The following article will walk you through how to evaluate your current brand and how to present the case for a rebrand to stakeholders in your company. All the content below is also available for download as a pdf. (No, we won’t ask for your email).
- Why branding matters
- Do you have coffee stains on your brand?
- Symptoms that you need a brand refresh
- What does the branding process entail?
- Evaluating your current branding and perception
- Making the case for a brand refresh to stakeholders
- When to engage an expert
Why branding matters
A brand is a promise of an experience. It shows the kind of company you are, how you behave, and what you believe in. It’s the face and the personality that your company presents to the world—expressed through voice, words, messages, and visual design. It’s your stake in the ground, a way to set yourself apart from the competition and influence consumer preference.
A successful brand is clearly defined and clearly communicated. It provides a coherent, consistent platform to focus all of your communications in a single, memorable direction. It’s a way of conveying your values to form an emotional connection with others. This powerful connection can instill a deep feeling of loyalty, pride, and identification. A brand connection based on emotion is why people wear T-shirts with Coca-Cola logos across their chest. And why they get permanent tattoos that say Harley-Davidson on their arms.
In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, it’s more important than ever to have a strong, differentiating brand. The most successful companies, whether b2c or b2b, have clearly defined brands and strong customer relationships. But getting there is a process. These companies have evaluated, executed, and managed their brands carefully, listening to the customers who play a part in their success. They know who they are. They’ve developed standout, meaningful creative. They’re deliberate about the messages they put out into the world, and they provide multiple channels for customers to communicate with them regularly. Creating and maintaining a company’s brand takes work and focus. But the incredible rewards are worth the effort.
Getting beyond brand basics, an important aspect of brand management is the ability to identify those things that degrade it. It may be something larger, like the brand visuals or messaging is outdated, or it can also be something smaller. By not paying attention to the details you can inadvertently hurt the brand image you’ve worked so hard to maintain, and in turn, hurt your company’s success. Examples of brand challenges are provided below, illustrated by the coffee stain theory.
Do you have coffee stains on your brand?
For years, we’ve been surprised – as a marketing company who produces content – that one blog post about the Coffee Stain Theory and branding has been read more than any other post in our blog. And although we don’t know why, we believe it’s that the theory is the easiest way to explain why the little things matter in your brand experience with your customers and prospects. The coffee stain theory, paraphrased, states that you can do everything right with your brand experience but if you neglect some details (for instance an airline leaving a coffee stain on the airline tray) it calls into question all other details that might not be paid attention to – like maintenance.
Here are some “coffee stains” to think about with brand experience:
- If your brand stands for responsiveness and you don’t respond to mentions or inquiries on social media, you may have a coffee stain
- If your brand purports to have personalized service and your marketing materials serve up generalized “picked for you” merchandise that isn’t, you may have a coffee stain
- If you are a precision manufacturer and your website is out of date, you may have a coffee stain
- If you are a bank or credit union and don’t have a good mobile banking experience, you may have a coffee stain
The point is, sometimes the smallest things (even if they are not important to you) can put people off of your brand – their expectations of you can change dramatically with one experience.
The most successful companies, whether b2c or b2b, have clearly defined brands and strong customer relationships.
Symptoms that you need a brand refresh
Outside of the idea that there is a glaring brand issue to correct or update, there are other reasons to update your brand. Refreshing your brand can breathe new life into it. Keep in mind there are two kinds of branding. There’s the complete brand overhaul where the entire brand is reworked, often due to the need to brand a new company name or other business change. But there’s a second kind, too—the simpler, smaller brand refresh or refocus.
Sometimes, what you need is a whole new look and feel. But sometimes, all you really need to reignite your brand is a facelift—a tweak, an update, a course correction. This is a fantastic and effective way to spark new life into your brand and clarify or refocus your brand communications without the pressure and complication of a full brand redo.
There are some symptoms that could signal you need a brand refresh or if several of these ring true, a rebrand (assuming that your core products or services are still good).
- Are your sales staff creating their own materials rather than using what has been provided to them? This could be a signal that your current brand materials are outdated in some way or that they do not have access to the kinds of tools they need to support their sales efforts.
- Do you struggle finding good talent to hire? This could mean that your perception in the industry has fallen and you are failing to accurately communicate your value and values.
- Are you losing business to key competitors? This may indicate that your positioning or presence in the market needs some work.
- Have your company goals changed? You may need additional tools or guidelines to support new initiatives or channel strategies.
- Do your customers express a perception of your company’s focus or personality that is different than your internal perception? You may need to rework your messaging to make it clearer and more relevant to your customers.
- Is the way you acquire business changing? Many small or medium sized companies are reluctant to invest in marketing or branding efforts because they have historically acquired most of their business from word of mouth or referrals. Unless the referred customers also become referrers, these companies leave themselves open to a sharp decline in business as their primary advocates change positions or age out of the industry and are not replaced. Rebranding can help support and fuel new marketing initiatives.
- Does your logo look older or reflect a previous era in colors or font type? You may love your company’s brand, and why shouldn’t you, it got your company to where it is today. However, if your look is steeped in another, earlier age, it’s time for a tweak if not a total overhaul.
- Have you broadened your offering or shifted your company focus? Here’s another reason to take a hard look at your brand. Old collateral and identity (whether it’s offline or online) will cause you to lose opportunities in today’s world. Are you still talking about your business, products and/or services in the same way you always have? If your business has changed your brand may need a refresh. Continuity is key.
- How does your logo and color palette look online? Do they work for electronic media? Come across on a mobile app? How your brand shows up electronically is crucial in today’s world. It needs to shine in Web, mobile, and other online marketing tools.
If one or more of these symptoms sounds familiar, your company would likely benefit from a brand refresh, and it will certainly benefit from an in-depth brand evaluation. So, now that you have an idea of whether to update your brand or not – the next step is understanding what the steps are to a successful rebranding or brand refresh.
Sometimes, what you need is a whole new look and feel. But sometimes, all you really need to reignite your brand is a facelift—a tweak, an update, a course correction.
What does the branding process entail?
Any branding effort, whether a from-scratch initiative or a brand refresh should be approached in a methodical way. The idea of branding can be quite subjective, so applying a little science and method to the process can not only help convince stakeholders of its value, but also give you a framework for a more successful project. In brief, the typical steps in any branding effort should look similar to the following.
- research and discovery
- critical thinking and strategy development
- brand development
- implementation and refinement, including training
- communicating the brand
Evaluating your current branding and perceptions (research and discovery)
Your first step is to evaluate your current brand in order to establish a baseline for perceptions, identify issues, and get an overall understanding of the health of your current brand and brand communication efforts. This can be a time consuming and difficult process, depending on the size of the company. If you decide to undertake it yourself, this section lists some important questions to ask and some pointers on where to start looking for answers. You may want to consider hiring an outside company to conduct this brand audit. When having conversations about the project you should expect to hear some of the following questions they will undertake to answer.
As you work through this research, remember that this is a data collection effort. At this point it is important to keep your emotions and biases out of it and focus on collecting and organizing information. You are likely to encounter information or opinions that you don’t agree with or that could be painful to hear. Remember that you are looking for solutions and opportunities, and you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know it exists.
- How do your current customers feel about your company?
Begin by prioritizing your audiences, revisiting your segment profile details (or personas), and redefining these individuals and their motivations. Then, if your company has conducted any customer surveys or other primary research, review them for any key indicators of areas of weakness by audience type. If you feel like you are lacking information in this area, hold off on conducting any new surveys or focus groups until you’ve gathered all of your initial evaluation information so that you know the right questions to ask. Make sure that you learn how to construct a good survey, or consider hiring an expert, in order to ensure you get the right information in a way that is not overly intrusive to your customers. Do sales team members have anecdotal examples of what your current customers like (and don’t like) about your products, services, or interactions with your company? Create a matrix that summarizes what you know about current attitudes about the brand.
- How are people talking about your company?
Even if you are not an active participant, conversations about you are probably happening on social media. Use social listening tools to get a preliminary picture of your brand perception on social media channels that are relevant to your audiences, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Try not to be distracted by individual comments, unless they are particularly disturbing and need to be dealt with, aggregate this information into an overall positive or overall negative score.
If you have limited information about what your customers think of you, this in and of itself, could be reason enough to undertake a more in depth brand assessment.
- How has the marketplace changed?
More/less industry regulation?
New product/service alternatives?
Market oversaturation or other changes leading to more competitive pricing?
Shift in technologies or how technologies are being used?Conduct an audit of the marketplace through secondary research sources such as Mintel or Iconoculture. Determine how the marketplace has shifted from your last branding initiative. Hopefully, this also leads to hypotheses on where the market may shift next, allowing you to incorporate forward-thinking components into your brand work. Make a list of current trends as well as any hypotheses you generate, showing how they relate.
- Have competitors repositioned themselves?
Similar to the market assessment, dive into your competitor branding work and develop a comprehensive grid. This competitive grid should include articulated brand position statement, tone/voice, main “reasons to believe” their brand position, and other specific brand traits to your industry. This is the time to re-evaluate whether a competitor is still in direct competition with your offerings or if they have focused on a different audience. This can help identify opportunities for differentiation.
- How do internal perceptions and company culture align with your brand messages?
Talk to employees all levels of the company. Ask them to describe your company overall as well as key areas, like customer service and your products. Look for ways in which team members’ view of who the company is and what it stands for, are different than the brand messages you are putting out to your prospects and customers. If your company is large or you sense employee reluctance to speak without anonymity, consider implementing an employee survey around brand perception and company culture and include some results that can be quantified and aggregated. For example, include questions where the answers can be displayed as rating scales or percentages of employees who share a particular belief about your brand. Again, hold off until you’ve collected enough information to inform your questions. Create an overview document that displays the data you gather for key questions. Also, hang on to your original raw data so you can go back to it if needed.
- Is your brand presence consistent across channels and being implemented consistently by all parts of the organization?
Check your website and other collateral materials, do they look like a family? Is the typography and design high quality and consistent? Ask your sales staff for any materials they use with customers and prospects, do these materials sound like your brand? Talk to customer service or support staff as well as accounting to see what kinds of customer communications they are using. Anything that a customer sees represents your company and should be a good representative of your brand (remember the coffee stains?). Create a checklist of key brand elements that should be present across materials; make a list of each piece and its primary message or brand positioning statement.
- How successful have your marketing or brand efforts been?
Pull together as much information as you can about the success rates of any current or previous marketing efforts going back, up to five years. Include your website analytics, especially focusing on traffic, referrer, and conversion information for the past two years, as well as traffic flow on your site.
- What brand assets do you have available?
Gather any existing marketing and brand materials that are in use, include external and internal facing materials like sell sheets and brochures, website content, and employee brochures and forms. Include any current brand guideline documents or templates. If you can, record when they were created and build a catalog list of existing assets.
At the end of your evaluation you will have a robust set of information from which to draw some conclusions. If your information indicates that your company may benefit from further brand review or from a brand refresh or full rebranding effort, you will likely need to convince others to fund these efforts. In the next section we offer some advice about how to present your information in order to best build a case for colleagues who are not as familiar with the importance of brand to meeting business goals.
Making the case for a brand refresh to stakeholders
You will be asking people whose primary concerns are revenue and business-case based to invest time, energy, and budget into ideas that are often viewed as subjective. So, when preparing your presentation or report remember to maintain an objective viewpoint and back up assumptions and requests using the information you’ve gathered.
Start by expressing the concern that first drove you to take a deeper look at your brand. Frame this feeling objectively as a business oriented hypothesis. Then use a summary of the research you have done as key support points for your hypothesis. Have the full research available, but pull out an overview and summary information for presentation.
Hypothesis: We are not keeping up with our key competition who is outpacing us and taking market share. Our brand messaging is holding us back.
Current goals: Our business goals are to grow by 25% and be a thought leader in our market. In marketing, our goals are to increase lead quality and lead conversions (form fills), to engage potential customers who need our full suite of offerings.
Industry trends: The industry has become more technical and embraced AI
Key information from customers: Customers, as a rule, think that what we do is whatever we do for them, not all these other interrelated tech offerings or products. (Customer survey data – 75% of customers cannot name a product we provide other than the item of their last purchase.)
Internal survey: We’ve changed but nobody knows how. There’s confusion about how to position the company. (Employee survey data – 68% of our employees express confusion about our place in the industry)
State potential obstacles and opportunities:
Primary obstacles – our website and sales materials do not cover the breadth of what we do, especially in the area of technology expertise, thereby limiting how people look at our business. Even customers who love us don’t know we have these great technical capabilities and don’t see us as a market leader.
Potential opportunities – if we update our website and sales messaging to include umbrella information about the benefits of what we do with technology – connecting our other offerings and improving business efficiencies and accuracy – we can reach out to all of our customers with the message in a promotion. We can start positioning our business as the market leader we are.
Success metrics: If we convert 10% of current customers to our superior technology we can meet our 25% growth goals, allowing us to invest in developing thought leadership materials.
Updating the brand messaging will pay for itself and create more immediate sales opportunities to help us meet our aggressive growth goals. We can then focus on developing materials and being the thought leader we are.
When to engage an expert
Of course, if you have a professional marketing team in house, many of these items can be accomplished by the team. An outside expert offers a new perspective on your brand that isn’t shaded by your love, hate or indifference with the current brand. An agency can bring an objective, guiding presence to the branding process that can’t be achieved by an internal team. The trick is for you to be able to assess your own team’s capabilities, talents and attachment to the status quo and make the best decision for your company and brand. Many of our clients will ask us for help with parts of the branding – they will provide the research and survey information, competitive overviews and then let us come to the conclusions of what the research tells them to move forward with. We will then review the process with them and they will fill in important details and guidance. Once the evaluation and findings are completed, we develop the brand strategy and a road map for moving forward. This is where the brand development and execution begins. All aspects of execution will be built on the guiding information gleaned and the strategy outlined.
Engaging an expert will allow you to do the things that you do well, like assessing internal changes that need to be addressed, working on the customer journey, customer segments or product improvements, or defining the marketing objectives for your brand that will help an outside expert be more successful. It’s an ideal marriage of external objectivity and broader marketing expertise collaborating with your internal brand marketing expertise and knowledge of your business and customers. The goal is to end up with a brand that represents your company with authenticity.
A successful brand is clearly defined and clearly communicated. It provides a coherent, consistent platform to focus all of your communications in a single, memorable direction.
Many people don’t understand that branding is part science, part art and it takes a process to reveal the messaging, voice and visuals the make up the essence of a brand. Whether you proceed with a full rebrand or refresh brand elements, the same thoughtful process needs to be applied to ensure you get the best results. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time, but each of the steps is important to ensure the information is there to build on, the thinking is sound and will stand the test of time, so the end result will represent your company well now and into the future.
If you have questions about this information or a need to evaluate your brand, please contact cat&tonic.