A Blueprint for Great Brands

The definition of the word brand, from a 1998 copy of Webster’s dictionary, was “to mark with a red hot poker”.

By Dean Crutchfield

The definition of the word brand, from a 1998 copy of Webster’s dictionary, was “to mark with a red hot poker”. The definition is still spot on because brands need to be red hot in this destructive deleveraging recession.

Successful brands are stories told well and the language of the consumer has changed. Today’s consumer admires brands that enable them to become involved; it’s much more of a reciprocal relationship. The consumer also demands more flexibility and therefore, the relationship between producer and consumer has become blurred; we must promote brands with precision marketing that enables the right people to be involved.

Brand is not marketing, it is what you stand for and people love a brand that stands for something. We know that a strong brand is vital to an organization’s success, but what is not so widely understood is how strong brands happen, where they come from and how they endure.

All successful strategies are destined to fail. In a rapidly changing market, how do you separate value from commodity, especially when the nature of competition has changed dramatically; it’s no longer your obvious competitor. Today it’s about the power of your customers, suppliers, potential substitutes and the threat of new entrants. If you can’t build an advantage on what you sell, create a brand advantage on how you sell?

Most branding agencies don’t clarify the situation. They often discuss brand building in vague or made-up terms and offer intriguing, but unproven strategies.

My blueprint for best branding practices identifies four components for building and managing great brands. These four factors are definitive. Each supports and enhances the other. And they’re all achievable by any organization.

Ignite a great idea

At the core of all great brands is a great idea that people inside and outside of the business can buy into. Great brand ideas are unique, true and selfless. They’re based on universal ideas, such as convenience, magic or individuality. They’re simple enough for people everywhere to “get” and they reflect real, living attributes of the organization.

Dynamic leadership

Successful brands come from organizations that manage brands right from the top. Why? First, brands are valuable. Second, brands permeate all departments and must be managed where they all converge – at the CEO’s office. Third, great brands are actions, not just words. Marketers can talk about a brand, but unless it comes to life through actions, it’s simply not believable. Leadership psyche is the key to a successful strategy as it sets the example on the organizational style and the direction employees need to take for all brand actions and communications.

The right talent

In a rapidly changing world, organizations must adapt and change. Success is not about hiring the right skills it’s about hiring the right attitudes. People are a brand’s greatest asset, and the most important thing a CEO can do is have a continuous recruitment strategy in place—including success planning—that constantly searches for new talent both internally and with outside partners. A good brand will only become great when the members of the organization believe in it and live it out as they work.

Encouraging culture

How do you take people forward through change because if they don’t believe they won’t come? Building a brand that has clear meaning to your employees requires delivering short-term actions that can take the brand deeper into the employee relationship. Therefore, what are the rock hard beliefs your people can hold onto? Why? Because true values extend far beyond the bounds of what function companies actually perform. Instead they are anchored in human emotions, concerns, aspirations and ambitions.

Enterprise transformation relies on that one last crucible corporate culture and a common vocabulary is not a common culture. Society has re-wired the way consumer markets are shaped and if social dynamics and consumer markets are re-wired we need to focus internally on the human aspects of the business. There are many sources of internal motivation. Brand experiences are personal, so organizations can’t dictate them, but they can optimize their control and flexibility. This includes educating the organization about a brand’s value and matching the organization’s culture with its brand message.

Great brands are built by igniting big ideas, creating dynamic leadership, supporting the right talent and encouraging the culture. With great brands come great benefits—including higher customer loyalty, increased opportunities and elevated profits.

Here are seven critical questions a business needs to answer:

What is the business and brand strategy for the future?
What will be the shared values the business is based on?
How should the business be structured: structurally led or strategically led?
What staffing is required to make it happen?
What are the skills that need to be trained?
What systems are in place for success planning and recruitment?
What should be the style of the organization to succeed?

As Shakespeare said “nothing comes from nothing, dare mighty things.”

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