I never cease to be amazed by the number of otherwise sophisticated businesses that confuse communication tools with brand, brand with marketing, and sales with both. I’ve railed about it for years, but at a recent event linking international interests, the issue once again smacked me upside the head.
It began with the organizer and key speaker, clearly admitting he knew little about branding, and expounding on the advice of a well-known business incubator, “Make sure you have a sell sheet” – sales-driven advice that is grossly misplaced for more businesses than not. This also speaks to a problem with many incubators: that of assigning a single mentor instead of mentors from multiple disciplines. And few of them starting with brand, or bringing it in at the early stages, if such a mentor even exists in their environment.
Another example that evening, and one that I most frequently run across, occurred during a discussion with a thriving niche-marketed consultancy. The principal noted they had just completed a ‘rebrand’ and was very proud of it. The result was a clunky logo evolution, no defining tagline (the company name and logo give no indication as to what it does), and surprise, a sell sheet. It was not a rebrand, but a redesign. Big difference.
Let’s be clear – communication tools exist to do specific jobs in specific situations directed at specific audiences. Marketing is about identifying those audiences and which tools to use where, when, and how often. Brand determines the key messages and overarching positioning that drives both. And sales are about using all of that to reach out and close the deal.
So why is it that so many businesses let sales drive marketing or think they’ve rebranded because they’ve redone their communication tools or logo? A lack of knowledge and the result of some very convincing people who don’t know the differences either.
Branding is more than they teach you in business school. The research is different. The results are different. The understanding is different. Defining it means determining who you are, who your customers/client/influencers are, what promise you can make to them and sustain, and being honest about it. It needs to be authentic: to your product, your service, your philosophies and your business culture. It requires the right kind of research to help you truly understand who you are and how you differentiate – not “we have the best product”, or “our service is better”, or other vague un-provable claims. And it requires someone who understands that and how to do it to develop a clear brand strategy and tools that effectively communicate your brand to the audiences that matter to you – in a way that matters to them.
Once your brand is defined, you need a strategy to apply it to your marketing and communication tools. When you do, developing both effectively is a lot easier. And every tool serves a purpose – know what it is, and why, when and how to use it. That requires a strategy. Actually, several strategies.
For a new business, product or service, brand should come before choosing a name (and identifying language faux pas). Your logo, tagline and corporate identity come after. They’re important tools in communicating and reinforcing your brand promise, and they need to be unique enough to be able to be trademarked – a costly and unfortunate discovery down the road for many businesses. It’s important to realize that a logo is not a brand; it’s the cherry on top of the sundae – high profile, highly visible and important, but nothing without the supportive brand structure holding it up.
So if not a sell sheet(although it may possibly be one of them), what tools do you actually need beyond that? A website for sure. It needs to be responsive to all devices, have brand-driven content that is also SEO-centric, and reflect the reason it’s there to begin with. Is its job primarily to drive sales leads, or to inform? Back to the need for a strategy again. You’ll likely require some combination of online and offline advertising, collateral materials (brochures, posters, labels, point of sale, etc.), packaging, displays, event materials and the like. Plus content communications ranging from blogs, social and business media posts, white papers and articles to reinforce the key messages of your brand. Another mistake businesses make is jumping into social media without a plan, without proper management and without understanding that every silo requires its own strategy.
Too many start-ups and growing businesses make the mistake of either developing their brand in-house, or allowing designers, content providers, or web developers to ‘create’ their brand. The result may be moderately successful in sales, but with no or minimal strategy and research behind it, the business, and the brand, will get stuck. And undoing what’s been done is an awful lot more expensive and difficult than defining your genuine brand to begin with, and managing it going forward as markets, trends and conditions inevitably change.
Understanding the differences and hiring an expert will define your brand, build it and sustain it. Getting it right to begin with will cost you less and take you further.