Branding is important. There, I said it. You need a brand if you own a business or a medical practice. But here’s a little secret.
You already have a brand.
You don’t need a million-dollar branding plan from some agency to have a brand. You have a brand right now. And even if you handed over your moolah to that branding agency for them to “create” your brand, your brand is not what they said it is.
Your brand is your reputation.
Your business, enterprise, organization, practice, or hospital has a reputation. This reputation exists at all different levels. You have a reputation among suppliers, vendors, and employees. You have a reputation in the community. You have a reputation among those who buy your products or services. Your products and services–all by themselves–have a reputation among those who use them or repair them. If your company is a large publicly traded outfit, you have a reputation among analysts, traders, stockbrokers, and stockholders. That is your brand.
Your brand has to sync up with outward manifestations. These manifestations include your building, your company name, your logo, the color scheme, and packages. But it also extends to your waiting rooms, your invoices, and how the phone is answered. If you make widgets, the widget boxes are part of your overall brand in that they represent you to the person who has purchased your widgets.
Most branding agencies get very fixated on the outward appearances. They tell you that if you can just pick the right colors and get a zippy logo and a tag line, you are all set. They even sell you on the idea that you can make up a tag line and it magically is your brand. I once worked at a company that used the tagline “global leader in medical technology.” However, when you called the main number and asked the operator to connect you with one of the company’s more than five thousand employees, you heard the unmistakable rustle of paper as she flipped through the big photocopied binder she kept at her desk. Leaders in technology? Back in 2003, these guys were using paper phone books to keep track of employee extensions.
So what is the brand? The branding agency would say the brand is technology leadership because, after all, it was printed on every business card. But I am here to tell you that the brand was the lady rustling paper trying to track down the employee’s extension. When most other companies of that era, even small ones, had operators who could click and type to access the phone extensions of the people in the building, this company used paper phone books. I happen to know they used them because they were cheaper and easier and the powers that controlled the phone system did not think it mattered how we answered the phone.
This is the first cruel truth about branding. You can hire all the million-dollar Madison Avenue mavens you want, but your brand is already in the hands of some people who are hell-bent on destroying it. This is not because these people are evil, but rather because they are short-sighted. They do not think of your brand, ever. They want their world to be as simple and easy as possible, which generally means no changes. They are often rewarded for saving the company money, so they never push hard for new systems that could cost money and might not work.
Your brand is already resting on the scrawny shoulders of people who answer the phone, handle your packages, clean your meeting rooms, and maintain your parking lot. Your brand rests in how well your products work, how efficient your services are, and how quickly you resolve billing disputes.
Your brand is your reputation.
Now after you get that squared away–you can then make a concentrated effort to synchronize your colors and logos and nomenclature. Branding in that way is very productive. But what you are doing is investing symbols into a brand you already have. And the branding agency people are right, you have to be strict with that stuff.
Another thing–branding does not mean that everything has to look alike. I have seen branding agencies go in and apply templates to the point that large companies produce multiple brochures and manuals that look identical to each other. This is not helpful.
Let’s look at FedEx for a great branding example. If you deal with FedEx, you know they have a very bright (orange and purple) color scheme and a distinctive logo. You probably even know the company slogan: when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. If you fill out a FedEx form, use the company website, ship a package in their boxes, or see the truck driving down the street, you see the same logo and colors. That’s reassuring. It’s good branding.
But have you ever seen a FedEx commercial? They usually do big FedEx splashy commercials at the Super Bowl. None of them uses the same template as the website. They get creative. They go a bit “out there” to promote the company. Some branding agencies tell you that everything you do must look like everything else you ever do. If that’s true, then FedEx is bad at branding. In fact, the opposite is true.
Not only that, look at Geico. They make some of the best TV commercials ever. They have a talking gecko, but they also had cavemen for a while, and now they sometimes have (my all-time favorite) a carpooling pig who shouts out the window, “Wheeee!” Do those commercials look alike? You probably have not even realized they were all from the same company. Three totally different approaches. It’s a strong brand.
So don’t let those branding agencies tell you that they can “create” your brand and that once you have a brand, you can never ever deviate from the official look and logo.