Start on the Inside
The infamous Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, once quipped, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken." While I couldn't agree more, being yourself isn't easy, especially in today's world where we tend to care too much about what others think about us (probably more than they actually do!). Brand development, like character formation, truly is an inside job.
It takes courage to ask the hard questions about your reason for being and the real problem that you solve, let alone own the mistakes you've made along the way. Many of today's businesses, as with most trends, would rather imitate the authentic few rather than risk blazing their own trail to discover the unique gift that have to offer their market.
Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, is known for great quotes, especially about marketing and branding. His famous quote about brands, "Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room," is one starting point for thinking about brand identity or the character of an organization. And yet, the key isn't to cater to who others want you to be, it's digging deep enough to trust that who you are (and who you're becoming) is enough: Your experience, your gift-mix, your team, your resources, your personality.
One way to develop a strong and authentic brand identity is to think about your business as if it were a person. We've developed useful language to describe each other, and we can use that sort of language to describe a business in ways that are easy to understand.
Examples: trustworthy, down-to-earth, hard-working, honest, creative, fun...
The critical piece with brand identity within a company is that everyone has to be on board with the idea. Your brand has to be reflected in the people and business practices from leadership down to the service desk, warehouse, and cleaning staff. I think Southwest Airlines is a great example of this. Identifying personality words to describe your business means you can use those terms in training staff. Imagine a reporter showing up and asking everyone in your organization to describe the company in one word. What do you want that word to be? How are you going to develop that brand identity internally so you can then develop a brand strategy for the rest of the world?
It's easy to be all over the place with business identity. The finance department wants to be seen as dependable. The marketing department wants to be hip and out of the box. The service department wants to be seen as trustworthy. Different departments have different goals, so it's fine for their identities to be developed along those lines, but the brand strategy should give the business a cohesive, over-arching identity that ties all the departments together.
The identity- the one word or idea people think of when they think of your business- should be the real deal, the heart of the business. It should reflect your real values, your commitment to how you do business. A brand strategy should never be just a party dress you put on when it's time for marketing.
Integrity: When the Outside Matches the Inside
When brand identity is being developed, think of the work in two parts. Internal identity, how employees and leadership of the business identify the business personality, should be the same as external identity--how members of your target market identify your personality. Think of the magic mirror--you hold it up to yourselves, and you can see the business the way you want it to be. You hold the same mirror up to your target client, and he or she sees your business identity the same way.
As business leadership, you have an idea what you want your identity to reflect. It's important to solicit input from the rest of the staff on how they see the personality before moving forward with brand development. If there is a significant disconnect internally between how you want yourselves to be seen, and how the service and marketing departments see the personality of the business, that disconnect needs to be addressed through training. If you are a new business building a brand strategy, it's easier to get everyone on the same page from the start.
While the words we use to describe personality traits are abstract, most people can quickly give examples of people showing that trait. Imagine a client walking out the door and sending a text about the experience. If everyone internally is on board with the brand identity, that text should contain your descriptive word, or something close. Regardless of the purpose of the visit or department seen, the client should leave with a clear impression of your business personality.
The action plan for developing brand identity starts internally with identifying personality traits that reflect your business--who you are and who you want to be. Leadership decides if that personality reflects business values and goals. Internal assessment and training get staff all working from the same play-book. That personality, along with industry standards and expectations, are used to bring your business identity to your marketplace with courage and confidence.