10 Principles To Inspire Your Brand (And Maybe Save It)

The following is also my MediaPost column this week. I wrote this from the Search Insider Summit in Park City, Utah. My column has nothing to do with search. I’ll report highlights of the search show later.

10 Principles To Inspire Your Brand (And Maybe Save It)

December 14th, 2007 by Max Kalehoff

Four weeks into my new job at a startup, I’ve been thinking a lot about what our brand and reputation should become. Fortunately, my colleagues on the management team are utterly committed to getting it right. Moreover, we have a clean slate to work from.

While I reviewed my arsenal of conventional brand theories dating back to my early agency days, I believe today’s marketplace is different and requires new thinking. Foremost, the Internet has changed the game. It is wreaking havoc on arrogant, one-way thinking that has become the foundation of far too many brands in existence today.

We all know the story: This age of transparency is exposing the good and the bad, deflating artificial market pressures and accelerating commoditization. People now are smarter, less forgiving and expect brands to rise to a higher standard. For most companies, this is far from where they stand today.

With that in mind, I eventually retreated to a simple definition to guide my thinking: “Our brand is the aggregate of associations that people have about our product and organization. Branding is the aggregate of actions that signal these associations. The result is our reputation and equity.”

From this definition come 10 key principles that should guide brand strategy. They’ve become top-of-mind in my own brand situation, but they certainly apply to all. Sure, some are obvious, but too many are forgotten or omitted.

  1. Transparency: To be honest and transparent is the only way to go. It builds a stronger brand foundation, and prevents awkward scenarios where new market forces inevitably expose hidden truths.
  2. Authenticity: The brand, product and people must be one. Disconnects tend to emerge like a sore thumb, and they’re challenging to reconcile. Authenticity reaches its highest levels when brand ideals are built into the product beforehand, particularly by people who believe in it.
  3. Humility: If honesty and transparency is top of everyone’s mind, then humility and acknowledgement of imperfection are as well. Nobody is perfect, and no brand is either. Acknowledging that is the first step to being more perfect.
  4. Simplicity: There should be one simple brand theme that all else follows. It’s the tiebreaker that informs tough decisions, and focuses momentum back on the core mission.
  5. Inspiring: Because every brand association is the result of an action, the brand strategy should inspire and guide the people who carry out said actions. Most important are the employees, but other key stakeholders include customers and partners.
  6. Personality: Brands are not human, but they take on personalities in the eyes of stakeholders. Does your brand assume the qualities of a person you’d want to associate, do business or be friends with?
  7. Stories: People with winning personalities usually have interesting narratives that illustrate who they are. It’s the presence of compelling, authentic stories that determine high resonance in our minds. So figure out what they are and make sure they surround your brand.
  8. Consistency: Brand signals must be consistent, because nobody likes surprises, especially bad ones. Just like with a restaurant, it’s better to be a B all of the time versus an A half the time and an F the other half.
  9. Flexibility: Face it. Today’s marketplace is volatile. Brand strategy should incorporate flexibility, because you or your customers may change before you know it.
  10. Receptivity: To achieve any of the goals above, it’s paramount for brand strategy to embrace listening — and listening far more than speaking. While listening informs every principle above, it also is an action that defines the sort of brand that most customers and prospects now expect.

Does your brand live up to these principles?

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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