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How to tune your brand to beat the competition

The unhappy CEO

Last week, I met a CEO in Qatar whose company had recently gone through a rebranding exercise with a ‘global agency’. I was looking forward to meeting the chap, he was great fun when I met him a year or so ago. I expected to hear him evangelise about how pleased he was with the project, how insightful it had been, and how he really believed that his business was now primed for the future... but I didn’t. Rather than a happy CEO, I met a man who was frustrated, disillusioned and unhappy with the result of his considerable investment in change.

A confession

It was a weird experience, there I was, sitting in a sumptuous office, huge comfortable leather chairs, a desk the size of an aircraft carrier, a view over Qatar to die for, in the middle of Ramadan, listening to a confession. So what went wrong?

A business genius, but branding couch potato?

We work with brands every day, we improve our knowledge. We constantly push our understanding of what works and what doesn’t in branding. Our focus is broad, we understand business strategy through to design strategy, aesthetics through to multi-sensory experiences, art through to commerce.

Our clients are not always on the same page as us. They may be business athletes, but branding couch potatoes. Branding requires a totally different set of intellectual muscles... and we have a responsibility to help our clients bridge this divide. To create and environment where it is OK to challenge our work, where there is a clear and logical path to explain the decisions we have made - even the creative ones... in some respects, we have to speak two languages at once, our client’s and our language.

The need to speak more than one language

My friend, the CEO I mentioned above, didn’t understand the language of branding. He told me the experience was like visiting another planet - he did not understand a word that was being said and was being asked to make important decisions based on instinct and not information. The font, the colour choice, the overall design was a piece of art and not something that was business ready. Neither he, nor his agency had considered that the colours chosen for his new brand, would fade in the oppressive heat of Qatar’s summer - signage would need replacing after 6 months... this is not business. There was no ‘kit of parts’ consideration to refitting the companies retail environments - according to his agency, all spaces had to be fully remodeled. This is creative mumbo-jumbo - not branding - a liability not an asset.

It may be too late to help my friend, but it is not too late to help all of those business owners who are about to embark on a re-branding exercise, this simple 6 step guide will help you through the branding maze:

How to tune your brand to beat the competition

  • The right chemistry. Choose an agency to partner with that understands business and can speak your language. Choose people to work with that are experienced, who you like and have an empathy for the challenges you face.

  • Informed decision making. Invest in a strategy for your business, for your brand and for your retail environments. This may include research, benchmarking and a best practice appraisal. There should be a clear and consistent connection between all three - a golden thread - each should compliment the other.

  • A clear brief with defined goals. Work with your agency to define a detailed brief that highlights your expectations both in terms of creative output and business need. Be practical, consider every detail, get out of the office and visit places where the brand will be seen by customers and make sure you have all bases covered - set goals. Use the brief to inform your decision making, moving choices from the heart to the head. Make the brief a checklist of deliverables and hold your agency responsible for meeting these.

  • Educate. Always focus on your customer, new customers and your employees - do not alienate anyone. Be sure everyman understands what your brand stands for, take time to help everyman see the benefit of being with your brand. Keep it simple.

  • Set standards. You have invested in your brand and it is an asset. Invest in people and policies to manage it - in every facet. Police brand application to ensure that the experience is consistent at every touchpoint - both internally and externally.

  • Iterate. Use measurement tools to understand how effectively your brand is performing against the metrics you set and against competitors. Use tools like allen international’s Customer Experience Analyser to understand where your brand can be fine tuned to perform better. Be prepared to iterate and change the elements that are not working.

Finally, and possibly more importantly than all of the above, speak to your network, never be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help from those who have been through this process many times. I am sure you will be surprised how prepared everyone is to help.

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