If you speak to people about brand, the conversation often centres on the visual identity of an organisation. But when we think about brand in a wider business sense – particularly, the impact it can have on an organisation, positive or otherwise – we start to realise that it is about far more than just a logo.
Instead, brand characterises why the organisation exists – its purpose. It clearly articulates the principles that shape how the company and the employees within it behave, through good times and bad. It gives a coherent personality that can prove a key differential in a crowded space.
It is the ‘soul’ that unites a company with its stakeholders – not least colleagues and customers. And, if authentic, it can therefore prove a catalyst for phenomenal growth.
However, shaping, defining and protecting a brand usually takes time, financial commitment and ongoing effort. In the eyes of some it is not viewed as one of the most important assets within a business, but merely a costly marketing exercise. A slow burner. An avoidable expense.
But organisations that attract attention for all the right reasons – not least by demonstrating that they understand and can fulfil the needs and wants of their target audience – are unequivocally better placed to accelerate their growth. This is especially the case in an era defined by the mass consumption of digital content, at pace, where individuals make decisions about brands, in what can feel like nanoseconds.
So how and where can brand fit in, and what role can it play in rapid expansion?
- It’s tempting for start-ups to presume they don’t have the resources needed to fund a considered brand project in the early days. However, young businesses often nail it even on a shoestring budget, because they’re wholly authentic. It’s not about having deep pockets.
- Likewise, a solo entrepreneur may find the formation of a brand – and the definition of purpose, principles and personality – relatively easy, because it is so intrinsically linked to them as an individual. But this doesn’t mean that only one person should be involved in this process. In larger organisations, irrespective of the age of the company, try to consult and collaborate with as many people as possible – colleagues at all levels, customers, partners and so on. They will shine a different perspective on this crucial conversation, and it will resonate with employees far more.
- If rolling out a new brand, celebrate it. Think less about gimmicks and more about what will secure the buy in of the people who need to live and breathe it long into the future. It is also crucial to consider every possible brand touchpoint, so that all stakeholders have a consistent experience. There is little point launching a highly polished company website, for example, if staff speak a very different narrative when talking to customers themselves.
- While it’s tempting to focus only on the ‘here and now’ – especially in the current economic climate – a solid brand will have longevity. A brand concept may be ‘cool’, for example, but does it have enough substance to be sustainable. And seemingly novel product names may make an immediate impact, but if the suite of products and services is projected to evolve, will the brand architecture support this coherently, or will everything quickly amount to a confusing mess? Established brands can be structured, stable and Striking this balance is key.
- If investor support is needed to fuel a brand project, don’t play down its importance. A genuine brand is the bedrock of a business whatever else is going on in the outside world. This is extremely attractive to an investor. For example, a competitor that is comparatively unclear on its identity is likely to find it harder and slower to adapt. Brand also protects businesses in highly competitive markets, because ‘me too’ firms can copy a product, service or IP, but they’ll have a harder battle on their hands replicating culture or the customer loyalty attached to a brand.
- Talk to investors about ROI. Clever investors – even accountant-led ones centred on the numbers as opposed to the winning over of hearts and minds – will realise that brand strengthens the balance sheet. So show them the data that you know they’re looking for, to secure the funds required. American businessman Warren Buffet – one of the most successful investors in the world – evaluates his investments on the basis of three factors. Firstly, a strong balance sheet; secondly, a strong management team; and thirdly, a strong brand. And he isn’t alone.
- Think about the bottom line impact that your brand needs to have and work back from there. It can transform a company’s recruitment strategy for example, as it helps to consistently attract and retain the right type of talent; it can accelerate a company’s ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) value; and can even aide international expansion, share price and flotation. Be clear on the ‘why?’.
The Engine Room’s white paper – The Role of Brand in High Growth Businesses – further explores the role of brand in business growth acceleration, how investors’ attitudes towards brand differ, and case study examples where brand investment has revolutionised companies’ growth potential.