Getting Started: 3 Inputs to Building a Brand Identity

September 3, 2010

In my most recent post, I kicked off a multi-post series on a step by step approach to building a brand identity.  The introductory post focused on why an organization might consider pursuing a process to build or revisit its brand identity and gave some examples of how this can be done.  This post focuses on the inputs to starting the brand identity development process.

Input #1:  People

Most brand development processes are officially kicked off with one or a series of face to face meetings.  The most important input into the process is the people who participate in these meetings.  All functional areas of the organization that have any influence on the brand should be represented.

For example, in a business, not only would the brand management/marketing team (including the market research team if applicable) be represented in the session, but product development/R&D, sales, customer service, and operations should also have representation, at the very least.  Any area that has an impact on how the brand experience is delivered to the target customers or any area that has regular contact with the target customers should be included.  For these reasons, many organizations also include outside agency and strategic alliance partners in their sessions.

For a not for profit organization, a selection of board members, volunteers, customer facing staff, strategic alliance partners and donors should be participants in the process.

There is no specific number of participants who should be involved in the process, however I prefer to work with groups ranging in size from 8 to 20 people.  Fewer than 8 can make brainstorming difficult.  More than 20 typically results in not everyone having an opportunity to share his/her perspectives in the session.

Input #2:  Customer Insights

While having the perspective of the people who influence the delivery of the brand experience is critical in a successful brand identity development process, it is actually more critical that the participants have an accurate understanding of the target customer.  After all, the American Marketing Association defines a brand as an “asset that resides in the mind of the target customer”.  For this reason, it is important to have individuals who are customer-facing to be participants in the process.  If possible, I also recommend that the organization conduct customer research in advance of the session and distribute its findings to all of the participants in advance so that everyone has some understanding of who the target customer is and his/her needs and perspectives.  For some organizations that regularly conduct research, this may just mean assembling and distributing recent research reports.  For others who do not have this information readily available, this might require fielding some quick surveys or hosting some interviews or focus groups with customers.  One of my previous posts provides some questions to consider including in such research.

Input #3:  Clear Objectives of the Process

As the people are identified to participate in the process and given the appropriate background on who the target customers are, they should also be given details on the specific objectives of the process.  More specifically, they should be briefed on the reasons why the organization has decided to focus on developing a brand identity, the specific objectives and goals it hopes to achieve as a result of developing a new brand identity, and how achieving these goals will impact each participant’s role in the organization.  Communicating all of this at the beginning, before the process officially starts is very important because without it, participants can easily be sidetracked from what they are supposed to accomplish once the process begins. A session can become derailed when the overarching objectives are not introduced and then reiterated clearly throughout the process from beginning to end.

As a quick side note on this topic, in some cases, it is not as simple as communicating the goals and objectives to all of the participants and assuming everyone is on board and aligned to them.  Some organizations have to go through an alignment process prior to beginning the brand development process so that the right objectives and goals are identified for the initiative.  This is fine — it is better to hash out and gain final alignment to the objectives prior to starting the session as opposed to discovering in the middle of the process that not everyone is clear as to what they are trying to accomplish.

These three inputs provide a great foundation to kicking off a successful brand identity development process.  The next step is to leverage these inputs and dive into developing each component of the brand.  Stay tuned for the next post that will discuss this in more detail.


The next best thing to customer market research…

July 28, 2010

Market research has always been my favorite part of marketing.  The idea of using research to uncover what is in the minds of your target customers — their beliefs, their needs, their ways of thinking — to create better products or stronger messages really excites me.  I’ve always viewed research as the key to solving a complex puzzle of customer needs and a brand’s benefits.

With this perspective, it is probably no surprise that I am often recommending to my clients that they conduct customer research when they are facing marketing challenges or decisions.  Research, when done well, will typically help them find the answers they are seeking.  Most of my clients agree with my recommendation, but budgets or timing tend to get in the way for some clients and prevent the research from taking place.

In those cases, I often help my clients search for the next best source of information and ask, “Well, what do the rest of your employees believe?  What does your employee research tell you?”  And, most of the time, I get a blank stare and a reply something along the lines of “I don’t know.  We’ve never asked them.”

In theory, this response surprises me.  It would seem so easy for organizations to leverage their employees to understand their perspectives on the organization’s brand, products/services, messages, and positioning since the employees work with customers and understand the business.  However, in practice, I can’t say that this is unexpected.  After many years working in marketing for a variety of companies, I don’t think I ever completed or fielded brand market research as an employee.  The fact that conducting employee market research is a rare practice should not imply that it isn’t valid or valuable.  For organizations that are unable to complete customer research to inform their marketing decisions, employee research is the next best option because it can be done very quickly, inexpensively, and it can provide real insights.

Two arguments for not conducting employee market research are:

  1. The employees are biased because they are so close to the business.
  2. The employees may not be honest in the research for fear that their comments will impact their jobs.

However, I believe that the biggest reason why organizations don’t conduct employee research is that they simply do not think of it.  As for the two arguments listed above, they can be address with the following:

  1. While employees do have a unique and perhaps biased perspective, those who deal with customers regularly most likely have a good understand of what customers are thinking and what they need.  This perspective is valuable to understand.
  2. Creating an anonymous or “safe” process to conduct research with employees so that they feel comfortable providing their thoughts does not have to be complex.  Anonymous surveys through online tools such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey or the use of external moderators are simple and budget friendly ways to ensure employees feel enabled to share their true thoughts and feelings.

With all of this in mind, I would even recommend that organizations that do conduct customer market research regularly also consider conducting employee research periodically.  The two pieces of research together will yield very powerful findings that will likely lead to better recommendations and decisions overall than if just one form of research was completed.

Employee research is certainly no perfect substitute for customer market research, but it nevertheless is a very important tool that organizations can easily and should employ to help them make better marketing decisions.  Especially in cases where an organization is deciding between employee research or no research at all, the organization should leverage employee research.  In the absence of customer market research, the cost of not leveraging the employees’ perspective will likely exceed the basic costs of conducting the in-house employee research.