Brand is much more than a name or a logo. Brand is everything, and everything is brand.
Brand is your strategy. If you’re a consumer brand, brand is your products and the story that those products tell together. Ikea’s kitchen chairs’ tendency to fall apart after two years is part of the company’s brand. Back in 1969 NASA didn’t have the best logo. But man did it have a brand. It has a nicer logo now — but the brand no longer stands for anything.
If you don’t know where you’re going or how you’re going to get there, that’s your brand, no matter what fancy new name you come up with.
Brand is your calls to action. If Martin Luther King had offered people free toasters if they marched on Washington, that would have been his brand. Are your calls to action brave and inspiring or tacky? Are they consistent with some strategy that makes sense? Getting more Facebook “likes” isn’t a strategy, in and of itself.
Brand is your customer service. If clients call your business all excited and get caught up in a voicemail tree, can’t figure out who they should talk to, and leave a message for someone unsure if it’s the right person, that’s your brand.
It says you don’t really care all that much about your clients. If they come to your annual dinner and can’t hear the speaker because of a lousy sound system, that’s your brand. It says that you don’t think it’s really important whether they hear what you have to say or not.
If the clerk at your checkout counter is admiring her nails and talking on her cell phone, she’s your brand, whether she’s wearing one of the nice new logo caps you bought or not.
Brand is the way you speak. If you build a new website and fill it with outdated copy, you don’t have a new brand. If the copy is impenetrable — a disease of epidemic proportion in the humanitarian sector — that’s your brand. If you let social service jargon, acronyms, and convoluted abstractions contaminate everything you say, that’s your brand. If your annual report puts people to sleep, that’s your brand. If it’s trying to be all things to all people, that’s your brand.
Message is a central part of your brand, but message alone cannot make a great brand. How many times have you encountered a product or service that didn’t live up to what the copy writers told you about it? That disconnect is your brand.
Brand is the whole array of your communication tools. Brand is the quality of the sign on the door that says, “Back in 10 minutes.” It’s whether you use a generic voicemail system with canned muzak-on-hold, or whether you create your own custom program.
The former says you are just like everyone else and you’re fine with that; the latter says you are original. You might have a pretty sale banner that adheres to all the right visual standards, but if it’s sagging and hung up with duct tape, that’s your brand. It says you don’t pay attention to the details.
Can you imagine seeing a crooked banner with duct tape in an Apple store? Never. And that’s their brand. It says that the motherboard in the Mac isn’t hanging by a thread either.
Brand is your people. Brand is your people and the way they represent you. Having a good team starts with good hiring and continues with strong and consistent training and development.
No matter how well your employees adhere to your new brand style guide, if they couldn’t care less about the job they’re doing, that’s your brand.
Brand is your facilities. Are the lights on, or is your team working in darkness? Is the place clean and uncluttered? Does it have signage that’s consistent with your visual standards? Does it look and feel alive? Your home is your brand.
Brand is your logo and visuals, too. A great brand deserves a great logo and great graphic design and visuals. It can make the difference when the customer is choosing between two great brands. But these alone cannot make your brand great.
Ultimately, brand is about caring about your business at every level and in every detail, from the big things like mission and vision, to your people, your customers, and every interaction anyone is ever going to have with you, no matter how small.
Whether you know it or not, whether you have a swanky logo or not, you do have a brand. The question is whether or not it’s the brand you really want.