5 Brand Health Checkpoints To Determine When To Rebrand

I was Twitter-surfing when I came across a link that took me to this helpful article over at Ragan.com: 10 Signs Your Brand Needs An Overhaul. (It caught my attention particular because I’m in the midst of looking into a “rebranding” or “brand refresh” campaign following a merger between two large institutions).

From their helpful list of 10, I’ve decided to distill them down a little further into a helpful list of 5 “checkpoints” for Brand Health Checks you’d want to look into from time to time!  Having regular brand “health checks” are fundamental to ensuring your brand’s vitality, relevance and overall equity.

The 5 checkpoints:

  1. See if you’ve “Lost The Plot”: If you find that most people in your company (worse still if this includes the Senior Management and/or Board of Directors!) can’t tell what your logo represents or what the company means to your external and internal stakeholders… you’ve lost the plot. A great test of this is to see if you could randomly ask 5 people across the spectrum of job grades and functions to communicate your company’s essence in 20 words or less. If they can’t, or they come up with vastly divergent responses, then it’s time for a brand refresh.
  2. You have No Plot to begin with: Perhaps a little worse than Losing the Plot is not having one, or having a weak one, in the first place. Often, what you thought was your key differentiator is the same value proposition claimed by your top five competitors. Look at your competitors and weigh their messages against yours. Chances are, you’re all using the same combination/variation of “unparalleled service,” “unmatched expertise,” “outstanding solutions,” or whichever buzzword-du-jour. Perhaps even, all of your marketing messages are centered around what you do, not why you do it. Remember, all of your competitors do the same things as you – why you do it (and how) is what sets you apart. As mentioned in my previous post on Simon Sidek’s “The Golden Circle” TED Talk, remember that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do what you do.”
  3. Things have changed, you have not: Now, I am not advocating changing your brand essence just to suit the times – far from it! The key word I’m thinking of here is “relevance!” Does your brand’s proposition continue to meet your customers’ ever-changing needs? Perhaps, in the last five years, your market has changed, expectations about your product or service have changed, or your value proposition has changed. But you haven’t changed anything about your brand messaging to ensure that it remains relevant and at the top of your customers’ minds. Alternatively, maybe you’ve grown and your business development needs have become more ambitious, but you’re still acting like a small company selling small contracts to small clients. What you never needed before—but need now—is a unique brand position.
  4. Your brand communications appears schizophrenic: The symptoms are numerous. Perhaps, you’re constantly apologising for your website (“Sorry, the site design is crap, was done for cheap by a freelancer could be improved and the content has not been updated”), or the overriding message in your marketing collateral is different from that of your website—and far different from what your team members communicate in face-to-face meetings. More commonly, nothing matches: You’ve added various marketing tools to your toolbox over the years (trade show booth, new logo shirts, a sales pamphlet, an e-newsletter, redesigned business cards, etc.), but when you place them all side-by-side, none of them look remotely alike. Time to refresh and align, folks!
  5. You haven’t thought about any of this stuff, until now.

Is Branding The Same Across Industries?

I thought this was interesting. In the blog post by Branding Strategy Insider, which I mentioned in my previous post, I read this:

We often are asked if we have extensive experience in category XYZ. Sometimes the same people also want us not to have worked with one of their competitors recently. Other than the pharmaceutical industry, I have found that brand work does not vary much across branded entities, from consumer packaged goods, B2B, healthcare and professional services companies to universities, museums, municipalities and start-ups. While there are some differences, deep knowledge of a specific industry or product category is generally far less important than specific brand consulting knowledge and experience.

What do you think? Do you agree?

How To Choose A Brand Consultant

I was reading “Choosing A Brand Consultant” over at Branding Strategy Insider and thought it was a very helpful primer on how to begin looking for a brand consultant. The post outlines a few important steps – and having been both a consultant as well as a client hiring consultants, I couldn’t agree more:

1) Be specific and clear about what you are seeking in a brand consultant

The post lists a few great reasons why would want to bring in a brand consultant:

Do you want to know how your brand stacks up against competitive alternatives? Are you concerned about an emergent competitor? Has your brand lost its competitive edge? Do you need to reposition your brand? Has your brand’s architecture gotten too complicated? Are you seeking an updated identity? Does your brand need a new tagline? Do you want to create a new marketing campaign? Are you trying to rally employees in support of the brand? Are you trying to create an improved brand building culture within your organization? Do you need to understand your brand’s customers better? Are you looking for ongoing education for your marketers?

Clearly defining the “question” you want “answered” is key to a successful consulting engagement. Not clearing up expectations and result objectives will certainly lead to disappointment much later on in the engagement.

2) Find out what the consultant’s skill sets are.

It is important to find out what the consultant’s (or the consultancy’s) skill sets are: Marketing research? Brand equity measurement? Brand valuation? Marketing strategy formulation? Brand (re)positioning? Brand identity development? Brand plan development? Advertising campaign development? Brand extension?

Another helpful tip is to ask what type of person is the organization mostly comprised of? Brand strategists? Marketing researchers? Graphic artists? Copywriters? Account executives? This will give some sort of indication as to what kind of “solutions” the consultant may offer.

A good point to note: be wary of consultants who may be “hammers looking for nails”. I.e. if the consultant’s tool is primarily a hammer (say, copywriting or marketing research) every one of your problems will seem like a nail (say, a copy writing exercise or a research exercise) to him or her. People and organizations mostly use the tools with which they are most familiar.

3) What experience does the consultant have?

You should not only ask not only for a client list, but also for case studies on the services in which you are most interested. In fact, I remember seeing brochures with a bunch of big-name logos with little explanation on what was actually done for these clients – thus, while a list of big name clients can be impressive, ask what project or projects the consultant did for specific clients.

You should be aware that many of the biggest brands have used multiple consultants over time and even in a given year depending on the division or specific need. Sometimes a consultant’s best work may be for a smaller, lesser known client for which there is a greater chance for enterprise-wide impact. I would add that you should not be hesitant to use a “smaller” consultancy if they have demonstrated great results for such “smaller, lesser known clients”. Sometimes, big isn’t so beautiful.

Also, client references and testimonials are also very helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask the references detailed questions about their branding projects and the value that the brand consultant added to those projects.

4) Does the consultant demonstrate good listening?

There is nothing more frustrating than a consultant who comes with “all the answers” yet fails to address the main problem you hired them for. Verily so: A good consultant is good at listening.

A great set of tips from the post:

Have the consultants you are considering feed your situation and issues back to you. The one who has the deepest understanding and insight is the one most likely to do the best job for you. That is probably also the one who asked the most probing questions before crafting a proposal. Watch out for the consultants whose approach is “cookie cutter” – replace the last client’s name with your brand’s name and the proposal is “good to go.”

5) Determine the consultant/team who will be actually working on your job

I’ve seen this happen before – which is part of the reason why in most pitches I now ask specifically who the team servicing us will eventually be. As the post relates:

Be wary of large consulting companies that send in their business development “A” team to make the pitch. They will knock your socks off (because that is what they are supposed to do), but you will likely never see those people again. Someone else will be assigned to your project. Make sure you have met the people who will be assigned to your project and especially the day-to-day team leader. That is the person on whose shoulders your project’s success will rest.

As a small aside, I would also add:

6) Ensure that the consultant/team has great chemistry with you/your team/the final decision maker

More and more, it is undeniable that having good working chemistry is a very important contributing factor to a successful engagement – especially in the area of branding. For me, branding lies somewhere in the middle of “magic” – a fine balance between the strategic, tactical, cerebral and emotional. Crafting a solution and reaping the results of a branding engagement will emerge out of a great working environment between the client and the consultant. Hence, having good chemistry can lead to that.

What other steps would you consider in hiring a brand consultant? Let me know in the comments. Good luck with finding a great brand consultant for your brand!

Brands Are The New Religions

Thou shalt not worship false iPhones

As I was fiddling with my iPhone today, I started thinking about how some of the rabid Apple fans I knew spoke about Apple and its related iProducts with almost-religious fervour in almost-religious terms. I mean, though I don’t consider myself a “rabid” Apple fan, but even I am guilty of this: I talk about my recent purchase of the iPhone4 and subsequent adoption its technology in religious terms! I frequently mention to my friends about how I’m now a “convert” and have “seen the light”… and I even go around proselytizing – telling everyone about the “Good News” that I’ve found in the iPhone!

And then,  I stumble upon this article over at Fast Company that talks about how a university study reveals that the Apple Logo Is an Agnostic’s Crucifix, Star of David! The study by Duke University reveals that:

The brand name logo on a laptop or a shirt pocket may do the same thing for some people that a pendant of a crucifix or Star of David does for others.

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How To Avoid a Social Media Disaster (via Mashable)

I was writing about my terrible ordeal with the telemarketer for the iStrategy2010 conference (on Social Media, no less) [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3] when I stumbled upon this helpful article via Mashable: How to respond when Social Media attacks your brand?. Of course, prevention is much better than cure… so here’s another helpful article via Mashable: How to avoid a social media disaster. (I really love Mashable!)

For the PR and Communications professional, the impact of a crisis has been exponentially exacerbated by the power of social media. As I’ve said before, this is due to the powerful fact that social media is essentially a network, with implicit assumptions of trust and credibility (by network members), and a built-in capacity for rapid dissemination of news.

Now, anyone and everyone can now vent their dissatisfaction about your brand and, I assure you, they will have their own like-minded audiences (friends, relatives, total strangers) who are similarly equipped and empowered. If unmanaged, you will have an echo-chamber of negativity that will get out of hand.

Even so, any practitioner will understand that one can never fully “control” what customers and audiences say about one’s brand – especially on social media platforms. Most would also agree that it’s not something you want to do, since social media is essentially a social medium – i.e. you don’t own it, the community does. It’s exactly because of this freedom to comment, to voice opinions and to generally share information that results in the kind of customers you want – those who are engaged with your brand! These customers end up being that desired loyal fan base that spreads the word about your brand to their friends and family.

Still, there are a few steps that you can take to prevent or circumvent a negative PR crisis about your brand on social media networks online. Here’s what the Mashable article recommends:

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