The title of this blog can be read in two ways because it aims to answer two related questions:
- What is a brand?
- How do we at Phrase Strategy help business leaders understand their brands?
“Brand” is often used as shorthand to refer to a logo, icon, or wordmark (the company imprint on a business card, for example). But what a brand is really – and the way I use the word – is to describe the matrix of perceptions, emotions, associations, and beliefs that surround an entity, such as a company (Shopify), product (Samsung Galaxy), service (Mailchimp), or individual (Obama).
A brand is a definable entity – a person, place, or thing that people form opinions and perceptions of.
Several forces are at work in creating, or building, a brand; I’d like to highlight three:
- Proactive – the things a company or brand owner does, on purpose, to create a particular brand identity. The strategic work we do at Phrase Strategy is proactive: research, analysis, positioning, messaging, visual identity design, graphic/web design, content development, etc. There are also many other kinds of brand-building activities undertaken after a launch or relaunch, such as training, advertising, events, public and media relations, social media engagement, and so on.
- Reactive – a company or brand owner will often do things in response to demands, requests, or needs expressed by a brand’s consumers. Defending a trademark, crisis communication to defend an attack on a brand’s reputation are more extreme examples. More common, mundane examples are resolving customer complaints, responding to recalls, and updating graphics to keep pace with design trends.
- Passive – an oft-overlooked fact is that brand identities are also built passively. As the saying goes, “If you’re not branding yourself, you can be sure others are doing it for you.” That matrix of perceptions, emotions, associations, and beliefs exists as long as others are interacting with a brand – so it’s more than worthwhile to get ahead of it with ACTION (both the pro- and re- kinds!).
Understanding YOUR Brand
There are many reasons to rethink, re-examine, re-look at your brand. On one hand, you as the brand’s owner or leader know the brand intimately. On the other hand, you’re very close to it – deeply inside of it – and it’s easy to lose an objective view of the perceptions and beliefs others hold about your brand.
Furthermore, things change. Brands, markets, competition, customers, products, and services evolve. Sometimes it happens subtly over time; or suddenly, in a moment of crisis. Passive neglect can also make a brand out of date, out of sync with its target audiences or its intentions. Any one of these is a good reason to seek objective third-party support in getting (re)acquainted with a brand.
They way we at Phrase Strategy help leaders and organizations re-examine their brands, or re-align their brands with new and future intentions, involves three key phases.
- In the Discovery phase, we comprehensively profile the brand’s “current state” through VIP sessions and competitive/market research. In this stage, we identify the intended value, differentiation, and brand voice; gaps in positioning and communication; uncover potential opportunities as well as challenges.
- In the Validation phase, we conduct critical primary research and gather evidence to validate and refine core messages and product/service presentation. Often, we uncover new ideas and get to the root of challenges.
- In the Articulation phase, we bring it all together, capturing the brand’s Essential Story in key messages, differentiation, value statements, and a go-forward plan will with clear steps to roll-out the changes.
Clients commonly report these results:
- Renewed confidence, clarity, and pride in the brand’s direction, positioning, and identity.
- Getting unstuck and the ability to proceed with updates, change, transition, and new ideas.
- Greater engagement, better conversations with target audiences, and better leads.
If you’ve got questions about your organization’s brand, let’s talk!
~ Maria Ford