Are you an enlightened leader when it comes to brand strategy and identity?

James Sterling

  • Creative director, Designworks
James has more than 20 years' experience in the branding and design industry in the UK and Australia. At Designworks James has a passionate focus on the translation of brand strategy into the brand experience seamlessly across all touch points. And believes that simplicity, originality and joined up thinking is a winning combination for clients. As Creative Director James has lead projects for Virgin Group, Hilton, Royal Mail, BBC, Bank of Melbourne, South 32, Transurban, Australia Post and Officeworks.


Last year I was lucky enough to help develop a new resources company brand, new from the ground up. Let's just say it doesn't happen every day. I was lucky, not because I was helping create a new multi-billion dollar organisation, but because I got to work with an enlightened CEO and his exec team.

Why enlightened? Because as modern leaders in an increasingly changing world, they understood the importance of taking advantage of (and trusting in) the entire brand development process from start to finish.

The leadership team grasped the opportunity to use the strategic branding process to help set the agenda for the new organisation. This included when to engage internal and external stakeholders, when to listen, when to act on advice and when to ignore it and trust their gut instinct.

They knew they weren’t just creating a new name and logo, they were setting the very direction in which they wanted to take the organisation. Furthermore, by leveraging the process, they had a tool to navigate with. A tool they could use to guide future decisions, to unite and influence their team, a way to engage, a statement of intent to the market and an opportunity to show the world how remarkable they want to be.

There are many CEOs and exec teams who misunderstand what their brand and the creation of it is; they think it's about a logo or a vanity exercise, or the ‘thing’ you put on your business card or at the end of an email. They pay their company’s brand identity, and the process of creating it, scant regard and in doing so, I believe, fail to capitalise on a huge opportunity.

Get it wrong and the cost can be great, both in terms of confusion in the marketplace and internally about the direction of the business. You can have the greatest business plan in the world but if your brand isn’t aligned and you’re not using it as a tool to deliver that strategy, you may as well be talking to yourself.

So how do you go about turning the creation of a new brand into something that penetrates the whole organisation? What are the rules or principles to rebranding enlightenment?

Leverage the process

Understand that the path you take is as important as the end result. Don't rush to a conclusion about your organisation before you've asked some serious questions about where you've been and where you're going. Appreciate that the process of rebranding is one of the few opportunities you have to engage the organisation to assert or reassert your agenda to all major stakeholders.

Look for the truth

At the start of the brand development process, ask your team, stakeholders, customers or clients questions, look for the truth (however painful) and listen. Then use the strategic phase of the process to model the organisation you want to be.

Consider the implications before saying yes

Your brand establishes the promise you make to the market. You have to be able and willing to deliver on that promise, otherwise it becomes window dressing that sets false expectations and ends up disappointing your audience. Think through the implications of a strategic brand direction and ensure your organisation can deliver on it, or is willing to reshape itself so you can. If not, then no matter how compelling the vision, it won’t be the right one for your organisation.

Positive change

Regardless of the circumstances, see the branding process as an opportunity to create positive change throughout the organisation. Do something outstanding and give the team something to unite and rally behind. Aside from the obvious benefit of an engaged workforce pushing in the same direction, a well-run and executed branding process has the opportunity to align all activities and maximise efficiencies across the organisation.It should act as a filter, influencing and streamlining recruitment initiatives, internal change programs, communications and other corporate activities.

Find your story

Understand that the pivot point between the strategic phase and creative stage can make or break the whole project. Place importance on clearly articulating your idea, story and purpose, make it remarkable and above all else easy to understand.

An identity that's right for the strategy

If you've asked the right questions and your strategy and story is crystal clear, then use it to judge the merits of the creative direction you've been presented with, not your personal likes or dislikes. Do what's right for the strategy and the organisation.

Make every interaction count

It is easy to fall into the trap of churning through the deliverables during a rebrand but avoid a cookie-cutter approach at all costs. Treat every customer or stakeholder touch point as a way of communicating your idea.

In times of great change and upheaval, enlightened business leaders of today seize the opportunity that a rebrand presents. They understand how to use the process of creating a brand's strategy and corresponding identity to make their organisation remarkable in every way. And they understand that when done properly it's not a vanity exercise but a powerful business driver.

Tags: brand strategy

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