Things have changed a lot since brand-ing cattle or marking chattels was used to show ownership – although that of course still works when putting a label in a school jumper!
First a simple definition:
A brand is a name, term, design, or other feature that distinguishes one seller’s product from those of others…
Both commercial and not-for-profit organisations spend a lot of time and effort developing, managing and protecting their brands. I am using ‘Brand’ in the broadest sense, not just a name and a logo, but the whole set of interrelated ideas and activities that are needed to foster an image or identity that an organisation wants to project and protect to its staff, partners, and the world at large.
(Ed. it isn’t just a name and a logo anyway, it is possible to trademark shapes, colours, sounds, smells, tastes and movements!)
Brands mean business
Here are some things to consider when creating, propagating, enhancing or leveraging brand(s):
Brand Strategy is part of the bigger strategic thinking and planning process.
What does your brand represent; what and who are your target markets and Customers; what sales, marketing and distribution channels will you use, including partnerships and ‘dual-branding’?
Brand awareness, identity & recognition
Do your potential Customers or Users know who you are and what you do?
Brand values, affinity, corporate responsibility, ethical position & loyalty.
What should you do to keep the Customers we want to keep, ideally acquire more of the same, or increase the value of your existing ones (Marketers talk about up-selling, cross-selling and retention over and above normal day-to-day Customer Service).
Is your Brand clear and consistent in all channels and variants where the product or service is accessed or ‘consumed’?
This thought leads on to notions of usefulness/usability, quality, availability, accessibility and performance – failings in any of these characteristics could impact sales and the value of your brand in the marketplace.
Last, but not least, in this image-conscious, connected world, what is the value of your Brand, both financially, i.e. monetised in a share price (for example), or ‘softer’ measures of recognition, reputation & trust. Fundamentally, are the shareholders and other stakeholders getting the message?
These questions look like they belong in Sales, Marketing, Public Relations and related new media roles don’t they? So why is Brand an IT element? The first thing to note, particularly at the top left of the Table of IT elements, is that the historical us-and-them mentality and the business/IT divide has almost disappeared. Business needs technology, it’s no longer an optional add-on, a cost to be borne, but an intrinsic part of success of an organisation.
Secondly, it’s not just the Marketers who need to know, the requirements analysts, designers and developers of software and IT systems all play a part in building and maintaining strong brands.
IT means business (under the bonnet)
(Ed. bonnet? That would be ‘hood’ in America – make sure that your brand and all your marketing messages work in different regions…!)
After the design agencies and focus groups have done their work, other creatives need to translate their ideas into brand guidelines and workable designs, font types, and a palette of colours for your products or services. The aim is not only an engaging proposition for the market and purposes required, but also to ensure that they look and perform as expected for all your Customers and Users in all delivery and distribution channels.
It’s not just the look-and-feel that matter, designers and brand gurus need to consider disciplines such as ergonomics, accessibility, and usability engineering. Can you imagine Apple developing an iCar with the flawed design and poor user experience of a Sinclair C5?
What a thing does – its features and functionality – and what it looks like and how it performs (non-functional requirements) are equally important.
Let’s have a look at computer systems and software in a bit more detail. With physical products and traditional markets it is easier to recognise and protect your trademarks and registered designs. But how do you protect your investment in software or web-based products – and the brand qualities associated with them – that are intangible and so easy to copy or modify (the source code is often available for anyone to access). In most respects software is treated as intellectual property, in the same way as original creative works of musicians, writers and artists. The owner of the software can assert their rights to own and reproduce the material, but digital piracy and the efficiency of counterfeiting activities make this increasingly difficult to police before or after the event, especially across normal legal jurisdictions.
Worse than that, in some communities and cultures stealing software is not treated as seriously, as say stealing a cow (branded or otherwise!); this is one of the reasons that the Open Source Movement and Creative Commons exist, to provide a sense of shared ownership and shared responsibility for development and fair use. However, recycling and sharing does not ultimately protect the reputation of an organisation if the Customer perceives a lack of quality in the goods and services that are provided.
Finally, and briefly, what of the newish trends for personal branding and the use of social media channels by organisations; should the Brand Manager and IT Director be concerned?
As with traditional media and sales channels, the branding, design guidelines, corporate message and ‘tone of voice’ need to be consistent in all business and social networks, and where an individual employee is acting on behalf of the organisation. There could be a civil liberties grey area here, but companies also proscribe certain out-of-office activities where staff could damage their reputation and ultimately weaken the brand by acting inappropriately. All individuals, especially high-profile figureheads, should be a bit ‘corporate’ by acting sensibly and keeping on message where required, remembering that it’s not about you or what you do (your personal freedoms). The culture, branding and marketing messages should flow all the way through the organisation to its Customers, in everything it says and does, and that includes its employees, systems and partners.
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.