Brand identity is ripe for a rebrand

- Monica Glass

 

What makes a brand? A logo? No. A product? No. An ad campaign? No. A clear purpose and identity that resonates through everything it touches? A broader value and idea you’re offering to the world? Yeah, that’s more like it. Now we’re getting closer.

 

Once upon a time brand identity was thought of as nothing more than the visible elements of your brand: the logo, colors, font, packaging and maybe even a witty tag line. It now seems as though brand identity itself is ripe for a re-brand. For the last 20 years, the increasing trend has been for a brand’s identity to be realized in deeper and more meaningful ways through a mix of both internal and external marketing channels. Going well beyond just the visible elements, brand identity now encompasses everything a company wants to communicate to its consumers through every imaginable channel. The brand’s vision, purpose, mission, story, culture, personality, must all be clearly communicated now, and not just through traditional advertising and social media, but more than ever also through content, corporate culture, policies, and even the profiles of the people it hires. Your brand identity now has to no less than answer the utterly philosophical question, “who are you, really?”

 

Chances are, you’ve heard the term “Know thyself.” This ancient Greek aphorism (often credited to Socrates) was actually a warning to pay no attention to popular opinion and concludes that knowing thyself is the most important thing before anything else, and should be at the beginning of all endeavors. Identity and knowing thyself isn’t just a discussion for philosophers, it’s a topic that should be on the mind of every entrepreneur and business leader.

 

While many brands still naturally lead with consumer focused marketing, pandering to public opinion and aiming to solve a practical problem with a better product, the great brands lead with simply the confidence and conviction of who they are and what they represent, selling you an ideal before they even sell you the product. It’s this kind of aspirational marketing that makes brands like Apple and Red Bull leaders in their categories. For the pros, the competition of product marketing is not a war of price, or even product, but rather a war of ideas and identity. A new maxim for 21st century marketing could read, “know thyself first, and your audience will follow.”

Creating a brand identity is serious work. You have to focus and dig deep.

Creating a brand identity is serious work. You have to focus and dig deep. You might even be tempted to head to Peru for an ayahuasca journey guided by a shaman to find the answers. And just maybe after puking with like-minded strangers, those answers will be revealed to you. I won’t judge you for it either way. For entrepreneurs, the process of creating a strong brand identity should be a personal journey, shaman or no shaman.

 

AUTHENTICITY OF IDENTITY

There are plenty of people that are cynical about marketing and advertising. Clearly, that’s not you, as you’re here reading this, but just watch a few episodes of Mad Men and it’d be fair to view it as clever manipulation of minds to drive consumption, and consumption of things we don’t even need and in some cases bad for you (ahem, Philip Morris). But as a relentless optimist, I’d like think we consumers have become too smart for that style of marketing and that has forced brands who “talk the talk” to actually “walk the walk.” We now demand an authenticity that can’t be faked, and that is exactly why creating a real brand identity is now so complex. It’s complex, because it must actually be true and consistent across all channels. If as a brand what you say, think, and do are not aligned, today’s consumer will smell the stench of inauthenticity and quickly go elsewhere. A thoughtful brand identity will guide how the company looks and behaves, from the details of it’s brand design, tone of voice in communications, who it hires, to inspiring strategic partnerships, and even informing overall strategy and tactics. As a leader, you must ask yourself, “do all these choices represent my brand’s philosophy?”

 

By now, most people are familiar with Red Bull’s tag line, “Red Bull Gives You Wings.” What they might not realize is why they actually feel that to be true (legal disclaimer: the wings here mentioned are just figurative, in case you’re like the individual who actually sued Red Bull for false advertising when they didn’t actually grow wings. And yes, that really happened.) Red Bull’s internal marketing mantra is brilliantly, “Red Bull Gives Wings to People and Ideas.” As a marketing mantra and part of the brand’s DNA, this is the statement in which all marketing ideas are checked against. It acts as the litmus test for all activities, “does this give wings to people and ideas?” If not, then it’s a pass. This ensures everything the consumer sees or experiences  from the brand somehow makes them feel the message, not just hear it.

Young consumers recognize that it's not just marketing, it's a genuine passion.

From the very beginning, Red Bull had a clear brand identity and then they made sure it was conveyed authentically by hiring personalities who embodied that idea. In the early years, when marketing via action sports was the main focus, many of the leaders in the company were pro surfers, snowboarders, and motor sports stars. They didn’t always have the right work experience, but they spoke the language of those scenes, they lived the lifestyle and so everything about Red Bull was naturally authentic. More recently, as Red Bull has grown its presence in various music scenes they have also hired on more individuals who come from music backgrounds and are genuinely passionate about it. The real impact from this decision comes from the campaigns and programs these endemic employees produce that are something so special and so unique, young consumers recognize it’s not just marketing, it’s a genuine passion. More companies are now understanding the importance of hiring the right personalities that fit within your brand identity, and more and more recruiters are tasked to find the right personality fit even before the perfect experience with the idea that certain tasks can be taught, but personality can’t.

 

WHO YOU ARE, IS EVERYTHING YOU DO

It’s an exciting time for brands and marketing in general. The lines between consumer and internal facing activities are gone. How a company treats it’s employees and what their office looks like can be just as important as a consumer marketing campaign. Consider Jessica Alba’s decision for The Honest Company to give 16 weeks maternity and paternity leave. This action speaks directly to their mission of safer and healthier families, makes their message is more authentic, and they ultimately received more press from this decision alone than they would have from a traditional campaign. Another example is Google. You can’t help to think of them as innovators and leaders after hearing  about their famous Google campus with conference tandem bikes, self-driving cars and all-you-can-eat cafeterias. Their campus does more for their public image than any marketing tool could have.

 

The increasing trend of a brand’s identity being conveyed through everything it says and does and not just the commercial it releases, is a byproduct of our culture’s shift to authenticity. It’s no secret that millennials are skeptical about the relationship between the individual and corporate America. It seems this generation has started to reconcile the two by ushering in a new era of marketing that respects the consumer’s intelligence, the spirit of the individual, and demands that companies stand for something and offer value to society beyond the bottom line. In this new era, companies that can inspire through their own unique individual identity and truly “walk the walk” through all their actions will be the ones that resonate and flourish.