“Be true to yourself” is the advice often given people who are planning a career. Yet companies are often not true to themselves when they establish their brand. They try imitating other strong brands in their own space. Or, they build brands based upon utopian ideals with no realistic foundation.

So, where do you start? The following are some guidelines to help you establish and grow a believable brand that's consistent with your company's “true self.”

Branding starts with introspection--the identification of your company's core values and competencies. After all, branding is the bridge between your company and its stakeholders.

So why is it that so often a company's corporate values, vision, mission statement and brand promise are all done by different functional groups? All of us have seen it: upper management handles the vision and mission, corporate values are established by HR, and branding is the responsibility of marketing.

The result is confusion. Your company's personality ends up being different depending upon where the first contact is with a company.

The following sections provide a brand development and implementation approach for your company that's similar to the steps to career building.

What Is a Brand?

A brand is the link formed by repeated communications between your company and the outside world. It's the outward projection of who you are. It is how you look, what you say and how you say it. This explanation is why most people link branding only to marketing communications--but it encompasses the entire company and every relationship.

Step 1: Vision & Mission Statement: Selecting a Career

Continuing my earlier analogy, the first tenet in selecting a career should be based on who you really hope to be. In business-speak this is your vision. Your vision is a definition of your corporate destination. It should be a long-term statement of where you're trying to go. An example might be, “I will be the best policeman ever to protect and serve the community.”

Next, you need a mission or path to get there by defining how you act. “I will go to the police academy, read detective novels and get in shape by running every day in order to be a policeman.” We've just completed our vision and mission statement--the first step in the branding process.

Step 2: Corporate Values: Are You Dirty Harry or Barney Fife?

Next, we need to define your personal characteristics to find out what type of cop you might be. You have to be true to yourself--strengths, weaknesses, personality traits--in order to define to the outside world what type of cop you are (your brand). If you are an honest, tough, by-any-means-necessary person, you might be “Dirty Harry.”

What we've just done is identified your values--the next step in building a brand. But remember, you better have the infrastructure or the “physical build” to carry it off. In other words, be true to yourself.

Step 3: Who Are Your Customers?

Okay, so let's say for this example you are Dirty Harry. Your next step is to find a city with tough crime problems (your customers/market). Given who you are, you want to live in an area filled with gun-toting criminals. No one needs you shooting cats out of trees in a small town. In regard to your company, we call this market analysis and customer segmentation. And what you're doing is finding the customer type who really needs the service you have to offer.

In the ad business, we accomplish this through research--focus groups, telephone surveys, tele-focus groups, etc. No matter how you do it, you must get an idea of your target audience's wants and needs before deciding the best way to reach them.

Step 4: Creating a Brand Promise and Personality

Although you have a career and strong set of values, no one knows you yet. Now you need to create a link between who you are (i.e. your corporate values) and what your customers need.

The next step is to identify your brand promise and brand personality so that you're consistent in communicating to everyone (like others on the police force, the media, citizens). A brand promise is the primary thought you would like others to have after having any contact with you. Dirty Harry's brand promise might be “To serve and protect law-abiding citizens from the worst criminals by using whatever means necessary to get the job done.”

It is an attitude that is formed from repeated contact with you--from advertising, to sales, to customer service.

Your brand personality attributes, being Dirty Harry, are tough, ethical, reliable, brash, concise, interested in seeing criminals “pay,” and quick-witted. Yes, it's all right to use small phrases.

Implementation of Your Brand--Where Branding Fails

Copy and press releases must be of consistent tone (personality) to build familiarity with your audience. So, your brand must create a consistent positive experience for every stakeholder.

Much like Dirty Harry's brand, your brand will provide a consistent experience for every person who comes into contact with your company. It encapsulates your vision, mission, personality and promise. By documenting these fundamentals, decisions will become easier. Here's how:

  • Management decisions will be made based upon how well they meet the corporate mission and brand promise. For example, if you promise excellent customer service, you should have a customer relationship management program in place.
  • Recruiting is easier because your company will hire those who fit your culture--as dictated in the brand document.
  • Employee training and integration will be streamlined and more consistent, because the document will dictate exactly what you are committed to providing every person who comes into contact with your company (think how Disney manages its people to reinforce its brand).
  • Of course, marketing and promotions will be easier because all will follow the same rules for look, feel, tonality (personality) and messaging. Identifying your target market will become easier, because by knowing who you are, marketing can more precisely target those who want to do business with you--as well as those who are not.
  • If you change your focus, you will only need to change your brand promise--because you can't change your culture and personality no matter who your target market is.

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Jonathan Ward is the President and CEO and Bedrock Strategic Marketing,, www.bdrock.com, a advertising agency located in Wakefield, MA. It numbers among its clients such firms as Microsoft, General Electric, and EMC.