Who’s responsible for branding in your organization?

Who’s responsible for branding in your organization? If you think it’s marketing’s job, you may misunderstand what branding really is.

Branding incorporates every facet of your image and marketing strategy, including your logo, your advertising, your website, your collective social media presence, and your tagline. But that’s just part of it. Your consumer ultimately defines what the brand is, and they do so based on three things:

1. Their experience with you: how your product performs and how they’re treated when they’re with you (including when they’re “with you” online)

2. Their influencers’ opinions about you

3. What your marketing tells them about you

Guess which one of these is the least powerful? In fact, your marketing only strengthens your brand when it’s consistent with their experience with you and what they hear from others. Bad marketing doesn’t trump a good experience or good word of mouth. And neither does good marketing. In fact, marketing that’s not aligned with the reality the customer experiences actually hurts your brand.

So who’s responsible for branding in your organization? Everyone. Everyone who’s responsible for the way your physical location (your store, your office) looks. Everyone who builds your website. And, without question, everyone who has customer interaction.

In fact, as Seth Godin notes in Linchpin, the power your employees have over your brand has nothing to do with their place on the organizational chart:

The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.
One errant minimum-wage cog in the machine can cripple an entire brand, or at the very least, wreck the lifetime value of a customer. The two kids at Domino’s who made a YouTube sensation out of cruelty to pizza (and customers) did more damage to the Domino’s brand than any vice president ever could.

This doesn’t absolve your leaders and your marketing team from responsibility, however. There are two things you must do to prepare your employees to be brand ambassadors:

1. Hire carefully. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s more crucial than ever–and good information is more accessible than ever before via social media and the web at large. You have to mine the data, though; it’s not enough to glance at a Facebook photo album and make a snap decision about someone. That’s just lazy. But what if you randomly selected a few of the prospect’s co-workers to ask their opinion? Would that tell you more than references hand-picked by the prospect?

2. Train them. Your employees may not realize how vital they are to your brand. They may not realize what’s expected of them. They may not understand branding, or realize how much they already know about branding by virtue of their experience as consumers. Training them about what branding is, demonstrating why they have expertise, sharing your brand promise, and communicating how that should be conveyed is one of the most important things you can do to build your brand.

Putting your marketing team (or god forbid, your agency) in charge of your brand may seem easier–and it is. But your front-line staff is truly in control of your brand, so they’re going to be in control whether or not you give them the assignment.

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