Brand Truths for 2012

By January 13th, 2012

Brand managers (or guardians – that’s a much grander sounding word, no?) are busier than ever. And sometimes they’re confused. They should be. Brand guardians are having a tough time seeing themselves as publishers, as content managers. The world is changing rapidly and sometimes it’s tough to get your bearings. That they never “owned” their own brands has long been established but even today some brand guardians seem to think they do. Worse, there have never been more brand touchpoints – consumers can literally access a brand whenever or wherever they want to. And if they can’t, that’s also a potential problem. Some basic basic truths in 2012:

1) No one cares about your brand.

Absolutely no one. Consumers only care about your brand as it pertains to them. Does your brand make them happy? Does it improve their lives? Is your brand and the values it espouses in line with how a consumer sees him/herself? Everything about a brand has to be seen in relation to the consumer. Without the consumer you have no brand. A brand isn’t just PR. It’s an outreach program and it needs recipients. Without a recipient and a brand is just floating in space, lifeless and meaningless. Without form.

2) Without brand consistency you have nothing.

How many touchpoints does your brand have? I remember once walking into a secret lair, an office hidden behind a staircase in a non-descript building. Inside, a giant windowless office that was a client’s rebranding nerve centre. I was shown a very simple Excel document, printed out and pinned up on the wall. And on it were the almost 200 consumer brand touchpoints that had been identified to that point. All this to say, your brand is more than just some words. It’s more than just a story. It’s a voice. It’s your company’s voice. Its humanity. And if you have different voices for different media, you’re just confusing the customer. And that’s bad branding.

3) Don’t confuse a mission statement with a brand’s meaning.

You should be able to describe your brand in one word. The mission statement (say “Generic Corp’s brand embodies the values of honesty and simplicity in improving the lives of its customers”) is just that – a statement and something for the staff. It’s internal. The word? That’s the nugget that goes out to the world.

4) Your brand is the source of all media.

Or it should be. A brand may start as a nugget but it sets a lot of stuff in motion. In this sense, perhaps nugget isn’t the right word. Pearl is. Your brand is like a pearl. Get it right, execute properly, and your brand shines. And since your brand is the source of all media, and your company is a publisher of content, you need to get that right. Everything is content. Brochures. Video. Your website. Any print materials. Custom publications. Newsletters. E-zines. Signage. Stationary. Posters. Ads. All of it is content. Because every company in the world is a media centre.

5) Just because your brand was successful yesterday means nothing tomorrow.

Brand maintenance is hard work. We all know that. And the worst thing a brand guardian can do is rest on his/her laurels. A brand review should be regular. Even when things are going well. Especially when things are going well. And a brand review should include all stakeholders. Both internal and external. Sometimes external agencies have a better idea about a company’s brand than its internal guardians.

6) Don’t take your brand somewhere just because the competition is there as well.

If the answer to anything is “Because everyone’s doing it” your brand is in a bad spot. Yes, the consumer demands and expects a lot more than they did just a few years ago. That’s why you need a solid strategy. Too many brands have rushed into various platforms and spaces without understanding what they were doing. The resulting brand black eye is both predictable and unfortunate. Does thinking things through make you slower? So what? If the brand is strong, it will survive the wait. And it will probably thrive.

As a content marketing agency, Spafax has seen some brands get it really really right and then others, well, not so much. We often tell potential clients that we want to “get under the skin” of their brands so that our work makes sense in a larger context. So that the message we create fits seamlessly into the existing brand universe. If we do our job well, we can even lead a brand to a new space by enhancing it in ways the client hadn’t ever considered. Content marketing is, in essence, another way of pushing brand values out to the consumer in a way that is relevant to them. Difficult? Yes. But definitely not impossible to do properly.

The word “brand” has gone through a huge shift (and will probably continue to do so) but the essence, the pearl of it, has remained constant. A brand embodies the soul of a company, how it wants to be perceived by consumers in a world of almost limitless choice. It is an amazingly powerful thing. And needs to be treated with respect. And intelligence.