Margaret Thatcher Zimmerman

Aligning Brand with Corporate Goals: Keeping the Dog in Front of the Tale

Here’s a simple multiple choice question most branding consultants can’t answer: Which of the following are good reasons to rebrand your organization?

(a) We’re tired of hearing our own positioning statements and we fear the brand is getting stale

(b) Our logo has been around for decades, and besides, we’ve brought on a new management team

(c) The competition just updated their position and we’re afraid, if we don’t change, we’ll be left in the dust

(d) A change in strategy will help us leverage changes in the marketplace or our offerings

(e) All of the above are good reasons to rebrand

The correct answer is (d). And yes, it’s the only correct answer. But it’s seldom the one given by ad agencies or designers. Because designers and agencies are in the business of selling rebranding.

Think of it this way: If you walked into a new car showroom and asked the sales manager if it was time to buy a new car, what do you think you would hear? Exactly. The sales manager is there to move cars, he has only one answer, and the probability that his opinion is based on your situation and your needs is just a little bit lower than your chances of rolling an “8” on a 6-sided die.

What’s more, most agencies and designers approach the very process of rebranding in reverse. Instead of asking the hard questions internally, and doing the necessary research both internally and externally, and tackling the issues at the core of the organization, and addressing the behaviors that manifest brand throughout the organization, they ask you what you want to be perceived as, and jump right into the design phase, focusing on the visual expression of the brand rather than the needs of the organization and its markets. Invariably, this leads to lost opportunities in organizational development, customer relations, product development, market expansion, and revenue production.

Four Steps to Building a Healthy Brand

But for now, let’s assume your organization finds itself in the situation described in option (d). Let’s assume there is a legitimate motive for rebranding (or at least you suspect there might be). Where do you go from here?

The good news is that path is pretty straight. Whether you bring in a professional or choose to go it alone, you’ll want to be sure you follow these steps:

  1. Clearly articulate your organization’s vision. Who are you? Why are you here? How do you make the world a better place by “being”? In corporations, the vision is often set by the CEO; in nonprofits, by Boards and Executive Directors; and in colleges, by the President. In most cases, the organization’s leadership will solicit input from trusted advisors (boards, colleagues, alumni, etc.). Often, the vision will be based on market needs (which must be studied objectively) and influenced by the positions of competitors.
  2. Define the essence of your brand. What promise will your brand make to its markets? How will you fulfill that promise? How can you articulate that essence succinctly, so that it can serve as a guiding principle or litmus test for all decisions made throughout your organization?
  3. Achieve alignment among members of the organization’s senior leadership team. Do the vision and brand essence resonate with the leaders of the organization? How will each division of the organization “live” the brand? How will the organization’s leaders convey the vision and mission and brand essence to their associates?
  4. Work on the brand, throughout your organization. How will you manifest your brand essence in every touch point with your customers and your marketplace? How will you live the brand interpersonally, at work? What can the leadership learn from the organization’s front line about its brand? What can you learn from your customers, about the changes occurring in your market? What indicators can you establish to assess whether your brand is still in touch, or when it is time to reposition or rebrand?

Yep, that’s all there is to it. You should be done in no time. Or more likely, not. Because branding, like learning, is a lifelong process. And though most organizational tasks have a beginning and an end, the (re)branding process is never done.