It’s not that branding is bad. Branding is good – it helps your customers understand who you are and what you stand for. It’s just that branding has often been presented as a mystical concept – hard to quantify, yet able to heal all of an organization’s problems.
If you have been a part of branding discussions, you have probably heard more than one expert say, “a brand is not just a logo.” Well, OK. But if a brand is not a logo, then what is it? Is it colors? Is it type fonts? Is it language?
Definitely yes, sort of.
One of the easiest ways to understand branding is to think about your family. Mom has wild red hair and a rather prominent nose. Dad has a gap between his two front teeth and his ears stick out a bit. When Mom laughs, she snorts. Dad is almost always smiling, but when he gets mad, he gets quiet and leaves the room with a gait that is all his own. You are a product of your family’s brand – a brand that was started hundreds of years ago.
Some of your family’s brand attributes are physical – such as red hair and gapped-teeth. Other brand attributes, like laughter, are personality traits. Many attributes are behavioral – learned and passed down from generation to generation.
The strongest brand attributes can be traced to the top of the gene pool. They are not always the most desirable traits but they are the strongest. If the red hair gene is dominant enough, it will trickle through the generations, becoming synonymous with the family brand.
As you evaluate your own organization, it is important to remember that your brand has physical attributes – your logo, a color palette, type fonts, and a language style. Your brand also has personality attributes. Are you friendly? Approachable? Reliable? Well respected? Honest? Your brand is also made up of behaviors that have been learned over time – some positive, some negative. A merger between two entities with reputations for treating people poorly will likely create a new entity that treats people poorly. All the brand strategy in the world cannot overcome the obvious.
Much like sisters and brothers who are not exactly the same, single entities within large systems can have different personalities. Good brand strategy allows for personality differences while ensuring that certain traits are traceable to the top of gene pool. Hopefully, the less desirable traits will be diminished over time. You want people to understand your “family,” and that you come from good stock.
The next time you gather for a family reunion, take a look around. You can learn a lot about branding from the one relative that everyone adores as well as from crazy uncle Bob.