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Building Your Brand is NOT About Marketing

Mitchell Osak

Companies who think that a strong brand can only be developed through marketing are missing out on other ways to improve their image. While marketing is vital, we take the view that the brand is impacted by the entire business. Many functions like sales, customer support and facilities management play a key role in creating customer perceptions. While this is not an original idea, most companies still rely on traditional marketing activities like advertising, packaging and promotion to build their image. Our research suggests that other factors are equally if not more important in influencing a brand. Companies who can identify these key brand drivers will be able to improve their brand execution, not to mention business and financial performance.

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Loads of research confirms that trust in brands has declined. People view brands with a jaded eye and consumers are uncomfortable with a brands’ desire to control the message. The market research firm Young & Rubicam found that the percentage of brands that consumers consider trustworthy plunged from 52% in 1997 to 22% in 2008. This skepticism is being amplified by the power of social media which now give consumers and influencers as much power as the marketer to influence the brand.

A new branding paradigm

Enlightened organizations understand that building a trustworthy branding is a process that is too important to be left only to the marketing department. These companies recognize that brand communication is the responsibility of all employees, involves every department and is a participatory process. As a result, some firms are moving away from a marketing-led, push-based communications strategy towards a more holistic approach that seeks to rebuild consumer trust and communicate the brand promise at every external touch point. This new paradigm integrates corporate strategy, employees as branding ambassadors and regular engagement with external stakeholders.

Keeping it real

Implementing this new approach is part marketing program, part operational strategy and part cultural change. Below are a few ways managers can build their brand without traditional marketing:

Employees as brand ambassadors

We have seen many companies spend millions of dollars on advertising but neglect to effectively communicate their value proposition to their employee base – many of whom deal with customers on a regular basis. Marketing one thing and having your employees believe something else is a recipe for poor brand execution and wasted spending. Getting everyone aligned takes time but will pay dividends through reinforcing branding messages and increasing clarity.

Optimize the customer experience

A compelling brand strategy will flounder if the customer experience is not supportive of the brand promise. Our client experience bears this out. We have seen a service-focused hospitality brand stumble (and witness declines in loyalty and up-sells) when the front line staff was not consistently friendly, responsive and knowledgeable. In another case, we witnessed how ignoring channel needs and product documentation compromised the brand equity of a leading software product. Ultimately, this helped contribute to lower market share and margins.

Open up the brand

One way to garner trust is to open up your brand to your stakeholders. In essence, customers, employees and influencers contribute to your brand message through social media and other marketing vehicles. Although the likelihood of frank discussions – warts and all – is high, this strategy can reduce skepticism and mistrust by portraying the company as an honest, open, credible and authentic corporate citizen.

The Danish toy company, Lego Group, is a good example of well-known brand that has gotten even stronger through open branding. Lego recognized early on that its brand was not created by the marketing department, but instead by the entire company through its interactions with its community – retailers, consumers, media and other stakeholders.

Open branding is a great way to reinforce your brand building blocks. To best leverage this new construct while minimizing risk, marketers should-

  1. Deliver value not communication - Typical marketing communications is a turnoff to customers as well as employees. Increasingly, consumers want valuable, objective and timely content– not just slogans – that helps them and respects their time.
  2. Share control - If brands want to be seen as credible, authentic and compelling, firms must accept that their image is no longer solely controlled by its managers. With the emergence of social media and other new Web 3.0 technologies, brands are now being molded by a diverse group of people whose opinions should be heard.
  3. Open up - A brand manager’s role must go beyond traditional marketing to fully engage – listen, absorb, facilitate and share – consumers and influencers. The key organizational shift here is to stop seeing consumers as an object or transaction and to start seeing them as a source of creativity and co-creation in areas like branding, product design and support. Many successful brands like Harley Davidson and Apple nurture communities of passionate users who evangelize the brand and provide vital market and product information.

Mitchell Osak is managing director of Quanta Consulting Inc. Quanta has delivered a variety of winning strategy and organizational transformation consulting and educational solutions to global Fortune 1000 organizations. Mitchell can be reached at