Why your brand is dead in the water

Here’s how most brand evolve.  The organization’s leadership huddles up at a corporate retreat (or if it’s a start-up, around the kitchen table) and decide on a tagline and maybe a logo.

The tagline becomes the battle cry of the brand and they’re off to the races.

Or worse yet…the organization hires an agency who claims to “do branding” and after a little deliberation, the ads have the new tagline and logo and voila, the brand is launched.

Fast forward 6 months or maybe a year.  The tagline and the brand are limping along.  No one really uses them anymore.  And if they do, they think of it as the “theme of the month” and assume it will just go away over time.  And it does.

There are many reasons why a brand fails….but the biggest one in my opinion is that the employees are not properly engaged and connected to the brand.  Without a huge investment of time, energy and some money — the brand remains a superficial cloak that can easily be pulled off or shrugged off when it gets to be a challenge.

Your employees are the key to a brand’s long term success.  It’s that simple.

When we are asked to develop a brand for a client, we require the step we have dubbed “seeding the brand” which is the whole idea of introducing the brand promise to the employees and letting them take ownership of it — deciding how to deliver the promise, how to remove the barriers to keeping the promise and how to keep the brand alive inside the organization.

If a client won’t agree to implementing that stage of the process, we won’t do their brand work.  No ifs, ands or buts. Why? Because it won’t work without that step. And I don’t believe we should take their money if we can’t deliver success.

Discovering and then building a brand takes a village.  And you have to start by including your own villagers.

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12 comments on “Why your brand is dead in the water

  1. Hello Drew,

    Brand building is one of the oldest and most intriguing parts of business. I agree with you on the most part except the one that companies decide on their tagline and logo out of nowhere. At least the ones that are serious about making business don’t proceed that way. For example, we spent a few months choosing a logo and a brand image for a completely new startup we launched this year. We had polls, design contests and lots of other initiatives before pointing out what we thought was the right one. You can check the result if you want at http://www.thesocks.com . I believe everyone who is at least a bit adept at marketing knows the importance of the brand itself.

  2. Andrew says:

    I have found that keeping things simple with branding has worked well for me. This, as you mentioned, has allowed customers to engage with my brand, which in turn makes it easier for them to remember, recognise and pass on the details to others.

  3. Elise says:

    Great point. Brand awareness by employees is essential to establishing a strong brand image. With the ever-increasing importance of mobile and content creation, it is essential for employees to have a concise idea of the brand’s message to customers. If the brand image is not made consistent across all mediums (such as social media, blogs, visual media, case studies, etc.) the company risks service failure and the loss of a potential client.

  4. Thank you!! Involving employees in the process is critically important and I am impressed with your complete committment to that concept. Employee buy-in and support of the promise will be much higher if they help create the processes and help manage the risk.

  5. Sue Watkins says:

    I have two thoughts to contribute:
    1) I agree that employees need to be engaged and brands need to be rolled out. My most recent corporate branding experience involved holing up with our executive team for two days (12 of us, most long-timers) and coming up with the essence of what our brand experience is – it was valuable and I think on target, but the hard part is internal communications to roll it out to employees, and getting them to include it in their communications.

    2) The other thought is not underestimating the time/investment it takes to get the industry to pick up your brand. We rolled out a new brand tagline 7 years ago, and did a lot to get analyst and other market validators to grasp it and talk about it. I was at a trade show last month, and heard a prospective customer use some of our brand lingo in discussing their solution needs (it was nirvana!). And just recently, one of our competitors started copying our tagline on their marketing materials. Managing your brand is quite a long journey!

  6. Jon says:

    Brand is very important. If you are going to poll people for your brand then I would ad that you make sure they represent your target market. We had a small business that did a poll for their logo which included their family and friends which were not their target market as they did B2B. Needless to say it swayed the results for a logo that was dated and among SMB’s didn’t poll well.

  7. Heather says:

    I was a little concerned at the beginning of the post that you were helping perpetuate the idea that a logo and tagline are a brand. Not so. A brand is, in my experience and knowledge, an intangible in many ways that boils down to how your customers feel about you and what your customers think you are. I work for a company that has a very solid brand and we only know this because we regularly engage in quantitative and qualitative research with our customers to verify it.

    But you are entirely correct that if our employees don’t live our brand promise and uphold it in all we do, we will not succeed. I wish other companies would take more notice of this and engage their associates more to be brand ambassadors with everything they do.

    1. Heather,

      Ohhh, I am definitely not in the “your brand is your logo” camp. I completely agree with your description. In fact, I wrote about it here. http://www.mclellanmarketing.com/2011/06/your-brands-foundation.html

      It sounds like your company gets it. A brand needs constant care, feeding and nurturing to live, grow and develop deep roots into all layers of the organization. It also takes a lot of time.

      Bravo to you and your company for doing the hard work it takes to create a memorable brand!


  8. You know, I feel like this is something they don’t teach you in business school and that most business owners either ignore or learn the hard way.

    The reality is that in order to effectively brand in this way — in order to get your employees excited about your brand — you have to invest a lot of time and energy into the process. Many people might see this as a waste of time (“Why not just hire an agency to do it for us?”) but you may have no business if you don’t pay attention to it.

    Think of the big companies that have made the “Happy Employee=Happy Customer) philosophy work: Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, JetBlue – and those are just some big names! How many more small companies are succeeding by ensuring their employees are behind their brand?

  9. Hi guys, interesting discussion. Our business has been trying to establish good will towards our brand. The partners are actively involved, they seek out customer feedback, they physically bring the product to different business people and are keen to discuss the brand with them. The problem is that this does not give us the reach we want.

    Our market is most of Europe. What do you think are the best ways to increase the branding image of our newly formed business without spending significant amounts of cash to advertise?

  10. I cannot believe how spot on this is!! Years ago I worked for Yellowbook. Yes, I am ashamed to admit this. They decided that they wanted to re-brand their website so that it encompassed all of the services they offered. They initially stated that they wanted to get away from the Yellowbook name because it was associated with the print product which was near death. They didn’t even bother to consult with the 5000 plus sales staff about what the average customer would react best to. Needless to say, they ended up going with Yellowbook360 which didn’t do anything other than make people continue to think that we were a dying company in a dying industry. Sorry for the long winded reply but it’s just an example of exactly what you are referring to.

    1. Jason,

      It’s an excellent (and sad) example of what I was talking about. Thanks for sharing it! Talk about short sighted…


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