Brand Vision Through Foggy Goggles

Have you ever read something about your company or your company’s brand in the trades before the news was disseminated internally? Or better yet, have you ever been privy to news at a client’s company before the company’s employees heard? What a shame. Let’s face it: We all spend too much time talking about branding and too little time doing something about it. For many like me, branding is our lifeblood and we make sure it flows within our companies and our clients’ companies, as well as without.

Recently, a client was filled with enthusiasm about an upcoming NFL playoff ad the company was running. We agency folk gobble up these moments. We all love to see our clients shine. But are our clients the only ones that have the chance to revel in the glory of a good ad? Are their coworkers aware of upcoming campaigns, events, and announcements?

After I began thinking about this, I stumbled upon an article by Colin Mitchell, senior partner, group planning director of Ogilvy and Mather, in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Mitchell makes a great point, saying, “You tell your customers what makes you great. Do your employees know?”

We spend copious amounts of time creating and promoting brands and brand standards. Most of us sit around large conference tables in Herman Miller chairs brainstorming, debating, and agonizing over the “brand.” The creative looks great, but does it really fit with the brand? We are having trouble finding media placement that showcases the brand. Our print ad can’t run against editorial that might have the possibility of weakening the brand. Blah, blah, blah.

Well, I have news for you. No matter how strong a brand you create offline or online for a client, it can be weakened, debilitated, or even killed — over time or in a mere heartbeat. How? Simply put, through internal communications. Let me rephrase… through a lack of internal communications.

Take, for instance, another bastardized expression — “brand vision.” You know the drill: You ask 10 different people about a company’s brand vision, and you get 10 different answers. Our former U.S. president George Bush so eloquently referred to it as “the vision thing.” All cheap shots aside, brand vision begins with the brand’s roots. Figuring it out involves asking yourself several questions: Where did your company come from? What was the foundation on which it was built? Where is your company headed?

Sure, definitions may differ from person to person. But when you ask these questions, you may be surprised to find that you’ll get similar answers.

How many product managers know all that much about how a product will launch? Which countries it will launch in? What type of media will support the launch? Seems like many product managers I’ve worked with spend their lives racing to get ahead of the competition. They don’t know much more than when the product is due to launch — so much for internal communications.

So to really project a brand vision, it’s important to spread the word internally. Additionally, the vision should have longevity and include an aspiration that is attainable. Take Merck, for instance. Merck’s brand vision is to preserve and improve life. Makes sense for a leader in the pharmaceutical industry.

Despite the fallout over the past couple of years, many online brands had vision. Yes, they may have had revenue pipedreams coupled with a spend-it-before-you-even-get-it attitude. However, some of those strong brands are still around. Before and during the dot-com heyday, I used to work for AGENCY.COM. When you walked into any one of AGENCY’s offices, a receptionist would greet you. She or he would have a nameplate that said “Director of First Impressions.” No one ever forgot that. The person behind that desk was always perfectly associated with the words engraved on that little piece of plastic.

The HBR article says that leaders of an organization can guide employees to a better understanding of, and even a passion for, the brand vision. Applying such principles allows employees to “live” true vision in their day-to-day activities. When employees live that vision, they are said to experience the company in a way that is consistent with what you’ve promised.

So next time you are part of a team that puts its heart and soul into creating such a vision, make sure the employees aren’t wearing foggy goggles. Their seeing the vision helps them project it to the outside world.

Related reading