With a murky backdrop of spiralling confusion and risk, you can be excused for feeling like a little fish amidst a whirling bait ball right now. Our instinctual eye can recognise the outline of predators circling around us even if we don’t fully understand them. Infection, mismanagement, loss and people choosing which rules they want to comply with and to hell with it. That’s not to mention the shortening days, dropping temperatures, rising water levels and well, standard daily life that, in the past, seemed to occupy our worried minds fully without any help. There is much to mistrust and doubt while we cling to the known and familiar, finding purchase enough to carry on.
NOT SO BLEAK
With a little skill it’s easy to paint a picture of bleakness. Lord knows we have enough material to work with. Equally I could paint a different picture of the warmth of the hearth around which we gather each night with our closest companions. Sharing and lessening our troubles with friendly understanding, while an army of heroes battle for the future outside of the strong walls that keep us safe.
You get the idea. Both are true. Both are representations of our reality right now. Both are conjured in your mind with mere words as the tool. Not even any pictures! So why does it matter?
With so much to mistrust it is more important than ever that as an organisation you are thoughtful about how you are seen by your audience. That you look, sound and act like you. If you get it right you might be one of a small number of familiar things in their world. They will like you for it.
LOOK LIKE YOU
Put some effort into developing a well considered visual identity that you use consistently and coherently wherever your audience come across you. It takes effort which is why I use this word. It takes some skill as well so if you don’t have the skill buy it in. It will be worth it. Fairly sure you’ll already be aware of this aspect of branding. Most people are to some extent.
An organisation I have admired for a long time recently changed the way it looks. It looked very much like itself beforehand and while it doesn’t look awful now I can’t help but feel like it has lost something. There is a clue that they feel somewhat the same. Their materials still use one of the key elements from their previous visual identity but in a loose, inconsistent and generally haphazard way. As if they threw the bath water out, realised the baby was probably worth keeping but don’t quite know why or what to do with it anymore.
SOUND LIKE YOU
Don’t forget that the sounds you use, including words in the written context, that are heard as sounds in the readers’ heads (Hello in there, I’m inside your head), should be cared for too. Develop a verbal identity and even, if relevant, a sonic identity. Selected with intent, used with purpose and again managed consistently and coherently. This one may be something you’ve heard of or might be new but it’s as important as looking like you.
Now, the organisation I mention above actually came up with a fantastic new phrase during the same revamp of their brand a while ago. I liked it as much as I disliked the visual changes. It was perfect and really hit the nail on the head. Short and easy to read, it captured why the organisation exists, who the people are in the organisation and differentiated vs competitors. As far as I can see they’ve used it little since launch, or at least they haven’t built their verbal identity around it as perhaps they should have.
ACT LIKE YOU
More important than either of the above (Shock horror I know!) is that you should really focus down hard on acting like you. Think about what sort of actions your organisation should display based upon what you look like, sound like and fundamentally who you are. Why is this so important you may ask? Well, because humans have this amazing in-built capability to spot when something isn’t right. When things are amiss. When they just don’t line up and sync like they should. When you look one way and say one thing but then do another it’s immediately obvious and what happens? People lose trust and you have to work very hard to win it back if indeed you can. This isn’t rocket science. Write a list of behaviours that are you and behaviours that aren’t you. Share with your team, demonstrate the former and avoid the latter.
You’re wondering what I’m thinking about that organisation I mentioned above aren’t you? You are correct in assuming I have a viewpoint. They have a long and austere history and it could be argued that they are in fact the origin of the sector in which they operate. You would assume that they would be confident of their place in that sector and that they are clear on the value they add for the people who inhabit it. They do deliver real value and it is significant which is why I have admired them for so long. However, like many organisations it is evident that they don’t recognise their true value. They have gotten lost amongst the forest and forgotten their roots. Forgotten why they exist in the first place and why people are attracted to them. Why people need them. In marketing terms you would call this need their core product.
I know this because they have recently launched a set of benefits that seem to confirm that they are missing the point with regards to how they add value. These new benefits would be part of their augmented product in marketing terms. The new benefits are also peripheral, don’t relate in any way to their reason for existing and are very low value at best. However it’s worse than that, and this is the rub, someone there should understand this and have stopped it from happening, they undermine the organisation’s value for their audience by suggesting that new benefits are needed in the first place. Their existence says ‘we think the main benefit you get from our organisation isn’t enough, so we are adding little bits on the side to try and make it better’. To me it isn’t just mismanaging and damaging the brand it is actually doubting the reason why they exist in the first place.
It’s a humble opinion because I respect the organisation and the people within it but here it is. They would be better focusing on clarifying and articulating their core product (real value) rather than inventing new, unnecessary and potentially damaging ones at the edges. When the core product is strong enough you don’t need shiny trinkets. If when they analyse themselves, they find that there isn’t enough there, then they need to look deeply at who they are, what they stand for and how their role can add great strength to the sector they are a part of.
I am a supporter of the organisation hence not naming names. I don’t wish to add insult to injury. Everyone there is earnestly trying their best and brand management is challenging. I wish to help and build. If you recognise the above and know the organisation then perhaps there is some truth in what I write. If not then they are not damaged by my words.
There, done. That feels good. The problem with understanding brand is that it can be frustrating when organisations that you admire, and that must succeed, stumble. You are left watching and hoping that they can find their feet again. I hope they can.