Why ‘living the brand’ is crucial.

The traditional view of brand building is based on marketing communications; in particular advertising.  Senior management prefer advertising as they see it as a method of communication which can be controlled.  It is a one way method of communication where the advertiser is in control of the message.

Today, consumers are bombarded with advertising and other forms of marketing communication.  Increasingly, they want to interact with brands.  There is a shift from one way communications to collaborative conversations.  Advertising may sell your products but if you are looking to build a brand; the combination of attributes which gives an organisation a distinctive identity and value relative to its competitors, customers, advocates and stakeholders; you need to do more than advertise. This is especially true when you are trying to sell services where there may be no physical product to attract a target audience.

To subsist and grow, brands need to evolve through interaction.

Often, the most important element in building a brand is an organisation’s employees.  Employees are the part of an organisation which actually interacts with the outside world.  They actually speak to your customer base.  They drive customer retention.  They share knowledge and create great customer experiences.  Properly engaged, they can strengthen a brand and secure future cash flows.  Employees are essential brand stakeholders and they need to know how to engage with and understand the brand.  Employees are also consumers of brands and brand messages.  They have an inherent power to deliver brand promise especially if they are informed and enthusiastic about the brand message.

Traditionally, too many firms have seen brand messaging as a function of senior management and the marketing team.  If you are truly interested in building a brand presence, you need to spread that process throughout your organisation.  That shift requires marketing to be seen not in terms of marketing communications and promotion but as a central element in planning business strategy.  Brand building involves everyone from the Chief Executive to the production line.

Many organisations talk of internal marketing.  A process of spreading the message through the organisation using internal promotional messages.  Such an approach can be problematic in brand building.  That is why this article is headed ‘living the brand and not ‘live the brand’.  Live the brand implies the internal marketing route, senior management creating messages which tell their employees how to act and behave.  It is the ‘big brother’ approach to marketing.  Employees are told how they must behave rather than them choosing to engage with the brand and make it part of their life.  An organisation’s processes may belong to its owners and managers but its culture belongs to all its stakeholders.  All too often internal marketing is an exercise on imposing cultural norms on an organisation rather than allowing the members of that organisation choose them.

Building a brand culture is an exercise in thought which not held in common but created in common.

To drive a common understanding in an organisation two things are required, active participation amongst employees and a simple clear message.  To drive participation you must involve stakeholders from inside and out with your organisation.  The Japanese system of Kaizen does this through the use of quality circles and staff involvement in developing process improvements.  In firms using Kaizen, staff feel they are listened too and that they have an active role to play in developing their work activities.  IN traditional western firms resentment can build if staff see their ideas being hijacked or there is only senior management diktat.

Marketing staff and senior managers may understand complex marketing theories and models however shop floor staff may need a simple clear message they can easily pass to consumers.  Often such messages are clichés which talk of quality, environmentalism, integrity or innovation.  It is not the uniqueness of the words in a brand’s message which are important but the way those words are used and interpreted.  Words such as quality remain abstract constructs until staff and consumers actually experience the product.

To build a brand a Top Down/Bottom Up approach is usually required.  this is where management pass down strategic goals to the organisational stakeholders and allow these stakeholders to present plans to achieve those goals.  This is a major part of systems such as kaizen.  Such an approach can bring life to otherwise bland brand images.

Building a brand isn’t about making excellent products or having flash messages; it is about building a culture and a community.  Hatch and Shultz (2008) said “stop asking how you can get your employees behind the brand and start thinking how you can put the brand behind your employees”.  Greater commitment and creativity can be generated if a brand becomes the framework that supports employees and their aspirations.  Don’t tell your staff about the brand, make them engage with it.  Even more importantly listen to your employees, create strong and reliable feedback to create value in your brand.