How to Build the Right Foundation for Your Company Brand
If you were to ask most entrepreneurs, they would admit their success was not linear in fashion. They built their "original" company on a single product, service or idea that then morphed again and again over time. Many of these necessary adaptations to the business model cause a company brand to become misaligned -- the message seems outdated, outmoded and irrelevant. For an example, think Radio Shack... a company now light years from its original intent. To avoid this common pitfall, here are steps to ensure your brand has the right foundation from day one.
1. Start with your "Why"
Your "why" is the basic driver behind your brand. It goes by a lot of names... your dream, your passion, your mission, your vision, your "reason-for-being," etc. This is what gets you up in the morning and helps you make it through the rough spots. If you don't know why you are in business, you will be pushed around by competing motives. One day you'll make a deal based on the money, the next day based on how you like the customer, and the next based on how you like the project. You will chase opportunities that don't align with your true purpose and this creates an incongruent customer experience. Great brands are consistent, and they are consistent because they are driven by a singular purpose.
2. Determine your "What"
This seems easy on the surface, but it's not. The basic question here is "What business are you truly in?" The early railroad companies thought they were in the railroad business, and therefore never acquired emerging technology in their real business -- transportation. Remember, your customers really don't want your products or services, they want the benefits that your products and services deliver. These benefits tend to be timeless... transportation, information, safety, status, assurance, etc. By basing your brand identity on the end result, the "payoff," you stand a better chance of remaining relevant. Think of the benefits associated with Best Buy vs. CompUSA. The first brand was based on affordability while the second was based on a product. If you get your "what" wrong, your company will last as long as your product life cycle.
3. How Do You Do What You Do?
Your "how" is your differentiator. Once you know what business your are in, you can then determine how you do it differently than anyone else. Look for "er" and "ly" words to help you determine your unique place.
"ER" Words: Smarter, Faster, Stronger, Quieter, Easier, Safer, Gentler, Bigger,
"LY" Words: Effectively, Efficiently, Affordably, Dependably, Simply, Brilliantly
In the company naming and branding business, some firms tout their linguists and their process, while we talk about insight, brilliance and clarity. What is it you do differently in your space? What would your best customers say about why it is they use you? This "how" is your secret sauce, the recipe for how your execute and deliver on your brand promise.
4. Who Are You... Who? Who?
The identity piece is what most new start ups want to establish or know upfront. But it requires the foundation blocks of your why, what and how in order to place the capstone of your "who" at the apex of your brand identity. By knowing what motivates your organization, knowing what business you are truly in and how you do what you do, only then can you create a brand identity that aligns from top to bottom. This is not only a good company brand strategy, it's good common sense. Imagine the opposite, with the who at the bottom and it's "radios." This is what leads to brands like Radio Shack, CompUSA, and Linens & Things. By basing your brand on your mission, motivation and attributes, you allow yourself the ability to "pivot" and adapt as new products, services and opportunities present themselves. Make it a goal to align your brand with a singular attribute that compliments your mission and purpose.
Putting it all together
By building on the right base, in the right order, you can create a steadfast brand that resonates with potential customers because it's both solid and aligned. The organization will think, act and behave in a consistent manner because of it's singular intention. In place of multiple, conflicting mandates, the company will pursue goals that help achieve its overall mission (and just as importantly, bypass ones that don't.) Here is an example of a company we helped to brand based on these concepts. Rather than identifying them as a "sod supplier" we helped build the brand based on the end benefit of improving the customer's outdoor living experience. The name Harmony naturally fits that theme.
So try out this company branding exercise. Draw your own pyramid and fill out your why, what, how and who. This could easily be a half day or all day event, but the effort will prove invaluable in helping determine not only your brand identity, but your future direction.
About the author: With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.
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