Brand Alignment – Why a Strong Brand Goes Deeper than a Great Logo and Excellent Product
Whether you are a founder looking to piece together your new startup, or an established business with a desire to grow and evolve your brand. The subject of branding is all too often looked at in a superficial way. Meaning that while some key elements of what Brand really is, are well formulated within a business, other elements are overlooked. Usually because for many the idea of Brand is skewed by the predisposition of the person viewing it.
Because of this, teams designing products or services for a business can find themselves creating something amazing, answering the consumers’ needs and delivering results, only to find that the products they create simply don’t find their mark in the market. Conversely some exceptionally well marketed products which barely compete in the market can have a very successful, yet limited, moment in the spotlight before fading into the background.
The reason is a lack of brand alignment. To achieve it, it is important to understand the meaning and purpose of Brand.
Why isn’t Brand just one thing?
As a brand consultant many people are often surprised when I ask questions about their business model, routes to market and customer service processes. To me it is no longer a surprise that I have to often explain the difference between branding (the art of creating a visual experience that marries a product or service to a business that connects to a customer) and Brand, which is a far more complex concept. It is why Brand consultants exist and what separates what we do from marketing and creative agencies.
Building or maintaining a strong brand is so much more than simply having a memorable logo or a product with features that meet the expectations of the customer. Both things have an important role to play, but the true concept of brand has been eroded and twisted, and in the modern age of automation and AI, there are a plethora of automated solutions that have been created to supposedly enable anyone to create a successful “Brand”, but in reality what they deliver are very slick marketing tools, not the ability to develop what a brand is in the true sense.
In reality over time the word Brand itself has been adapted in use by customers and business, and as a result many people’s understanding of what Brand is has taken on either a diluted meaning, or changed depending on the angle they look at it from.
Take for example the use of the word “Branded” in sales and marketing. On one hand premium Brands use the term to invoke feelings of trust and reliability. On the other side of the coin, budget and in house brands approach the wording from a different direction declaring “same great product at lower prices than Branded products” depending on what the target customer wants in a product, they then decide how much value the brand itself adds to the equation influencing their buying pattern.
Arguably a great product that is superior in quality to a market leader but coming from a business with a lower perceived brand value will, regardless of the product quality, command a lower price. You only have to look the next time you go clothes shopping to see the massive price difference between a designer plain white Gucci t-shirt which commands a price tag of over £300 and compare it to one from Ralph Lauren at £45, both “designer” brands but very different price tags. If you are reading this and think that you could argue there is £255 of quality difference between the two items I would love to hear why.
Premium products and well designed, eye-catching logos aside. The reality is that a strong and sustainable brand is a combination of many elements working in harmony, and yet in our race to create new “Brands” so many businesses fail to understand what the term actually really means in the truest sense.
Understanding what Brand is
To truly understand what a brand is, the first step is to understand the simple principle that it is NOT your logo, and it is NOT your product, and yet at the same time it is both of those things and more. One popular explanation used to help people understand Brand used by experts is the Iceberg Theory.
While this method of explanation is really helpful to visualise the key elements of Brand, very often the way it is explored and understood is heavily influenced by the people who create it. For Creatives very often the iceberg will focus on content and visuality. Product focused brands will look at features and benefits, and financial oriented business models will focus on revenues and benefits.
Below, depending on who you ask in your organisation, what people conceive your brand to be will vary. At the end of the day it is the consumers perspective that matters the most.
In truth none of these methods is wrong, it just doesn’t cover a clear enough picture of what brand is and often (as in the examples above) tend to move elements like logo or website to the surface of the iceberg itself. Why? Because each different person has a different perspective, but few utilise the perspective of the person who matters the most in the equation, the customer.
In my opinion the tip of the iceberg that people see is the brand in its entirety encompassing everything all at once. It is more of a transparent container inside which everything your business does sits inside of. While the customer might not see all of the “Brand” all of the time it will experience it in their own way. So the transparent container narrative demonstrates the need to ensure that every combination that makes your brand is aligned and makes sense.
Above, try to think of Brand as everything you do represented in a transparent cube, inside which all of the elements of your business fit. Only then will you challenge yourself to align things that you might usually presume do not matter to the customer.
By defining Brand as the sum of all of the parts that go inside your business, it is much easier to visualise that your Brand is your business, and your business is your Brand. It is not what “you want it to be in the future” and it is not “the best selling product in your portfolio” it is an overarching concept of everything you do.
So Brand Alignment? Why is that so important?
What is brand alignment? Hopefully now that the concept of Brand is clearer it helps make it easier to outline what Brand alignment is and why it is important.
Brand is interwoven into the fabric of your business and products ensuring all the elements of what you sell, how you act, what you say and how you look, align in a cohesive way empowering your brand to be stronger and more sustainable.
It’s the reason luxury car manufacturers Valet your car for you even when all you had done was a simple service. It aligns with their values that they should only offer the best in service, even when their main revenue stream is the sale of a new vehicle. It connects you to a feeling of quality and service that hopefully will bring you back in a few years’ time to buy yet another car from the same company.
So, what can you do to check your brand alignment and strengthen your brand by evolving? To do it correctly it takes time and can sometimes be a painful experience, especially if you truly examine all of the elements properly. But the outcome can be transformative, not only in terms of customer facing benefits. But having a solid brand also fosters good internal behaviours, streamlines business, and allows you to be more responsive to market changes that directly affect you.
The best starting point is usually to analyse your brand from both the inside “what we do and how we do it” and from the outside “what the customer sees and how they experience it” taking into consideration as many details as possible. Only then can you begin to align all of the elements and build success. Below are just a few examples of questions to ask and test if your brand is truly aligned.
Why does this business exist?
Is it to provide a premium option of a mundane product? or perhaps it’s to provide a cost-effective product for retailers to compete against premium brands. Your brand can only be strong if it understands its purpose. You must be honest.
What is our mission, vision, and purpose?
Without these three things how are the people that work for you, or the people who buy from you supposed to know what makes you different from others? “To be the market leader in “insert field here” is not a mission, it’s a sales target and provides no direction for your brand.
Do we talk and interact with each other and our customers in a way that is easily understood?
Talking down to customers is a big turn off, using too much technical jargon internally can lead to miscommunication. What is the right “intelligence” level for your brand for both internal and external communication.
If I bought this, does it look and feel as I would expect it to from looking at it online?
Great marketing cannot transform an average product into a better one. Be honest with your positioning and targeting.
Do our products or services all fit within the same type of market?
If your brand is positioned as a leading beverage manufacturer but branched out into food 3 years ago… perhaps it’s time to align your brand to your new purpose.
Do our claims and statements measure up in relation to what we do?
Many companies are guilty of this one. Ever seen the bold claim “winner of best cleaning product three years in a row voted by ??? magazine?” Except those 3 years in a row were 5 years ago!
Is the pricing of my product transparent and does it marry up with the expectations of the customer?
Some brands offer “free” content with their product to boost perceived value, others offer extended warranty to increase the perceived quality of the product they are selling. What do your customers expect and value the most?
Hopefully this article was helpful in at least understanding the basic principles of brand and brand alignment. I could write a book on the subject and perhaps one day will, but with no shortage of businesses out in the world who are looking to try and find an edge and evolve that might take some time.
One closing piece of advice. If this has inspired you to take action, then if you try and undertake some form of brand alignment exercises using internal team members, just remember the 4 brand iceberg examples that we explored. Unless you have a dedicated brand director don’t be tempted to ask the head of sales, or the head of operations, or the head of marketing to do anything in isolation. DO get them to do the exercise together. It is good team building and will help them see problems surrounding alignment from different perspectives, strengthen their understanding of the brand and ultimately provide you with better insight to act upon. If you need help there are a number of great brand consultants many who offer free discovery consultation that will help you start your journey to alignment.