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How to Identify Your Brand

“How to Identify Your Brand”

More than marketing: Branding attracts workers, sets direction.

This is the first article in a four-part series in which you’ll learn the four steps to building your brand: identifying your brand, articulating your brand promise, acting on your brand and measuring success.

What brand?

Do your audiences — customers, employees, peers — know your company’s unique value? Do you promise customers they will receive that value in every contact with your organization? If not, it’s time to do some branding work.

Branding can help you:

  • Market to the right people — the ones who value your "brand promise" (what your company stands for).
  • Attract the right employees who fit in with your corporate culture.
  • Make the right products or offer the right services.
  • Plan your strategic direction.

The brand promise

The first step is to identify your brand promise, which is your unique value. Companies that are growing quickly — or industries that are changing rapidly — often think they’re offering one value, when customers actually use them because of another. For example, you might believe the company’s value is speed, when customers come back for its consistently good advice.

Remember: A brand is not merely a symbol or a name, but the culmination of communications and experiences that a person receives from every contact with your organization.

Power brands like Nike and Starbucks are easy to identify. Nike stands for courage and sportsman-like competitiveness. Starbucks stands for cultured relaxation. Both are business-to-consumer companies trying to reach mass audiences.

The success of your brand hinges on building strong relationships. Relationships are built on trust. For someone to trust you, they need to know that you will consistently deliver what you promise. Trust leads to loyalty, which ultimately leads to greater profits for your company.

The emotion behind the product

Emotions play a critical role in both the decision-making process and building relationships. When potential employees choose a place to work or customers choose a trusted adviser, part of their decision is based on emotions. Prospective customers and employees need to feel that your company is going to provide them with a better product or service than any other competitor.

That’s why branding is so important — brands create the emotion behind your product and service. If your brand promise is clear, you will attract the right customers who will benefit most from your product or service.

If you’re worried that a brand will simply label you as the flavor of the month, only to become irrelevant later, think again. A real brand helps your company stay true to its core strengths and competencies.

Here’s how to identify your company’s brand promise:

Create a task force. Two heads — or more — are better than one. Form a task force with employees from all levels — front-line workers, managers, senior management. As the CEO or founder, you’ll need to step back and let your employees run with this. People may not be as open when you’re in the room.

Identify interview targets. Remember: You have a brand, but you don’t own it. Your brand resides in the minds of your constituents — customers, employees, potential employees, community and shareholders. To find out how they see you, select a sample, including the CEO or founder. Try to conduct at least 15-20 interviews.

Create a questionnaire. Have the task force put together a list of questions ranging from general (What business is "X" company in?) to specific (Tell me about a time when "X" company helped you out of a jam).

Get to the emotional appeal by asking: What were the circumstances? Who helped you? How did it make you feel? Create a comprehensive guideline of questions so that everyone on the task force collects the same information. However, don’t be afraid of straying from the list if your interview candidate goes down an interesting path.

Tip: Focus on the positives. Find out what your company does well. That way, you can try to replicate those successful moments. Don’t prompt someone to say something negative. If people have strong negative feelings, they will air them.

Some sample questions:

Employees: Why did you accept a job at this company? What surprised you about the company once you started? How do the people here make you feel? Even after a stressful day, why do you still work here?

Customers: Who made the decision to start working with our company? Why did you give us a chance? Tell us about how we fixed a pressing problem you had. How are we different from the competition?

Owner: Why did you start this company? Running a company takes a lot of hard work and dedication — why didn’t you give up? What were your biggest obstacles? What is your vision for the company? What is your strongest asset?

Especially in smaller companies, the organization’s personality is often a reflection of the owner’s personality. Try to identify what drives the people running the organization. You may find a connection.

Tip: Be creative with your questions. Sometimes surprising questions reveal the best information. You want the underlying emotions and feelings the person has about your company, so keep asking "Why?" until you get the information you need.

Set a deadline for interviews. Conduct the interviews in a short period of time — one or two weeks. The faster you do so, the fresher the information will be in the minds of the task force.

Analyze information. Here’s the fun part. Put the task force in a room and have them discuss what they learned. Each person should offer what he or she feels are the unique attributes of the company. Write them on a board — no idea is too silly. You should see patterns start to develop or ideas being repeated. The more repetition, the stronger the attribute. Look for disconnects. Do your employees think you excel at customer service, while your customers never mention it?

Document your findings. The task force should produce about 10 key insights or characteristics that make your company special. Be sure they indicate why these insights are important and to whom.

Remember: Not all insights need to be customer focused. These insights will provide the foundation for articulating your brand promise, which will be the focus of the second article in the October [2001] issue of The Edward Lowe Report.

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