The world needs your brand. Your brand is unique, dare I say, remarkable. So your brand needs to resonate strongly with its authentic identity. But we all know a lot of brands (especially B2B brands) that don’t feel remarkable. They don’t seem very unique. And that’s what I want to dig into today — the dangers of doing branding wrong, especially accidental branding.
Last time we looked at the first two ways that companies can fall into accidental branding. Those two ways were:
- Confusing their brand’s essence with their business goals.
- And confusing their brand’s essence with their competition.
Now I want to look at the second set of ways companies can fall into accidental branding. This risks a lot of confusion with their customers, staff, partners and ultimately creates a short-lived B2B brand.
A company’s leadership is the most prominent communicator of the heart of a company: its values, its mission, its purpose. The way leadership presents its values and purpose reverberates throughout the company at every level and resounds through its employees. Attempting to work out a company’s brand without the support of its leadership is almost always fails. Ultimately the leaders of a company are in the best position to recognize what does and does not fit with their company’s driving mission.
Leadership ≠ Brand
Having said that, an organization’s leaders themselves are not its brand. Unless we’re talking about the founder of the company, anybody else in leadership, no matter how amazing or influential or publicly prominent, is merely accidental. The present CEO is not the company’s identity, and the CEO’s personal tastes should not drive brand decisions. “The boss likes this color” or “The boss loves this typeface” are not brand-based reasons to make any decisions. The same is true of any other outspoken or prominent person in a business who may want to influence the brand around pet projects. The brand is not about them.
Leadership Based Branding is a Rebrand Waiting to Happen
The leadership of an organization often drives its brand towards the leader’s fantasies rather than the organization’s real abilities! The leader badly wants something, and the organization must transform its identity to serve as a tool for the leader to get it. When rebranding accompanies a change of leadership, often it is a sign that the former “brand” looked too much like the personal seal of the former leader. Unfortunately, the “new” brand often seems uncannily shaped to fit the predispositions of the new leader. Customers and employees feel the dissonance as the brand shifts and look for excuses to leave the brand until a new leader re-invents the business yet again.
Leadership structures, like departments, sub-businesses, regional offices, or teams of people, are equally bad drivers of the brand identity of a business. Your customers usually don’t care much about internal politics, and your org chart tells them nothing about who you are and what you’re here for. Authentic branding will instead help them have consistent and seamless experiences across different divisions, offices, or teams.
The founder of a company is the one possible exception to this rule. The founder of a company is essential to the company: without the founder, it simply wouldn’t have existed. There is no Ford Motor Company without Henry Ford and no Apple without Steve Jobs. The values and vision of a founder are often identified with the values and vision of the company. Still, even the founder of a company is never the whole of its identity. The company aims to outlive its founder, just as Ford and Apple persist to this very day. A founder’s job is to create something larger than themselves. The brand will ultimately take on a life of its own. So, even a founder is not infallible when it comes to recognizing when choices fit or don’t fit with an organization’s identity.
One natural place to look for a brand’s identity is its history. A brand’s history is the story of what the organization has done over time. And what an organization does inevitably reflects who it really is and what it cares about. History gives us a lot of information about a brand. Longevity in a company often indicates customer loyalty, and that loyalty often hangs on a common thread of brand identity which has remained over time. It would be malpractice to try to brand a company without knowing anything about its history.
But no brand is only its history. Even a historical monument, like the Antietam Battlefield, is not just its history. How it is experienced and interpreted will change over time, along with the environment. How much more true for a company that has to constantly grow and adapt!
Stuck In The Past
A company that defines itself by events in its past risks stagnating into irrelevance. Maybe your company did something amazing twenty years ago, but is that how you want to be remembered today? Don’t be like “Uncle Rico”, the 50-year old man forever living in high school varsity football memories!
Maybe your brand is best expressed by retelling the story of your founding in a basement two-hundred years ago because that story best reflects the values and personality traits that continue to animate your brand today. But the mere fact that you have a long and interesting history to share doesn’t automatically make it the best window into your soul.
Was It Just Something That Happened?
Perhaps your company hasn’t been around very long; all the more reason to be careful in how you allow the story of your founding to be told and how you connect it with your identity. Stories about what you have done or the reasons the business was started tell us a lot about your brand’s underlying values and purpose. On the other hand, stories about things that simply happened to your business along the way are just coincidences. They’re void of meaning to the rest of the world. It’s like a story that’s all plot and no character development.
The Cure for Accidental Branding: Your Brand’s Essence
Ultimately, the foundational mistake in accidental branding comes from confusing what is important with what is essential. Your goals, competition, leadership, and history are all vitally important components to understand when building a B2B brand. However, Being important doesn’t make them the essence of the business.
The essence of a brand is its unchanging core. Your brand wouldn’t be the same without it. You can – and should – find that essence for your brand. If you succeed, you’ll be well on your way to a Remarkable Brand.