Creative won't define your brand, defining your brand will

Dan Ratner

Dan Ratner is managing director of branding and communications agency, uberbrand. He has more than 15 years’ experience in marketing, communications and branding and is passionate about branding as an enabler to fulfil organisational objectives. Working closely with uberbrand’s clients Dan works to understanding the current customer perception in the context of business goals and aspirations. Dan works with well-known Australian brands across a variety of sectors including financial services, travel and education.

It may seem obvious, but it’s important CMOs focus on ensuring that everything they are communicating reinforces and underpins their brand. This leads to a ‘brand-led communications’ approach that helps ensure consistent communication is evident across all marketing channels.

Why do it? Because it serves as both proof of the brand in application, while achieving the specific objectives and requirements of the communications material itself.

Because a brand is a perception held in the mind, businesses need to make sure the right impressions are being tailored to their target audiences. Before approaching external suppliers, such as advertising and digital agencies, the brand and its identity must be created and clearly defined. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible to keep all communications efforts coherent, consistent and ultimately effective.

Without a strong brand strategy and an accompanying set of guidelines, organisations risk weakening key messages, especially when engaging different suppliers who have limited background knowledge of their brand, its history and its aspiration for the future.

What is brand-led communications?

Brand-led communications is exactly what it sounds like: The practice of ensuring the core brand, its personality, values and its essence are at the heart of all communications.

Building strong, positive and aligned impressions is what it’s all about, and these come to life visually through what you look like, verbally through what you say about yourself, and behaviourally through what you do and how your brand and associated products perform. It permeates everything from product design through to the way people answer the phone.

It therefore sits across all of an organisation’s marketing activities including any digital activity, marketing collateral, visual identity and staff behaviour.

To engage in a meaningful way with target audiences, organisations must tie everything they do to their brand.

How can an organisation’s message become lost?

Inconsistency breaks down and dilutes messaging and is a key reason why some brands can’t create a memorable, positive and aligned message.

Seeking out an external agency prior to having a strong, well-defined brand can contribute to inconsistent messaging, and potentially results in a ‘creatively-led’ approach rather than a ‘brand-led’ approach. This occurs when a creative idea, rather than the brand message itself, is at the core of the communication.

What exacerbates the problem is the traditional creative pitching process, where agencies are expected to respond to potential clients with great ideas. When agencies don’t fully undertake an immersion into the brand, they can fail to understand who your business is, what your aspiration is, and what makes you different.

This can result in a flawed pitching process and agencies struggling to reflect the brand’s true intention. Ultimately, being assessed and selected based solely on a creative idea runs the risk of undermining a business’s brand.

Prior to engaging with agencies, it is worth focusing on a clear message, strong brand strategy, defined aspiration and brand identity.

How can organisations ensure they are brand-led?

Organisations that ensure all communications are driven by their brand have the opportunity to create a compelling and consistent message that runs through everything they do. The way to build a competitive advantage is by ‘switching on the brand’. It essentially increases your chances of being remembered positively by your target audiences.

Getting external assistance is usually a key step in helping business get their head around their brand. Once defined, they can use their brand as a bridge to the creative, rather than the other way around.

If you are going to work directly with creative consultants, make sure you maximise agencies’ responses by ensuring a detailed brief is in place before requesting pitches. It’s also a good idea to meet with agencies and speak to them face-to-face about your brand and its future, letting them get a feel for your brand. Specifically, tell them who you are and what makes you different within your space.

A brand-led agency is another option for businesses. These agencies start with defining what an organisation’s branding message is and how it can be communicated. The agency is on a journey of discovery and clarification along with the client, rather than feeling obliged to dive straight into creative ideas.

The brand-led agency can therefore help an organisation define what they want to say and how to communicate it through different marketing channels.. Everything feeds into each other, helping to create an effective brand presence.

Strong branding happens when different people think about you in a similar way. Great branding happens when everybody sees you exactly how you want them to.

I encourage all organisations from every industry to consider implementing brand-led communications.

Tags: brand strategy

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