Brand Identity

Last week I wrote a bit about how startups can create a brand promise.  I also promised to address the subject of creating a brand identity this week.

A brand identity is the unique set of associations that you aspire
to create for your company, product, or service.  The key word is aspire.

A brand identity is created via such simple tools as the name, logo, color palettes, design elements, taglines, and category defining phrases.  It’s stuff that marketing people do.  But there are two elements of a brand identity that are a bit different.  It’s a company’s values and personality.  Those are elements that are not controlled by marketing people.  They are shaped by the person in charge of the company.  Usually, the CEO.

Recently I had a meeting with Mike Eckert.  A CEO by trade, Mike is also a pretty effective marketing practitioner.  One of the places Mike was CEO was The Weather Channel.  You may have heard of it.  What Mike was telling me during our meeting was the person at the top of an organization had an opportunity, and even a responsibility to set the proper tone and culture for a company.  Wise words.

But what exactly does company culture mean.  I think of company culture simply as how things get done (here is a much longer definition).  Company culture defines the company’s values.  It’s personality.  And to get the culture that you want in your company it needs to be proactively defined and practiced by the leaders of the company.  And it has to be authentic.

To paraphrase Charles Brewer, the founder of MindSpring and it’s legendary core values:

If the leaders of the company do not practice what they preach, and if
they do not truly in their hearts believe those things which they
profess to be important, they will be ineffective.  The values of the
company will ring hollow, and become an object of ridicule rather than
a source of guidance and motivation.  People have incredibly accurate
bullshit meters.  A false attempt at some stated values written on a
piece of paper but not practiced on a day to day basis is doomed to
horrible failure.

Charles is dead on right.  I have seen both authentic and inauthentic management.  The latter is dysfunctional.

But more importantly (at least to the people that don’t work at the dysfunctional company), the brand values must be rooted in the reality of the company because of the openness and transparency of the Internet age.  Customers know what your real values are.  They see them in the actions the company takes. And they can spread the word faster then a California wildfire.  Because of this it is absolutely essential that the brand personality and values that you want to be known for are practiced throughout the organization.  It has to be ingrained in all the staff with guiding principles so that no employee has a doubt on what the proper response should be to a specific situation.

So how do you ingrain this values throughout an organization?  Articulating them is a start.  But you have to live them.  It is essential.  Living the values you want your company to be known for is not easy.  It is hard.  Real hard. But you can’t let up.  Even when it seems like taking short cuts won’t matter.  It will.  Employees will see what really matters.  So will customers.  A leader’s actions always set the tone.

The CEOs of successful startups guide values and culture to create brand identity.  Not marketing people.  It’s really that simple.

To sum this all up bullet point style.

  • The most critical, elements of a startup’s brand image is not created in a marketing department.
  • Startup brand values and personality are defined by the company culture.
  • Culture is created by the CEO of the company.
  • CEOs of startup companies need to proactively think about what values and personality that they want their company to be known for in the market.
  • CEOs need to demonstrate the personality and values on a day to day basis so that it becomes ingrained in their company.

I see a new company every day.  Less then 1% are proactively setting the culture of their company.  Be the exception.  It will make you exceptional.

And build the brand of you and your company in the process.

January 22, 2009  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Marketing