At the start of a new year, it’s not uncommon to come up with a list of things you intend to change or do differently. When you’re given a clean slate, it triggers a reflective pause: What do I want my life to look like at the end of this year? What do I need to keep doing? What do I need to stop doing?
For most of us, this annual exercise gives us a chance to figure out what stays and what goes, what’s working for us and what’s not. But not every resolution has a happy ending. Within a few weeks — sometimes a few days — our energy and excitement wane, and we’re confronted with an unpleasant truth: It’s a lot easier to write down a goal than it is to make it happen.
You’ve probably been there. I know I have. It’s true personally and professionally. And it’s that latter aspect of goal-setting, of resolution-making, that I want to focus on. Because for every person intent on getting fit during the first month of a new year, there’s an impassioned leader with good intentions who aspires to change their company’s brand — even if it’s not broken. (Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect 1:1 ratio, but hopefully you get my point.)
Elevating Your Brand with the Four Pillars of Good Branding
While there's a time and season for everything, including a time to rethink your brand, most brand challenges are rooted in one thing — a failure to leverage what we call the Four Pillars of Good Branding, which are:
- Honesty: Your marketing and communications have to deliver on a brand promise that is an accurate representation of what someone will experience when they interact with your company.
- Quality: Whatever you do, do it with excellence. That doesn’t mean it has to cost a lot, but it does mean that you are committed to being the very best you can be.
- Consistency: Your messaging needs to be consistent across all mediums and over a pre-determined amount of time. Staying the course is crucial, and it’s easier said than done.
- Frequency: How often you share your message is critically important to the success of its adoption and impact on your brand. Part of telling your story well is telling it often.
For a brand, there should be no quick changes. So if you were thinking about a massive overhaul — brought on by declining revenue or the resolution hysteria of a new year — we want to invite you to reconsider.
Remember: you live with your brand. You might think you need to change it, but your customers, they’re not living with your brand and what they need from you more than anything else is consistency. It's usually at the point when you're the most bored with your brand that people are just beginning to identify with it.
Building a Strong Brand Identity Starts with Clarity
To help you stay the course, we’ve put together an assessment tool that focuses on the most essential aspects of your brand — the elements that shape who you are and provide clarity about what matters most. Our hope is that your answers will serve as a touchstone for your marketing and communications efforts, as well as a filter through which you can run every new idea.
YOUR MISSION STATEMENT
Revisiting this core message about who you are and what you do is crucial. A great mission statement not only provides strategic direction for your organization, it’s also the backbone of great marketing and communications. Without it, there’s no clarity about where you’re headed, and that leads to questions about how to define and describe why you’re here.
As your company’s “reason for being,” your mission statement should clearly, directly and succinctly communicate what your organization does day in and day out.
So, does your mission statement need a tune-up, or is it still serving its purpose as a galvanizing force within your company? Are there any obvious misalignments between what you actually do and what your mission statement says you do?
YOUR VISION STATEMENT
Think about it this way — and thanks to Vik Harrison for helping me articulate it — if your mission is what you're doing right now, your vision is the big idea behind it; it’s what animates your work.
As your organization’s north star, your vision statement should describe a picture of the preferred future. Though it may sound audacious to some, it should serve as a catalyst and inspirational “stretch goal” for everyone in your company. The best vision statements are bold articulations of a reality you hope to see realized because your organization exists.
Does your current vision statement move you and your team to action? Does it keep you inspired when tough times hit? Does it reflect your company’s long-term goals and aspirations?
YOUR PROBLEM AND SOLUTION STATEMENTS
One of the lynchpins of an effective marketing and communications strategy is being able to describe the problem your organization solves, as well as the solution you offer in response to the problem you’ve identified. Having this information at the ready is a gift to the team charged with building your brand.
Problem and solution statements work together to focus attention on an issue that needs to be addressed and how your company is working to fix it. Both statements should be clear and convincing, leaving no doubt about what the problem is and how you intend to solve it.
Are your problem and solution statements persuasive? Do they need to be clearer or more specific? Is your problem statement too broad, and is it still relevant? Does your solution statement directly address the core problem you’ve identified?
YOUR CORE VALUES
Your core values are the guiding principles that define action and behavior in your organization. They uphold the mission and vision, shape the culture, and reflect what your company holds in high regard.
To a large extent, your core values form the ethos of your brand, influencing how your organization is perceived and how it interacts with customers, employees and the wider community. These identity-shaping expressions of how your company operates when it’s performing at its best are an invaluable part of your core messaging stack.
How well are your leaders modeling and amplifying your core values in their leadership styles? Do your internal and external communications effectively convey your core values? Are your core values in line with the future direction and growth you envision for your organization?
YOUR BRAND VOICE
Every brand has a voice, a unique way of communicating that makes a brand memorable and distinguishes it in a crowded marketplace. A key aspect of defining your voice is determining which emotions you’d like to evoke when someone interacts with your brand.
In a world full of messages, your brand voice should cut through the noise, offering a clear and distinct message that resonates with your target audience. The most effective brands are skilled at leveraging their voice as a way to strengthen the connections they have with their customers.
Does your brand voice resonate with your target audience? How does it translate from social media to more formal communications like annual reports? Do you have clear, up-to-date guidelines for your brand voice?
YOUR BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT
When we talk about a brand positioning statement, we're talking about what makes your brand unique — what sets it apart. Defining the space you want your brand to occupy in the minds of your target audience is a big part of brand positioning. And you do that by establishing a distinct identity and value proposition that will resonate with your customers.
Because so much of brand positioning is about perception, how you tell your story, the feelings your brand evokes, and the qualities that make your brand memorable all shape opinion, for better or worse.
What words or concepts have you heard people associate with your brand? How would you describe your organization to someone who may be unfamiliar with it? What is it about your brand that differentiates it in the marketplace — what are its strengths and weaknesses?
YOUR BRAND NARRATIVE
A brand narrative is a way to connect with people on an emotional level by telling a story that makes your brand more relatable or desirable. It shapes how customers perceive and interact with your brand, and serves as a vital link that ties together your organization’s past, present and future.
Like any good story, a brand narrative should have a beginning, middle and end — what some refer to as a "story arc.” For it to be enduring and effective, your brand narrative needs to be honest and genuine, not a sales pitch or marketing ploy.
How is your current brand narrative serving your organization? Does it need to be revised or completely reimagined? Does your entire team have access to and familiarity with a unifying brand narrative that they can share with others? How much influence does your brand narrative have on your marketing and communications?
YOUR CALLS TO ACTION (CTAs)
We all know what a call to action is, and the role it plays in driving engagement. We’ve seen CTAs done well, and we’ve seen them done poorly. The lesson for all of us is, your CTAs shouldn’t be an afterthought — don’t leave them to chance.
Writing down the specific actions you want someone to take when they engage with your brand is a valuable exercise because it allows you to reflect on the prompts that should be used to convert customer interest into something more tangible.
Whether online, in print or in person, does the language you use in your CTAs eliminate ambiguity about what’s expected of the person reading them? In terms of style, are your CTAs consistent across different platforms? Have you given thought to the placement of your calls to action — are they in the right spot?
Transforming Your Brand into a Story That Captivates and Inspires
Simply put, branding is the story you tell about the organization you lead. It goes beyond digital and print to encompass every aspect of someone’s experience with your company. Some organizations do it really well — they pay attention to the details, realizing that everything speaks — while others struggle to execute on a creative vision that drives customers toward deeper engagement with your brand.
If you’re wondering how to propel your brand forward, we have decades of experience helping companies do just that. Drop us a line and let us know how we can help.