is expected of them, and remove obstacles to their performance. It also means that you may have to redesign products or processes. You may have to create or dismantle certain infrastructures. You may have to eliminate and replace certain cultural norms within the organization. These things take time.

You will also need to measure your progress. You should be benchmarking and annually assessing whether your company is being increasingly associated with your brand promise, and whether that is driving preference and loyalty among your consumers. You should also benchmark and annually assess progress in delivering on the promise at key touch-points—and then work with internal teams to develop methods to close the gap.

And lastly, you will need to continually evolve your brand to keep it fresh and relevant. This evolution may take the form of brand extensions, fresh advertising campaigns or an online experience that employs all the latest technology. Sustaining your brand is more important—and can be more challenging— than building it in the first place.

A new branding program is an exciting time, full of potential for transforming a company. Considering that a brand is a promise that must be kept at each interaction provides a framework not only for developing the brand, but also for assembling the right internal team. The brand promise must be true to your organization, and thus both internal and external points of view need to be explored and considered. And your story—from messaging to design—should be bold. Remember, the world didn’t ask for you to rebrand, so make it take notice.

Finding the right outside partners to help you (meld with inside resources) with this process is part of the service we provide…from branding firms to advertising agencies, from public relations to crisis management experts, from media management to even/sponsorship, from digital to social marketing, from sales promotion to shopper marketing. Not just competency, relevant experience and the like, but also a good culture fit and ensuring that mutual expectations are met. Contact