I have always believed that brand management is an outgrowth of strategic planning. Too often, a so-called brand company--usually a firm focused primarily on design, or a PR or advertising agency--comes in to an organization and goes through a brand audit and proposal. Far too often, the recommendations of these firms have no connection with the overall strategy of the company. They do not look at the mission. They do not understand if the company has the internal culture to meet the brand promise. All they seem interested in is a creative solution in terms of design or messages. These activities are doomed to failure and are very costly to the organization in more ways than one.
The costs are not just monetary. Organizations that engage in superficial brand activities actually create a division between their brand promise and its actualization, both internal and external to the organization. Employees look at the brand as being disconnected to the reality they know, and customers learn that the organization makes promises it cannot keep. This creates additional cost in terms of diminished reputation. In one study by Majken Schultz and Mary Jo Hatch (the Expressive Organisation), it was found that some 70% of employees at companies the researchers studied, did not understand and were not committed to the brand strategy of the company. Considering that it is impossible to have a corporate brand if the organization cannot live it, what the authors found is a typical recipe for disaster.
Because of these problems, I developed a process called DIFFERS, which starts with strategy before getting organizations into branding, organizational engagement, and marketing communications activities. It forces companies to think strategically and not jump to the more creative aspects of branding.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a strategic planning company, Ambler Growth Strategy Consultants, on a brand process for an organization. While strategy should be done before branding, the organization had actually engaged my firm first. We had developed a great positioning, tagline and new name for the organization. It was based upon the best available information we had. Then, the organization began working on its strategy for the future and we realized that everything we had done had to be changed. We developed a new positioning and tagline for the organization. The strategy consultant expressed happy surprise that we were so willing to change our direction and admit that we needed a new positioning since the target markets had changed. She indicated that many brand and advertising firms she had worked with would have remained committed to their original work. While this was nice praise, it was a poor statement on the brand industry. Most branding firms I have worked with in the past are more committed to the "artistic" aspects of what they do rather than the strategy.
Most organizations are suffering from a "trust deficit". Is it any wonder trust is diminished? Stakeholders have come to expect that companies care more about what they say rather than what they do. This is the fault of bad management, but it also is the fault of a marketing and communications industry that is not doing its job correctly.