Don’t forget your brand’s most important audience

Who is your brand’s most important audience? A particular customer segment? A market?

For many companies, their brand’s most important audience is internal: their employees.

A well-defined corporate brand creates clarity and purpose, and communicates a clear vision of to work towards. When everyone in a company pulls in the same direction, they can achieve incredible results.

Many corporate brand efforts are laser-focused on external customers, and lose sight of people inside the organization. A corporate branding effort is a great chance to rally the troops, to re-inspire, and to reinvigorate your entire corporate effort. Use it wisely.

Corporate brands are different than product brands

It’s pretty easy to conflate a product brand and a corporate brand.

But they are different and require different strategies.

Corporate branding is (drum roll) all about the company or organization. Product branding is, not surprisingly, all about an individual product.

For many purchases, the purchaser’s relationship with the selling company is tenuous at best. If you buy a Coke, you don’t care where it was bottled (or canned). If you buy Tide, you don’t care about Proctor and Gamble. Your relationship with the brand is almost all (though not entirely) through the product. In these cases, purchasers are buying the brand the company has created around the product through product qualities and advertising.

On the other hand, many enterprise or large purchases are dependent on a corporate brand. A customer is theoretically buying a product, but what they are really buying is a relationship with the company behind the product.

In these cases, purchasers care about the culture of the company as much as the features of the product itself.

Both types of brands have internal drivers: a product brand needs to be backed up by features, and a corporate brand needs to be backed up by features and culture.

The mistake many make is thinking that they have a product brand when they really have a corporate brand. Which is yours?

More than ping pong and pizza

At too many companies, “culture” is an HR issue. How do we make our employees happy?

This misses the point. Culture is a strategic advantage (or disadvantage). Think about it: every one of the company’s products and services are created by its employees, and they are operating in the milieu that is the company’s culture.

Executives that dismiss culture as an HR issue are ignoring the one lasting strategic advantage they can have. If you build the right culture, your employees will build the right products and deliver the right services – products and services that the executive team couldn’t have imagined.

Focus focus focus

I’m a big fan of things that kick ass therefore I’m a big fan of focus.

In almost anything you do, more focus is better. Try to get as focused as you can on doing something really really well. This is pretty hard when you’re talking about yourself, but easier when you’re talking about a company, and much easier when you’re talking about designing an application.

By focusing on one thing, you can really make it awesome. Don’t think Minimum Viable Product. Think Minimum Lovable Product. You want your customers to love your product. That’s rarely accomplished through additional features – it’s accomplished through one key feature, perfectly executed.

When you’re entering a competitive market, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do everything better than the established players. By focusing on doing one thing much better, you can clearly differentiate.

You have limited time and resources to get a product to market. You want it to market as fast as possible, for as cheap as possible. This is the idea behind the MVP: building less means spending less. But, leave some time in for polishing. Never launch with something that’s not polished: you want to be known for quality not crap. You’ll be tempted to use that extra time to add more features or change it around, but don’t!

Building a brand is like getting fit

Everyone wants to be fit, but few are willing to put in the work.

Over the past decade, I’ve spent a lot of time working out and talking with renowned trainer Nate Miyake. We talk about a variety of stuff, but often end up in the same spot: doing anything well takes time, effort, and discipline.

If you want to get fit, you don’t just wake up one day and decide that today you’ll get fit. Sure, you can buy some Spanx, but they’ll only take you so far. Instead, you have to set goals that work for you, and make the small decisions everyday that help you achieve those goals.

It’s the same thing with branding.

Many times, I’ve spoken to people who think building a brand is just a matter of hiring someone to give them a logo. That’s like buying Spanx – it’s a temporary, uncomfortable solution, and won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Instead, building a brand is a long term process, which requires careful planning and goal setting, plenty of preparation, and ongoing discipline and action.

You don’t get fit by walking into the gym one day, randomly lifting a few weights using poor form, and walking slowly on a treadmill for 15 minutes. But that’s what many people think with regard to their brand.

So how do you get fit?

  1. Set goals that are personally resonant and realistic. Do you want to run a marathon, climb a mountain, or just get to a reasonable level of fitness?
  2. Develop a strategy that includes overall diet and workout plans.
  3. Prepare by getting the things together that you’ll need. This may include things like buying running shoes, workout gear, and getting a gym membership.
  4. Execute! This is the easy part, but also the hardest part. There are no short cuts, no secrets. It’s just discipline and hard work.

This is similar to branding:

  1. Define who you want to be in a way that’s resonant with employees and realistic. In some ways, this the hardest part – and the most valuable part – of the entire process.
  2. Develop the foundations for building that – how you’ll look and how you’ll talk about it. Develop a plan for getting it out there.
  3. Prepare to meet the world by extending it to different mediums – your website, videos, etc.
  4. Execute! This is beyond simply making things look good. This means following up on the decisions everyday that reinforce who you said you’d be.

When it comes to getting fit, most people tend to prefer to skip to step three and stop there: I’ll go by a pair of running shoes – that’ll do it! In the same way, many companies prefer to skip to step three of branding and stop there: we need a new website, and that’ll change our brand! And it doesn’t, and they wonder why.