'Brand integrity', it's one of those phrases that trips off the tongue in pitches and presentations. And that's probably no bad thing.
As stand alone words, 'brand' and 'integrity' are each great. They convey a value in terms of your company and you. Moreover, used in tandem the words become a phrase, which offers a desirable message that's both corporate and personal.
At Rhubarb Fool we've decided to avoid using language, if we weren't completely clear about its meaning.
In our industry we know that the quest for style can come at the cost of substance. This is a path that we have been determined to avoid taking from the outset.
So between us, we've had a long (and ongoing) conversation about 'brand identity'.
What it means to us as individuals and what it should mean to our company.
Allow us to share some of our thoughts with you and hopefully encourage you and your staff to engage in a similar conversation. Because at Rhubarb Fool it's helped us work out what, how and why we want to be what we want to be.
The integrity of your brand will need to be defined in the first instance by your company's objectives. It's here that we started understanding the true meaning of the word integrity. The easiest way that we could understand this was by thinking of the foundations of a house.
The worth of the most beautiful residence will ultimately be determined by what is beneath the soil, not the brick work or the paint job.
Much of the desirability of a Georgian house is based on its sheer durability. We're attracted to things that don't bend in the face of adversity and show some staying power.
So let's assume it’s your company's objective to build a three storey house. Your company strategy will be the architect's plan. And your brand will be the facade of that house.
It's a great positive to have a clear idea about the final build of the house and the look of the facade. But there's little point in starting work on the third floor or the facade, until the foundations are firmly in place.
And laying down foundations has to be a methodical and incremental process, which takes time, patience and application. In this task there is no room for short-cuts and each step has to be determined by the architect's plan.
However, each step you take towards putting your company's objectives into action (implementing the architect's plan) represents a step towards establishing the substance (or integrity) of the ultimate facade (your brand).
analogy of a house-build is useful to a point. However, the process of building a company and establishing a brand can often involve as much art as science.
There are intangible processes that can't be readily equated to bricks, mortar, a trowel and a plumb-line. So we've distilled some of our thoughts about the art of establishing brand integrity into seven simple points that we hope will help you.
Integrate Your Brand with Your Business Model.
Your brand is not your product. It's reasonable to assume that you won't be the only provider of your product in your market-place.
However, your brand does allow you to define both how your customers perceive you and how you make your customers feel.
Work out what your company does best above and beyond your product.
Then set this as the cornerstone of your brand and your business model.
For example, Barbour doesn’t just sell rain coats; it sells well-designed, well made and good looking clothing. They probably don't sell the best outdoor clothing (Aigle, Musto and North Face all deliver similarly high quality products).
However, when people buy Barbour they are not just buying an item of clothing. They are buying into the
lifestyle and social grouping that Barbour is seen to represent.
So try playing the word game with some well known brands. Volvo = safety; Chanel = sophistication, Waitrose = quality and Disney = magic. What does your brand equal? Just answer that question.
Decide the most important aspect of your product or service, and make it a part of every facet of your brand communication.
Be Consistent in Your Message.
Now that you have focused on a central brand attribute, be sure that this underpins all your communications -- especially inside your own company.
Don’t talk about things that aren't relevant to or don't enhance your brand. Added a new photo to Facebook? What does it mean for your company?
Does it strike a chord or support the message you are trying to convey, or is it just an amusing ditty that could confuse your audience? If the messages you are putting out aren't in line with your brand's message, you may struggle to differentiate yourself from competitors.
And don't stop reinforcing the message, in meetings, in the staff room, or just over lunch. Don't be shy about taking the opportunity to encourage the feelings you want your brand to engender in your employees, as well as your customers.
When employees are onside (especially those who have greatest exposure to your customers) -- your message will be diffused to new customers organically and effectively.
Customers can either approach your product or service rationally, or they can approach it emotionally.
How else do you explain the person who pays thousands of pounds more for a Volkswagen, rather than buying another cheaper, equally well-made car? Because there was an emotional voice in the customer's mind, whispering “Buy a Volkswagen...well-made, trendy, stylish.” It’s just the way the brand makes you
Like you belong, like you're somewhere you want to be in life, like you're part of a larger group that's more tight-knit than a simple cross section of motorists. Volkswagen has established a brand that encourages such a level of loyalty and adherence among its customers, that they have established social groups and organisations independent of the brand. (Volkswagen Owners' Clubs).
Find a way to connect to your customers on a deeper level. Do you offer reassurance? Make them feel part of a social or peer group? Do you make life easier? Connect with your customers on this point before and after the point of transaction. Address their questions and concerns on social media. A little goes a long way. As an industry commentator succinctly observed: "Batman doesn’t have any real superpowers, but whenever that signal lights up the sky, people trust that he will be there -- because he always is".
Reward and Cultivate.
If you already have people that love you, your company, and your brand, don’t just lie back and bask in the sunlight of their approval! Reward them for their loyalty. These customers have gone the extra mile to give you positive publicity in their peer group or in social media. See them as brand ambassadors. Cultivate loyalty from these people early on in your business and you'll reap the rewards of returning customers who bring their friends with them. Sometimes, just a thank you is all that's needed, but successful brands do seem to go further. A personalised letter can have enormous traction. Or you could ask a happy customer to write a review, and feature them prominently on your website. Consider the following news report "Porsche reached 1 million Facebook fans quicker than any other automotive brand, so to thank its fans, Porsche made a wraparound for its GT3 Hybrid that included all 1 million names".
We should all be clear that offering such a positive outcome to a customer or brand supporter will only consolidate the special place that your brand has in his or her heart.
Life doesn't always go the way it's planned to go. For all of the time and effort you put into devising a campaign to support your brand strategy, it still might not work. That's business.
Try and see this not as a mistake, but as a learning opportunity. So be sure to closely monitor your return on investment, as you roll-out the new campaigns that you hope will strengthen your brand. If your brand isn’t touching your target audience through the campaign, you haven’t given them a good enough reason to engage.
At the start of each new campaign, re-assess and strengthen your marketing assessment tools for branded and organic search. If it goes up when you launch your campaign, it means people are engaging with your campaign and becoming more interested in your brand.
They are searching for you - often by name - because you have stoked their curiosity. And again if you've been fortunate enough to have enjoyed success, don't rest on your laurels. Stay quick on your feet, nimble and evolve constantly.
Now we've raised the subject of agile marketing. In this fast-changing world, marketers must remain flexible if they are to maintain relevance. On the plus side, this is very liberating. It enables you to be creative with your campaigns. Lots of brands have reintroduced themselves to new generations of customers - look at Ribena and Lucozade - because they realised that they could not afford to stand still.
So if your old tactics aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to change them just because they might have previously been successful.
There's no room for complacency, the phrase that came up in the Rhubarb Fool boardroom harked back to that old western movie: "The Quick and the Dead".
Watch Out for Competitors...a Bit.
See your competitors as friends, as much as you see them as enemies. With them snapping around your heels, you'll be incentivised to improve your own strategies and create greater traction and positive perception in your overall brand.
You're all in the same business and you're all in pursuit of the same customers. So don't be afraid to look at what your competitors are doing, particularly if they're successful at it.
And of course you can learn as much from your competitors' failures as you learn from their successes. It could reasonably be argued that the decline of the British and American car industries was down to an obdurate unwillingness to accept that their competitors might be doing things in better ways than they were and that their new customers might actually be making good choices.
Accepting this, you can’t let your competitors dictate what you do and what you don't do. After all, belief in yourself and what you are doing is why you started a business in the first place.
By trying to anticipate every move your competitor makes, you'll be at risk of merging into a homogenous provider mush. You want customers to be able to make a clear differentiation between your company and your competitors.
So keep a mindful eye on your competitors when experimenting with your brand strategy -- just don't get blinded by them. Ultimately you know what's best for your company and that's your brand integrity.