Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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Acting on your brand promise is a challenge because it requires change. This can mean answering the phone in a new way, introducing a new logo or restructuring your organization to live up to your brand promise. Third article in a four-part series on branding.

This is the third article in a four-part series on branding.

Acting on your brand promise is a challenge because it requires change. This can mean answering the phone in a new way, introducing a new logo or restructuring your organization to live up to your brand promise.

Make change as painless as possible by setting clear goals and systematically monitoring your progress. Some goals during this phase of your brand-management process might include:

  • Appointing a brand steward.
  • Creating a consistent system for logo and message usage.
  • Writing a strategic action plan.
  • Implementing key initiatives to communicate and strengthen the brand.

Appoint a brand steward

The brand is the ultimate responsibility of the CEO. But you can't be everywhere at once. You need eyes and ears out in the field — a brand steward. Your steward's job is to maintain consistency and analyze business decisions through the brand-promise lens.

Many companies have a "logo cop" who scolds employees for unauthorized use of the logo. For example, an information-technology consulting firm shouldn't be printing its logo on shoelaces for corporate giveaways — that would send a confusing message about the brand.

The brand steward should be empowered to monitor the big picture and to question business decisions. For example, a brand steward might ask, "Is merging with Company XYZ staying true to our core values?" Think of the brand steward as the angel on your shoulder. As you analyze business decisions, your brand steward should do the same, with the thought: "Does this move strengthen or weaken our brand?"

You'll be amazed at how the right decisions become clear through the lens of the brand promise. For example, consider a company doing due diligence to acquire another firm. The brand steward should ask tough questions such as: "Does this addition to our company strengthen the brand promise?" "Can the employees of this company deliver on our brand promise, or is their culture a mismatch?" If you can't answer positively about the acquisition's effect on your brand, turn tail and run. Don't make a decision that will cause long-term harm to your brand.

Or suppose you're in the process of hiring a successor to take the company to the next level. Include your brand steward in the interviewing process to ensure the candidate will maintain your corporate values. After working hard to build your brand promise, you need to find a successor who will continue to nurture it.

Develop a look and feel

To ensure all communication pieces convey a consistent look and message, you must have a number of components in place:

  • Logo.
  • Standards guide on how to use the logo in different situations.
  • Stationery system.
  • PowerPoint template.
  • Brochure or advertisement template.

Your audience should easily recognize your material. Also include a core message in all communications material that clearly describes the value your company offers.

The key to cementing an image is consistency over a long period of time. John Kilcullen, chairman and CEO of Hungry Minds, publisher of the "… for Dummies" books, says it took him 10 years to build a recognizable brand. "Don't change your name or what you stand for as a fad," Kilcullen says.

Yet every year, companies spend millions of dollars changing their logos and messages. The problem is that boredom takes hold easily, and workers can tire of looking at the same logo and colors and hearing the same message year after year.

According to Kilcullen, "My creative people started resenting me because they wanted to change the colors of the '… for Dummies' books. They were tired of yellow and black. But I knew it was important not to change. The yellow and black color scheme is how the consumer recognizes our books on the crowded bookstore shelves. Today everyone is glad we didn't change. It would have taken us yet another 10 years to get the consumer recognition back to the same level."

Another hurdle to consistency is overcoming new executives' temptation to put their individual stamps on the brand. It's human nature to want to make a brand in your own image.

But as the CEO, you and your brand steward must squelch all urges to change for change's sake. Don't destroy the consistency that your audience craves. Leverage your logo and visual-communication system to get the economies of scale.

Remember: Changing or updating your logo is advisable if you have research and data indicating that your logo is sending the wrong message to your audiences, which can happen in the wake of a merger or acquisition, international expansion or a shift in business focus.

Plan your action

Once you're ready to communicate your value to the market, it's time to set targets and goals.

Create a five-year action plan to align your organization to the brand. Gather your key managers for a two-day strategy session. The overall goal of the strategic-planning meeting is to answer the question: "What do we have to do to fulfill our brand promise?" After the group decides on the plan and prioritizes its components, ask for volunteers to execute action steps. Use this meeting to share your vision, emphasize the importance of the brand promise and energize everyone to build a better company.

Remember: Change takes time. Your company won't see an overnight transformation. But you will build momentum each year as you move closer to your five-year strategic goals.

Don't limit your strategic planning to marketing efforts — look at the entire business. For example, if your brand promise is about customer service and your toll-free number is only answered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you're not living up to your word.

Act on your plan

If your employees lack an essential skill or the time to accomplish key goals, bring in outside help. Consultants, project managers and service agencies can help you to achieve your goals — and provide training for managers as well.

Stay focused. Your action plan should be a living, flexible document. Your tactics may change, but the end goal should stay the same. Revisit the plan at least twice a year to determine if anything has changed or needs to be added. Always keep the brand promise foremost in mind when instigating any business decisions. Indeed, one company went so far as to print its brand promise and core values on a laminated, wallet-sized card that the chief executive officer places on the table at every meeting.

See the December issue of The Edward Lowe Report to learn how to measure the results of your branding work.

Writers: Laura Johnston and Susan Kirchner are managing partners of Identity 3.0 LLC, a creative brand-strategy firm based in Chicago.

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