Brand Identity: The Mythic Divide

The great misunderstanding of brand identity is that it is a tool for communicating to consumers.

This misunderstanding is rooted in a false divide between internal and external constituents. In the age of transparent brands, such a divide no longer exists. Today we need a new concept of Brand Identity that understands that people within the organization and people outside of the organization are in fact the same people. In light of this, Brand Identity isn’t merely a system of messaging and positioning strategies, but a declaration of beliefs.

Think of the 21st Brand identity as Maslov’s Hierarchy of Brand. The problem is that we often assume that consumers have a different hierarchy then our own people. This duplicity leads to a lack of clarity, consistency, and meaning in our brand identity. It’s much better to conceive of a Brand Identity that addresses everyone’s needs for physiological safety, financial respect, belonging, self-respect and actualization and even self-transcendence. Brand Identity is where we activate all the lessons from our favorite business psychology and organizational development books from Built to Last, and All Marketers are Liars, to Drive and the Challenge Sales.

Brand Identity is where we invite people to join their stories together.

It is a hallmark of a well-designed systems to be scalable. But it is the hallmark of a good brand system to be SHARABLE. My first lesson in shareability was also my first lesson in organizational psychology. I was managing a team responsible for delivering product prototypes made up of complex parts, I approached the problem like a dutiful systems thinker, by breaking the product down into discrete simpler components and handing assignments to different people in the team. I quickly learned that I had much to learn about people, about systems,…and for that matter, about myself. Although my division of labor had allowed me to more fully understand and control the outcome, it had disconnected people from the very aspects I thought they should care about the most: our vision and mission. Accordingly, the component results from the team were less then inspiring.

Thankfully I knew the high quality of my team…which meant that the problem with their results was not with their commitment or talent, but with the system I had created for them to work in. I had created an agnostic environment in which their imagination and beliefs was ignored. They weren’t allowed to touch the story.

Graduating from a team of individual objectives and perspectives to a shared story can be the difference between empowerment and disenfranchisement. Now many enthusiastic managers mistakenly believe that they can provide “vision” through the brute brilliance of their personality and convictions. In more stable times, this type of top down leadership had a chance of working. It doesn’t today for a few obvious reason—-that are still worth recalling.

1. Lack of CLEAR identity: Leadership should view Brand Identity as just that: Identity. When leadership sees Brand Identity as communication rather then organizational purpose and mission, it won’t work hard enough at persevering to arrive at clarity. Style becomes more important then substance.

2. Lack of CONSISTENT identity: In the chaos of the marketplace it’s easy to throw our internal beliefs aside and focus on selling. As a result authentic belief becomes politically unimportant to the organization internally, which results in an ad hoc customer experience and messaging. Messaging becomes urgent rather then reflective and accumulative.

3: Lack of COMPELLING identity: Brands systems may be scalable, but are they sharable? Only if they provide meaning and significance to the consumer. Yet, too often, brand equity is viewed as a marketing project rather then leadership team project. As a result, brands are not taken personally by the leadership team. If brands don’t mean anything to the leadership team, then why should they mean anything to consumers? Remember, the first lesson of transparent branding; there is no such thing as “internal/external people anymore.

Brand Identity as the New Organizational Leadership

Building and maintaining identity is admittedly hard work. It’s not a project, but a purpose. It should be viewed as an operational expense like keeping the lights on, then as a capital improvement investment like buying a new copier. However, despite the continuous attention Brand Identity and Equity calls for, it is much more fatiguing to continually come to work everyday without clarity, consistency and meaning in who we are.

In the present chaotic marketplace, the deeper purpose of having a clear brand strategy is not what it does for your customers, but what it brings to your organization. Brand provides the clarity, consistency, and a compelling point of view that unites and attracts team members and customers alike. The three essentials of any successful brand also act as the the rallying points that enable us to pull together: Clarity, Consistency, and a Compelling point of view.

  1. The clarity of a brand helps our organization and our customers understand one another.
  2. The consistency of a brand helps our organization and our customers believe.
  3. The compelling point of view helps our organization and customers interact and buy.

In short, Brand Identity is the new leadership for today’s adaptive and flat organizations. Without a clear, consistent, compelling brand identity, we depend on individual personalities to carry the brand for us. The individual personality that fights against the brand personality produces a lack of clarity and unnecessarily extends learning and buying cycles with customers. A lack of consistency in between these fighting narratives undermines the brand, and causes people to doubt. And, with out a compelling shared point of view, people will see the brand as commodity that doesn't stand out from the rest. And that’s a story that no one wants to be a part of or share with others.