Your brand is the house your company inhabits. Passersby form an impression of the residents based on what they see from the curb. If a house appears outdated and ill-kept, it’s easy to imagine a dingy interior that has little appeal and homeowners who either don’t care or don’t know how they are perceived.
Just like home maintenance, it takes constant vigilance to keep a brand fresh and relevant. Mature companies that took care of defining their brands a few years ago, but later set them aside to focus on other things, are waking up to realize they have lost relevance. The small startups they didn’t take seriously appear innovative, inviting and interesting in comparison. It sometimes takes new leadership to walk in and assess the state of the brand with fresh eyes and ask tough questions. Which messages no longer resonate with customers and prospects? How does the value proposition stack up against the competition? What kind of first impression does the website make? Basically, does the company’s house still have that curb appeal?
When it’s time to take action, there are several options to consider. The choice hinges on whether your brand’s needs are superficial or if it’s time to revamp from the ground up. Choose one of the following three starting points to begin your brand refresh and become more competitive and relevant in your market.
Mission, vision and values
An example of a company that has done an excellent job of defining and driving awareness of its mission, vision and values is USAA. Each employee knows the mission and feels a purpose in coming to work. The mission, vision and values form the most basic understanding of the company. Your values should clearly articulate what your organization stands for to its customers, employees and stakeholders. Does everyone know and embrace these? Your mission, the definition of what your organization aims to achieve, should be top of mind for everyone in the company. Try randomly sampling employees to see how they’ll tell you what your company’s mission is. If your mission is relevant for your employees and your customers, then you should leave it in place. If they cannot tell you what the mission is, then your employees have jobs, as opposed to a purpose. Your mission is either no longer relevant or not being promoted properly. In this case, start by working on your foundation.
Positioning and messaging
How are you distinctively different from your competitors? What makes you valuable to customers in a special way? Most CEOs think they know. But they are not the target audience. Sometimes they are breathing their own fumes inside their business with an outdated or limited understanding of the customer. Or the top company leadership does know, but the messages haven’t been refined and packaged for consistent use across all customer touchpoints. If you’re not sure, start by conducting objective research to understand what customers and prospects really think about your company, products and services. Compare this to what you want them to think. This, along with an audit of your competitor’s value proposition and messages, will help you assess whether your messages should be updated to maximize your ability to compete.
You may find that you have a strong core with your mission, vision and values. After an audit, you may conclude that your messaging is still effective. Now, examine how these messages are being carried forward and delivered to prospects and to the world. The overall expression of the core messages may be outdated or it may not be working hard enough to create a distinctive impression that grabs attention and makes your company instantly memorable. The ideas you are known for that convey your positioning and messages should take on a life of their own. But you must be bold and brave to create this outcome. You cannot bore someone into buying your product. If your creative approach isn’t making you just a little bit nervous, then you’re probably not taking it far enough and it won’t be different, distinctive and disruptive enough to break through the clutter.
Leaders have responsibilities that demand their attention every day. Most don’t think about their brands as a priority because there isn’t a visible crisis presenting itself as the brand silently degrades over time. Yet the effects can damage the foundation of your business. Maintenance and constant vigilance pay off. Keep the paint fresh. And stay curious about what your new prospects and customers think. Managing their impressions of your business will help drive your bottom line.
This article by Yvonne Tocquigny originally appeared in the Austin Business Journal.