We have a branding problem.

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“We need help with our branding.” We hear it all the time. And after a brief discussion, we typically learn that the speaker is looking for help with their organization’s logo and/or tagline—its “image.” The request is usually the result of a company decision to “rebrand” its website, update packaging and collateral, or revise the standard language used in press releases. Whatever the catalyst, the ensuing process is described as an update to “the brand.”

But, as we all know, a brand is more than a logo and a tagline, or even a look-and-feel. It’s the space you occupy in someone’s mind. Figuratively speaking, it’s a place. A position from which you do business and communicate with a host of relevant audiences—everyone from prospective customers to potential employees.

We describe a company’s brand position in various ways: It’s a set of values. It’s a collection of characteristics, akin to the personality of a human being. It’s a competitive stance. It telegraphs where you stand and how you differ from other brands. So how do some marketing organizations wind up so focused on logos and taglines and image? And more importantly, what should they be focused on? Our advice:

  1. Put first things first. Is your business more likely to benefit from being seen as more credible or more red? In other words, are you debating the color of the curtains in a house built on a shaky foundation? When cosmetic concerns precede the vetting of strategic decisions, you’re headed for trouble. A brand identity without a clear connection to your underlying business strategy is a wasted opportunity.
  2. Make a purposeful impression. A clever tagline may contribute to a brand reputation for cleverness. But if it doesn’t say anything, it may also be contributing to a sense that your organization is safe, frivolous, or irrelevant. Leaving the right impression starts with knowing what you mean to say and why. Communication starts with strategy.
  3. Question your own motives. Why do you think you need to rebrand? Ask yourself how Marketing must serve the business over the next 18 months. If it’s sharper competitive differentiation, think positioning strategy. If it’s clearer, more consistent communication with prospects, partners and PR folks, think messaging strategy. Is it simple name recognition? Consider a brand awareness campaign. Based on strategy.

It all comes down to asking the right questions. In the long run, the success of your business hinges less on the particulars of your brand identity than on the strategic positioning foundation it rests upon. So start with that foundation. Do your research. Know your competition. Understand your target audience(s). Test your hypotheses, and agree on a strategic approach that will inform your every branded communication as a business. Then have a go at a makeover.

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