There are so many misconceptions about branding and the impact it has on an organization that we sat down with John Kaldeway, VP Brand Strategy & Development here at Stratford, to get a true sense of how branding impacts our organizations and what it means to scaling companies.
To many, brand is a symbol. A simple tool to say, “This steer belongs to this rancher,” or “This can of pop has that maker’s drink inside.” Over time, brand has evolved into a far richer tool. It now extends from the realm of symbolism into belief. One can hold positive and negative beliefs. In that sense, it can hold positive value, negative value or no value at all.
I sometimes describe my work as brand therapy. My job is to make sure the beliefs people hold about an organization are true, and that means those of anyone inside or out. When this truth seemingly has negative value or no value, I work to find value and build their brand from that as a starting point. If truth has value, I work to ensure it is defined, aligned and explained to all audiences in ways they can relate to. It’s not going to be effective if it’s just a strategy. It won’t deliver if it’s just creative. I do both.
The process is exactly the same whether you’re a sole proprietor just starting out or a global technology company. What’s different is the number of inputs and the scale of the outputs. In the end, it’s about finding truth and building value around it.
Brand thinking must extend far beyond the marketing department in my books. Brand is the leading cause of business failure. And the widest road to success. There is only one purpose for any business, which is to find customers. Brand is that connection — the beliefs that people have about the organization, its products and the way it conducts business. It impacts everything from how phones are answered to HR policies and major decisions about corporate direction.
Brand is a system of beliefs, so what better thing to measure against as they scale. My clients use the brand character, personality and values as a litmus test for decision-making, guiding direction, growth and fostering alignment both within and without. So, when I engage, I’m typically working with three main groups in a company. Leadership, HR and marketing. The holy trinity of Mind, Body and Soul.
There’s a place online you can have someone design your logo for $5. The mistake is to miss out on one of the highest returns on investment in the life of your organization. How brand relates 360° around your mission, vision and values and the people who work there. The more you invest in the brand in every aspect of the business, the higher the returns. Brand provides reasons to choose beyond price. Any business that is finding itself commoditized can build value using sound brand principles.
The optimal time to brand is at the very start of an organization’s life. Even just one day spent focused on the “why” of an organization and casting it into stone will help. Sometimes there are problems with existing brand; Poor reputation, inability to branch out into new areas of business, evolving market demand, etc. All of these point to the need to do a deep dive into the belief systems surrounding the organization.
Brand is 100% psychology. Brand problems relate directly to the way people think, what they believe and the barriers to truth. A therapist brings order to the disorder.
The number one misconception is that brand is a graphic design exercise. Visual execution is important, but anyone can hire a designer and get great looking work. Even better if it actually expresses the ideas they need to express. But quite frankly, design is just the expression of an idea. It’s one of the outputs. Brand is truth. It’s the why behind everything.