If we looked at the messages on your website and compared that to the ad campaigns, brochures, social posts and what your sales team is saying in the field, would it be cohesive? Or is it all a bit disjointed?
The speed of business has increased and the workload on each team member has increased as the world becomes digitized and so many channels of communication are out our fingertips. This is where confusion can sneak in and we all know it loves to wreak havoc when you don't have an aligned brand
Taking a step back and looking at everything your firm is communicating (visually, verbally and experientially), is vital to keep your brand in alignment. The complexity of your business model can make alignment harder and even more important. Let's look at the basics of how your company's communication engine works.
How do marketing, branding and business goals fit together to create an aligned brand?
I've written about what a brand is before (here and here) – so we're going to jump straight in and look at what brand communication alignment is and how it can make everything else you do easier. Or when it is out of alignment, how it can make everything else harder, inconsistent and cause you to waste a lot of your marketing dollars.
It all comes down to the structure of your brand foundation. You have to really know who you are, the value you provide and to whom before you can put together your brand personality. Your brand personality can be simple or complex depending on the complexity of your offerings and customer verticals.
I created the chart below to help facilitate this conversation within clients and I hope it helps you fit the pieces together.
Just like an aligned healthy spine makes moving and staying active easier, an aligned brand does the same for your business.
The dark layers in this chart are critical to your success. They are the connective tissue of your business spine.
A little hard to read? No worries, here is a PDF of the Total Brand Alignment Infographic.
The problem I see often is good firms wasting money on random acts of marketing, jumping from tactic to tactic or they point the finger at the website as the reason sales aren't where they should be. “The website is the problem. Let's redesign it.” Usually, the core problem is the dark layers in the chart above have been skipped and the brand pillars are weak or non-existent. This happens because business runs at the speed of light and everyone has a to-do list that keeps growing and growing.
It's easy to get into a rut and say the same things that every other firm is saying or what your firm has been saying for years in your marketing.
Imagine having clear and energizing messages, a visual identity that really fits with who your company is and a solid direction that is aligned with what you offer and what your clients want. Every project you take on would be easier to execute.
Stopping to take a good hard look at the company from the top down seems overwhelming. Where do you start? Can this be fixed internally? Ok, breathe. We can help, but first, let's talk about why you should care about shoring up your brand foundation.
What can an aligned brand do for you?
Having a differentiated, recognizable and focused brand has many benefits:
- An aligned brand that is well articulated and packaged is easy to understand, buy from, fall in love with and refer to others.
- A brand that is both consistent and relevant to customers builds recognition, credibility, trust and ultimately loyalty.
- Brands simplify decisions for customers. When a brand consistently communicates how and why it is distinct from competitors, it reminds customers why they prefer this brand over others – and why they would pay more for it.
- Elements of your brand can help make decisions easier: Where should you focus time and money? Who is a good fit for our team? Is this a shiny object or is it aligned with our business goals? You will be able to ask and answer “Is this on- or off-brand for us?”
- An aligned brand solidifies your culture and helps attract, retain and engage top talent.
Let's break this chart down section by section, starting at the top.
Marketing Channel Mix… campaigns, repetition, and conversions, oh my.
These two layers are very complex and I will do another blog digging into the details of the myriad of ways things can be misaligned and go wrong and what to do about it. It is important for your strategy and tactics to support each other and be in alignment with your business and its goals.
Your marketing initiatives are spread out over the available channels that make sense for your business and budget. Campaigns and initiatives are the visible work the marketing and sales department does to cultivate business. It is usually multichannel (not necessarily all 5) and when done well, the message is coordinated, consistent and effective.
This is also where a lot of time and money is wasted trying new tactics and tweaking campaigns hoping something will work. You're so busy trying to get the word out that you haven't spent enough time figuring out if the word is right and aligned with the target audience.
This is not where you should look first when investigating why you're not getting a positive return on your investment. Look at the layers below to see if your brand and its message is aligned top to bottom. Often an unaligned brand is the main problem.
Your digital headquarters – the company website
Ah, the website. This can be a point of pride or embarrassment for your team. I have labeled this “Your Digital Headquarters” for a reason, it's a critical business asset that needs to be treated as such. Your website is only thing many prospects will see when doing research and making the decision to invite you to the table or not. They will not read the entire site to get a good picture of you, so don't expect them to. They will scan the home page, dig around a bit or bounce based on your site quickly answering these questions:
- What is it?
- Is it for me?
- What do I get out of it?
- Will choosing them help or hurt?
If you don't look or sound like the type of player they are looking for, the researcher (prospect or the prospects gatekeeper) will leave. It's that simple.
Pay attention to how you search for resources. I'm sure it goes a bit like this, “Yes. No. Maybe. Hell no. Yes. OMG No. Wow. What tha?”, sound familiar. You make these decisions in seconds not minutes. Apply that research reality to your website. Do you look like the sort of firm they can trust with a big project? Do you look dated, or do you look too slick? Do you look like everyone else?
Your website should:
- Be a digital representation of your firm
- Clearly, state what you do and for whom
- Have a clear brand personality
- Position and differentiate your firm
- Be easy to navigate and understand
- Have fresh, quality content
- Add credibility to your firm, not drain it
- Be visually consistent with your other brand assets
- Be search engine friendly
- Support your sales team and your marketing campaigns
You've heard it before and I'll say it again, your website is not a set-it-and-forget-it sort of thing. It is a very valuable asset that needs to be maintained and updated regularly. Gone are the days of a site redesign, ignore it for 3-5 years, knock it down, build another, ignore it for 3-5 years… rinse repeat.
To sum all that up, your website is a living asset that should grow and change with the company.
That is easily said but much harder to accomplish when you have limited staff, budget and a million other priorities on your plate. If you need help, we can evaluate the challenges and help you come up with a plan to fix them. But I bet most of the issues can be solved by taking the time and doing the work to create your brand pillars. Without this structure, you are working without a foundation for your brand.
Brand Pillars – the core that makes sales and marketing easier and more effective
Your brand pillars are based on the research and brand strategy from understanding who you are, what you are selling and why customers buy on an emotional level.
This is where your visual and verbal identity is created for your company – the logical yin to the emotional yang. Having these 5 things dialed in tight for your business will make all external and internal communications easier and more effective.
Your brand personality is based on the 4 pillars and is applied to and rides along with all of your marketing and advertising. This is what the action “branding” really means and it is what separates strong brands from companies that are interchangeable commodities.
- What makes you different?
- How are you positioned in the market as compared to your competition?
- Why should prospects choose you?
- Who are you meant to serve?
- What problems do you solve?
- What do you stand for and against?
- What is the personality of your brand?
Brand DNA Intensive – Discovering your goodies
A lot of companies say, “We're good at what we do but so are our competitors, we're not different.” I haven't found a company yet that didn't have hidden goodies that make them unique.
You are the only company that does what you do in the way that you do it. If you have a business with repeat customers there is a reason. It often takes an outside perspective to see what you take for granted.
Most of my clients aren't sexy businesses
That doesn't mean they aren't total badasses in one way or another. We just need to find out what you are made of and who you were made for, wrap that in strategy, create your pillars and define your personality then apply that to everything you do.
Like Dolly said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose”, amen, sister.
Here at Branding & Beyond, we'll help you define your brand personality and build out a solid foundation that will make sales easier and marketing more effective. Everything already exists within your company, we just need to find it and craft it into a verbal and visual identity that we can apply to everything internally and externally.
When you work with us, we guide you through the brand alignment process. This isn’t our first rodeo.
We’ll help you build a solid brand foundation so you can implement a marketing plan that actually delivers.
Here are a few other articles you might like:
Tracy O’Shaughnessy Founder / Lead Brand Strategist of Branding & Beyond
Tracy and her team help B2B firms in the construction industry look and sound credible online and off.
She has been in the industry since the early '90s and is tired of great companies being treated as commodities and competing on price because they don't look and sound as credible as they really are.
You can find Tracy on Linkedin and here on this blog.