What is a living brand and why do I need one?
A Living Brand, as the name suggests, is a brand that is alive.
But what on earth does that mean, and why does your business need one?
To answer those questions, we first need to understand the word ‘brand’.
What is a brand?
The purpose of a brand is to build trust and loyalty that, over time, delivers shareholder value. But what exactly is a brand? There are some pretty woolly definitions out there for what a brand is. Even the dictionary fails to usefully capture it. So let’s see if we can get a little more specific.
A brand is definitely not just a logo.
Your logo is one expression of your brand, for sure.
So is your website.
Your business card, your invoice, your PowerPoint template too.
So is your HR policy.
And your products, your services, your processes.
So is your culture and your communication.
As is your business strategy
Everything you do is part of your brand.
But in reality, a brand is more than that.
(Warning: Some readers may find the following paragraph disturbing.)
Ultimately, a brand is the perceptions of an organisation as formed in the hearts and minds of the people who come into contact with it.
That’s right – your brand exists inside the hearts and minds of your team, your customers, your potential customers, and even your competitors. Which means two things:
1. There are divergent versions of your brand out there – some clearly formed, some only vaguely, some positive, some not so.
2. You’re only ever partly in control of it as, well, hearts and minds have a habit of forming their own opinions.
This can be a difficult concept to work with, which is why we think it’s useful to distinguish between what you can control – the brand framework – and what you can’t fully control (but can influence) – the brand perceptions. To maximise the value of your brand, the goal is to align people’s perceptions to the framework as closely as possible.
And for that you need a Living Brand.
What is a Living Brand?
A Living Brand is where every part of the business has been filtered through the brand framework so that over time (first internally, then externally) perceptions are aligned to it. Building a Living Brand enables you to develop a mindset within your business that guides the people in it, so that they start working in accordance with it. Once your team are living the brand, the products and the service they provide will become natural expressions of your brand, giving your customers the brand experience you want them to have. So, a Living Brand flows from the inside out, from an ideal, to your operations, to your people to your customers and beyond. To build a brand that people can believe in you need three things, clarity, consistency and commitment.
For your brand to be understood it first has to be defined.
No fuzzy logic.
No conflicting ideas.
Articulating what makes you different is a challenge if you’re sitting right inside the business. You might find that working with an outside party can help you sort through all the information and offer some perspective. To provide you with a brand framework we have, over the years studied, tried, tested, discarded and adapted many methodologies. The brand framework below, we believe, offers a simple and powerful way to achieve the clarity you need.
- Back story – if you don’t know where you’ve come from you don’t know where you’re going
- Archetype – guides tone of voice by defining the character of your brand
- Purpose – engenders loyalty by pinpointing what really matters to your brand beyond financial incentives
- Vision – describes the future state you’re really working towards, beyond any short or medium term goals
- Mission – identifies the task at hand right now that, if completed, will lead to the fulfilment of the vision
- Values – unites people, creates consistency, and forms the basis for autonomous decision making
- Messaging – sums up what your brand is about in headlines and straplines for your communications
- Identity – the visual manifestation of your brand through its logo, typefaces, colourways and imagery.
Once defined, the brand framework is your brand’s true north, a constant guide and reference for the business.
For people’s perceptions to align with your brand framework, the same brand experience has to be delivered time after time. From the way you portray your brand visually, to the way you speak, to the quality of your product or service, to the way they’re packaged up and delivered, to the customer service you provide along the way.
One simple way to deliver that consistency, and build trust, is to have all your brand touch points – like your website, collateral, stationery and templates – designed as a suite from your identity. You’d be amazed (or perhaps not!) how often this isn’t the case. It’s also useful to have a style guide or brand guidelines produced so that your team can deliver that consistency themselves in-house.
For a brand to become a Living Brands requires commitment from the very top of the business to actively drive the brand framework through every part of the business – whether that’s converting your brand values into a set of behaviours that form part of your performance reviews, or briefing your people to develop products and services that will advance the brand’s purpose, or redesigning your office to reflect your brand’s character. By doing so, the leadership are setting up the business so that it runs on strategic rails that will lead to long term success. In effect it’s not so much that the business runs the brand, but rather that the brand runs the business.
Commitment also extends to ensuring that you keep reinforcing your brand through regular engaging communications, both with your team and with the market. The aim is to carve out and keep a top spot in their hearts and minds, so that they think of you when they need something or are asked for a recommendation.
Why bother building a Living Brand?
Take a look at the businesses you admire. The perception you have of them will almost certainly closely mirror the idea they have of themselves. Inside a Living Brand, every department, every process, every role has been filtered through a brand framework, so that everything becomes an authentic expression of it. Yes, it takes a bit of time and money to make it happen. But we believe no business can achieve its full potential without it. Not just the potential to grow the lifetime value of your customers, but the potential for your brand to live beyond the people who established it.
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