However inspiring, a promise is not enough to build brand value. Ensuring an optimal delivery of the brand promise and the engagement of the people within the organization to make it happen are probably as important as the image built to support positioning and provide customers with buying incentives. This may seem obvious… but too few companies actually go through the process of aligning their brand and business or even realize that the way they conduct their business may impact their brand.
The relevance of brand alignment and the need to “live the brand” internally is however starting to become more generally recognized. A number of branding agencies have taken this on. Having worked on both sides of the client/agency and client/consultant relationship for more than 15 years as a strong advocate of integrating business and brand, I can only rejoice to see this eventually making it at the top of corporate agendas. The activity is still in its infancy though: offering and practices are rather heterogeneous, and there is no standard terminology –call it brand alignment, integrated branding, internal branding etc…-. Here are a few things organizations and branding agencies should have in mind to successfully bring branding to another dimension:
- Brand alignment involves not only the tangibles of the business – the way things are done, deliverables and outcomes- but also the intangible –perceptions, relationships, behaviors- that affect the tangible and performance. It involves not only the external, but also the internal. In all these dimensions, the human component is key. Systems and processes alone can’t shape a culture or foster people engagement. Getting everyone on board is a critical factor of success and must find its place in the process.
- Brand alignment requires a fully supported cross-functional buy-in. The traditional point of contact of branding initiatives on the client’s side is typically marketing. Influence of marketing –or whichever function will lead the project - on other functions and the rest of the value chain is essential. The promoters of a project must have the power to cross functional barriers in order to obtain cooperation, resources and budget, and must be able to secure top management and organization-wide support for the execution of the project to ensure the outcome. An assessment on the likeliness of this support should take place quite early at the planning stage.
- Brand alignment operates at the confluent of strategy, branding and HR, and along the value chain at each point of contact of the brand with its stakeholders: it requires a broad array of skills. Traditional branding agencies are by essence in the best position to help their clients on the identity/relationships/perception part of the equation, and they are certainly very well placed to combine the use of creative thinking and design techniques with traditional research and data analysis to leverage collective knowledge and produce valuable insight and recommendations. For the alignment to be effective, they must make sure they can team up and coordinate all the required internal and external additional skills in particular in strategy and change management, and that everyone involved in the process has an understanding of the business, its processes, systems, value chain…
- Brand alignment must happen upstream and separately from brand execution, in particular from the scheduling of any physical deliverables. Positioning & revenue models of branding agencies and marcom purchasing habits on the client side may need to evolve. Many agencies pitch on the consulting service -strategy, methodology and outcome-, but ultimately tend to “sell” a product -design & look and feel… - especially if their history and revenue model is strongly dependent on design and production. As an echo to this –cause or consequence?-, clients tend to buy -are willing to pay for- the end product –website, brochure, etc- rather than the thinking. Consulting and strategy needs to clearly be unbundled from design and production.