In the last of these blogs, I showed you the key tool that I use in the brand definition process, my beloved brand pyramid, and explained briefly how you go about using it.
So, having followed this advice, you now have a fully-populated version that crisply and clearly articulates the brand that you want to build in the marketplace. Job done, right?
I’m afraid not. As our great wartime leader would have said if he’d been involved in building brands rather than winning wars, this is not the end, nor yet the beginning of the end. It is only, as he put it, the end of the beginning.
Because now you know what you want your brand to stand for, there is the not-so-trifling matter of standing for it.
People have some very odd ideas about the way to do this. Somehow or other, for example, many have come to believe that it’s all about your firm’s name and the design of its logo. Many others believe it’s about spending huge amounts of money on expensive advertising campaigns. None of these is remotely necessary. Fiddling about with names and logos, and embarking on big advertising campaigns, play an extremely minor role in building a brand in a “people business” like yours.
So what plays the major role? Surely it’s obvious. Overwhelmingly, people’s brand perceptions are formed by the way that they see you doing what you do – the particular and distinctive ways that they experience you going about your business. Every single little detail of your firm’s behaviour (and that overwhelmingly means the behaviour of the people in your firm) has the potential to shape brand perceptions, either for better or for worse.
That means that in building the perceptions you’ve expressed in your pyramid, the very first and most important thing you have to do is to make sure that everyone in your firm gets it, is thoroughly bought into it and thinks really hard about what they can do to contribute to it. What’s involved in making this happen, of course, depends entirely on your firm’s scale, or lack of it: if yours is literally a one-person band, your internal communications can be extremely modest, while the biggest companies have to book up major concert halls for huge staff events.
Probably the single most important part of achieving internal commitment is making sure that you feature on-brand behaviours in your staff appraisal system. As the old saying goes, what gets measured gets done: if, say, one of your brand’s intended values is “rigorous attention to detail,” everyone needs to understand that there are rewards available for achieving it. And, indeed, the opposite of rewards for not achieving it.
Alongside this programme of internal communication, it’s also essential to review every aspect of your clients’ experience of your firm, to make sure that you’re taking every opportunity to reinforce your brand perceptions (and avoiding every opportunity to contradict them). Even the smallest details are worth bothering with. When I worked with a small, dynamic fintech firm recently, we identified a dozen ways in which visitors’ experience of coming into the Reception area could be better-aligned with their desired brand perceptions (you really couldn’t be building a reputation for a warm, comfortable style of service with chairs as uncomfortable as those!).
Some imagination can help. Working for a small asset management firm seen to be strong in the UK but weak internationally, we changed all their marketing and communications material so that it appeared in multiple languages (English, French, Spanish and Mandarin). Immediately they began to feel like a global business. And in their reception area, of course, we introduced clocks giving the time in financial centres around the world, and copies of global media like the Wall Street Journal and the South China Morning Post.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that really register with people and capture their attention. Working for a medium-sized accounting firm wanting to offer a more personal touch than the giant firms, we introduced hand-made biscuits, made by a member of staff, into their meeting rooms on Fridays. Sometimes it’s much bigger things: if you want to stand, for example, for big ideas like clarity and transparency, you’re going to need to review all your paperwork and make sure it lives up to the promise.
While tackling all this, you have to bear in mind one of the trickier aspect of human nature, which is that we tend to judge by exceptions rather than rules. If 80% of your correspondence is wonderfully clear and transparent but the other 20% is completely mysterious and opaque, you can be sure that it’ll be the 20% that really registers with people.
And in the end, when you’ve tackled all these challenges, and also put a process in place to keep it all under review and make sure you don’t drift slowly away from your good intentions, what’s the point of it all? What can you actually expect to get back in return for a great deal of effort (and, inevitably, a little bit of cost)?
I can’t do better than to give an example from my personal experience of advice firms, even though it was a while ago now. I worked for seven or eight years for a very brand-minded firm that had no significant assets of any sort except its brand (being focused on mortgage advice, at that time it didn’t even have anything much in the way of recurring income). Just after the turn of the millennium, the business was acquired for £100 million (and, by the way, fifteen years later, the buyer still says it was excellent value for money).
The business was, of course, John Charcol, and that sale price reflected a major and sustained effort to build a distinctive brand in a largely unbranded part of the market. That opportunity still exists today – probably makes it worthwhile to sort out those meeting-room biscuits.