Question for you: What's a brand?
Is it a company?
Maybe it's your logo, product design, or tagline.
Or ... something-something-something promises and expectations?
Could be it's what your company does. Or how you do it.
Maybe it's your reputation.
Answer: All of the above. It all matters. But, there's a "but."
If you're thinking of brand as your company's reputation, you're on the right track. Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, writes that "Brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It's not what you say it is, it's what they say it is."
Marketer Idris Mootee writes, in 60-Minute Brand Strategist, that a brand is an "intangible asset that resides in people's hearts and minds."
And Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once famously said, "Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room."
In other words, your brand is out of your hands. You can't control someone's gut feeling about your business or what they say about it once your salespeople leave the building. But you can still influence those things.
While elements like design and messaging matter, brand goes deeper. What matters for a business starts from inside.
Former Procter & Gamble executive Robert Blanchard wrote in his 1999 Parting Essay:
A person's character flows from his or her integrity: the ability to deliver under pressure, the willingness to do what is right rather than what is expedient. You judge a person's character by his/her past performance and the way he/she thinks and acts in both good times, and especially, bad. The same are true of brands.
And Mootee says:
An authentic brand comes from within. It is the exposure of what a company really is. A few interactions with the company will quickly reveal if their marketing and branding is simply saying what they think will appeal rather than what they think and believe.
Think of the last time you had to call customer service. What did the company reveal about itself in that interaction?
- Your brand is what people think about your company.
- What people think about your company is determined by your company's character.
- Your company's character is revealed in the interactions your customers and prospects have with your people (who, incidentally, leadership doesn't control).
So in order to create a great brand, you need a great culture.
Here's Bill Taylor, the cofounder of Fast Company, writing in the Harvard Business Review:
Your brand is your culture, your culture is your brand.
And Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos (quoted in Mootee's book):
At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own.
We believe that your company's culture and your company's brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up. Your culture is your brand.
And here's Mootee again:
Your brand is your culture and your culture is your brand. ... An appropriate and well-aligned culture can provide a brand with a sustainable competitive advantage.
If brand is culture, then branding:
- Helps a business create culture
- Helps that business tell its story
To do the first, you need to build trust and articulate a purpose, a "why."
To do the second, you have to develop an identity with character.
When a company does those two things, it gets authentic. And when a company is authentic, customers want to be a part of the company story—and make it part of theirs—as you both evolve over time.
Brand is culture.
And when the culture is healthy, you never have to worry about what your customers are saying when you're not in the room.