Brand Engagement I

From Logo to Living It

– So, now what?

I could see the transition, mostly because I had been waiting for it. For several happy meetings, the client basked in the glory of the recently completed brand positioning project that had absorbed her department for nearly a year. We were just wrapping up a few lingering issues when the wispiest cloud of concern passed over her face. Noticing it, the project lead asked if anything was the matter. The client paused and sighed as if relieved to have been asked. Choosing her words carefully, she said, “It’s not that I’m unhappy. We’ve created an amazing strategy, a beautiful logo. People are even being good about following the guidelines we issued at launch. But I can’t help feeling like there’s something missing. It’s as if people in the organization are looking at me asking, ‘Now what?’”

– Baby comes home

Sometimes the best analogies for business are to be found in personal life; and, there’s really nothing so much like launching a new or revitalized brand as bringing home a new baby. The parents’ euphoria is naturally bound up with a feeling of awesome responsibility. Brand managers, like my client in the story above, often experience a similar mixture of anticipation and anxiety when launching a new brand strategy or other major initiative. In both cases, personal and professional, what’s usually needed is a helping hand from someone who knows the ropes, someone who’s been there before.

In the world of branding, that vital support should come from the agency that has helped craft the brand and its applications. But, while many firms are accomplished in the delivery of, say, a name, a logo, or even usage guidelines, few are truly adept at helping clients take the next step – putting the brand into action.

– A never-ending race

Traditionally, like other businesses, branding firms thrived on delivery. Projects were initiated and completed, and then it was on to the Next. But, branding has changed. We consulting types like to describe today’s brands as living entities – organic forms that change and evolve over time. Well, if that’s true, then there are no clear stopping points in the process of brand delivery. While there are milestones to be achieved, there’s no ultimate finish line where we can stop, catch our breath, shuck our running shoes and head home. There’s only the next stage in the race.

Nor, can we simply pass the baton to the client and wish them luck in that next stage. If we care about the brands we create, and the success of the clients we serve, we’ve got to stay engaged, helping to speed the team to the next goal.

– Getting engaged

Branding firms are realizing that they have a responsibility to help clients answer the “now what” question. From a project-management point of view, this means arranging to continue relationships past static delivery dates, finding ways to offer ongoing support. From a content-development point of view, this means creating new types of service offerings to meet at-launch and post-launch needs.

At the most basic level, these offerings cover the need to train employees in the basics of the brand – what it means and how it’s represented to the marketplace. At a higher and more comprehensive level, these offerings address the issue of brand culture – the roles, relationships and understandings that permeate the organization and unite its people in a common purpose.

What these offerings achieve is Brand Engagement – getting people to connect with the brand in ways that are interactive…and integrated with the rest of their professional life. It’s about getting the brand out of the C-suite and into the rest of the organization. It’s about making sure the brand is embraced by the people who will deliver on it every day.

– Promises and stories

Brands are promises: They contain an explicit or implicit pledge to do something valuable for the customer. Brands are also stories: They create a shared experience that grows over time, creating connections with customers, and unity among employees.

Brand Engagement enlists your people as promise keepers and story tellers. It arms them with the understandings and tools they require to take the brand into their own hands and bring it to life for the people they serve.

A good Brand Engagement program is one that integrates your belief systems with your practices; inspiring, energizing and educating your employees. Such a program doesn’t dictate so much as it elicits: In classic Socratic method, it raises the right questions, and prompts employees to discover the answers for themselves. Three types of questions are key:

– Understanding what you and your brand do:

What is our reason for being?

What is it that we accomplish for our customers?

How do I help to do this in my own specific job?

How can I make our brand more meaningful?

– Making sure you can do it:

What do I need to know in order to get the job done?

What tools do I need?

How do I work with my colleagues to reach common goals?

– Maintaining a vested interest in the results:

What’s in it for me: professionally and personally?

How will I grow as the brand grows?

How will I know when we’ve succeeded?

How will my contributions be recognized?

– Finding the right answers to the right questions

Branders and clients alike have realized that it’s not enough to say “build it and they will come.” Both the builders and the visitors must be further engaged. Employees must be invited into the life of the brand. And, in turn, they will extend that invitation to customers old and new.

Brand Engagement populates brand promises and brand stories with the people who bring them to life. It provides a helping hand to the proud “parents” of those brands. It seeks the right answers by asking the right questions. And, increasingly, we branders find that the answer to the Big One (“Now what?”) is clear: Almost everything.

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