Building a Brand Identity: Watch Your Language!


When you discuss with people the idea that a company should have a strong brand, you often get knowing nods and agreement that yes, this is very important for businesses, and people either laud or complain about their marketing departments for their success, or lack of success, in this area.

I think this is very indicative of the attitude of many companies (especially companies not involved in the consumer market) that ‘brand’ is marketing’s job.  I believe that this is fundamentally a language problem; a problem of what words you use to engage each employee in helping to build the brand identity and making it consistent throughout your company or division, not just the marketing department.

You would probably agree that a company that can produce products and services that are consistent with what the customers actually value, has a much better chance of success than one who is inconsistent, or even worse, has lost touch with its customers.

So how do you ensure that 1) there is consistency, and 2) you remain in touch with what your customers value?

In this article I want to try and tackle the consistency challenge, and propose it has a lot to do with the language you use outside of the marketing department.

Talk to most technical folks about ‘brand’ and I guarantee you will see some eyes gloss over, other eyes will avert, and some folks may even run for the door.  It isn’t a word that really resonates well outside the cubes of the marketing department; it is a very right-bained word.  So how do we translate it?

Brand Identity: A unique set of associations that the brand strategist aspires to create or maintain. These associations represent what the brand should stand for and imply a potential promise to customers. It is important to note that a brand identity refers to the strategic goal for a brand; while brand image is what currently resides in the minds of consumers.

Wow, even my eyes are glazing over!

What if we tried translating our ‘Brand Identity’ into the following words:

  • In the Research and Developmet lets call them our ‘Design Principles’
  • For customer support lets call them our ‘Principles of Customer Service’
  • Sales might call it their ‘Elevator Pitch’
  • Portfolio management would say it is our ‘Common Value Proposition’
  • Strategy and Architecture teams would call it our ‘Strategic Vision’
  • Product test or verification would define their ‘Priority Test Criteria’
  • When you get up to the executive ranks, you could talk about the company ‘Vision, Mission or Core Values’

This certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, as I am sure you can think of other areas, and other even better words to capture what the ‘brand identity’ is to each group above; in fact I encourage you to do so in the comments below (I am looking for ideas)!!

But, by using this more functionally-sensitive language, and defining what the brand identity means for each functional group, great strides can be made to create the alignment between the efforts of various parts of an organization, and what their customers experience.  This helps every employee understand  how they contribute to “the promise to customers”.

You might ask ‘who’s responsibility is this’ to drive this alignment?  I can offer you little help here.  I have heard some arguments that claim this kind of messaging must come from the very top of the organization.  But a more pragmatic side of me sees how this can be a very improbable suggestion, especially in companies where marketing is considered a tactical, not strategic function:

All I can offer is, If this post resonates strongly with you, it might just be yours!  🙂

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5 Responses

  1. “Also, brand management is so complicated that bigger businesses actually have a special department in charge of just that, which may be part of the marketing department but operate as a separate entity.”

    Yes, I have worked with companies that have ‘brand managers’ but they tend to be very product focused, or even release (product version) focused, which seems to create a very ‘stove-piped’ product model where each product ends up having a very unique look, feel and value proposition. So two products purchased from the same company will give the end users a very different and inconsistent experience.

    Have you seen any cases where these ‘brand management’ teams have had success driving this consistent brand identity? If so, how did they do it?!

  2. Clear communication between everyone involved is very important to building a real identity as a business. That idea holds true for large or small business.

  3. Totally agree! Have you seen it done well? If so, who did you see making the efforts to translate it to what people do every day in different functions?

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