59 - Being Understood 2

Being Understood Beats Smooth Talk

This is the second of 5 posts that will explore the dimensions of Identity as Brand. With the shifts I explained in the previous post, the ways a brand is expressed, recognized and received – what I have come to call “Recognition” – is becoming even more important.Being truly understood beats smooth talk and a slick image every time…

The emails went back and forth between the senior executives and the brand advisors. “It’s catchy, but it makes me a little nervous, do all units have to adopt it?” lamented one. “It’s a bit lofty and idealistic, don’t you think? It won’t impact our strategy, will it?” complained another. The company was about to implement a great branding idea through a solid communications strategy – of that everyone was sure. So why the hesitation?

If asked, most would have attributed the nervous discussion to simply ironing out strategic priorities. But this was about far more than strategy. The business was wrestling with its very identity. This was about masks and façades, truth and character, actions and intentions… because there was a nagging problem: the very leaders who most needed to live out the new brand simply didn’t. So, truthfully the hesitation was about the company deciding whether to mask its real identity and intentions under a slick new brand. The mask was enticing – virtually guaranteed to open avenues to several customer bases that were previously out of reach. But did it fit? Did they really want to have to measure up to it?

Ten years ago, and perhaps even five, this conundrum didn’t much matter. A global business could have adopted a brand position of its choosing, found a brilliant copywriter to capture its essence in a catchy turn-of-phrase and then launched the campaign. Off they’d go, willing a new brand position into existence through determination and marketing spend, like a costume shop, creating whatever mask was necessary to suit the occasion.

But that was then.

It doesn’t work that way anymore, but it’s still easy to think that clever language or a compelling image will suffice. Consider a food company undergoing a brand refresh focused on a very creative new image for their packaging. The new plastic package presents an earthy image of well-being, which is great…except… despite its positives and the inviting allure of the image itself, it may not resonate with employees because it does not ring true with the way the company is being run.

And if the image doesn’t resonate with employees of the company, sooner or later, it will get a far worse reception from customers when they recognize the mask and tell the internet… Have you heard about #brandfail?

Thriving (or for that matter, even surviving) in a “bestowed brand” environment requires gradual, ongoing, co-discovery of identity. That’s what recognition is all about. Recognition is the effect of being in relationship, where others call one to truthfully reflect their identity and also take part in the continued discovery of that very identity.

Being truly “known” and recognized takes work and is bound to be more uncomfortable than maintaining a façade or donning a mask, but it outlasts smooth talk and a slick image every time. To more deeply understand and explore this dimension of “identity as brand” as it applies to your own brand, here are a few questions. There are four primary ways that a brand is recognized, known and tested:

  1. Consistency of character—Are the ideas and even ideals that our company professes (or implies) through our name and identity consistent?
  2. Familiarity—Does our brand feel familiar? Brands rarely represent new ideas, of which there are precious few. Why? Archetypes matter. We recognize them and we identify with them and the familiarity is comforting. It gives us handholds to maintain equilibrium in the face of a confusing present and unknown future.
  3. Embodiment—Do we live it?! Analog or digital media may help to communicate a concept, but it is not fully believed until we can see it lived out in flesh and blood. The whole movement towards employee engagement for brand activation is an essential response to the basic human expectation to discover tangible versions of a brand idea.
  4. Contribution—Do we make a difference in the world? Recognition (and therefore “Identity as Brand”) grows as a company is associated with positive social impact.

A company may claim to have an authentic identity but what it really seeks with all of those claims of authenticity is the recognition and agreement of others, which is something that can only be granted, a mark of truth bestowed by others. Integrity—authenticity judged true—can only be bestowed by others.

Brands with integrity are not reliant on catchy phrases or powerful images to mask their real identity, although they often show such marketing creativity. Rather, brands with integrity express their identity through consistency of character, familiarity, embodiment and contribution.

What companies do you see that have been bestowed the mantle of integrity through authentic expression of an “Identity as Brand”? What are they doing right?

Here’s the model so you can keep track of the 5 Dimensions of Identity as Brand and see how they apply to your company…

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