In 2004, I started a business called Vision Marketing and Design. The primary goal of this business was to help individuals in my church and community that were starting businesses and needed help designing logos, business cards, postcards, and brochures. I had acquired these skills my senior year of college through coursework and internships and welcomed the opportunity to continue to improve my design techniques; while generating extra income to help me offset the overwhelming costs associated with having three children in daycare at the same time.
The first few years were slow but steady. However, as the popularity of the Internet continued to grow, I noticed some shifts in my business and the printing needs decreased and suddenly I needed to add a new service to my business in order to adapt to an increasing customer request for website design and development.
As I began to collaborate with other individuals who were knowledgeable in the areas of coding, WordPress, and Joomla; I realized very quickly that these individuals knew how to create a website, but their design was not aesthetically attractive, nor was it user-friendly. As a result, clients who had been using my services for two, three, or four years stopped referring new clients and slowly they begin to use company’s (such as Vistaprint) who offered marketing packages.
At this time, my girls were old enough for me to abandon my business and I returned to work full-time. Once I started working I met a young lady who was attending an online communications program at Full Sail University. She had just finished a branding class and was getting ready to attempt to sell her course textbook The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al and Laura Riles (2002). Although I did not have a lot of money at the time, I asked her if I could buy it. She said if I really wanted it to keep it and give her $20 for it whenever I could. That book was one of the best purchases I ever made. It helped me understand why my business model was no longer valid and I learned every single thing I was doing incorrectly. Although I was not ready to put the new practices to use by relaunching my business, I did take the knowledge and apply it in building the individual brand of my boss and the corporate brand of the organization. The techniques contributed to a massive membership for the organization, major platform advancement for my boss’ individual brand identity, and the publicity received by the organization’s branding efforts eliminated the need for advertisement.
From these experiences I have created my own:
Top 10 Best Practices for Communicating Organizational Identity and Brand
#1- Master Storybranding – Jim Signorelli explains that storybranding is making sure that the “right story” gets told.
I recently had a new client that met with me for a book development consultation. When she arrived in my office she had six different books that she wanted to write and was not sure where she wanted to begin. After asking her a number of questions and reviewing her current website, I discovered a program that she had listed on her website that she had not developed at all. I told gave the strategy that involved her using material that she already had written and combine it with a program that already existed, even though it had not been officially launched. I explained to her that her story executed in book format was a way to establish herself as an expert in that area and get paid to do what she was currently doing for free. The book project now is the first step in a series of steps that will help her put her story in front of new and existing audiences.
#2- Strengthen your brand through narrowing your focus – Al & Laura Ries cite the “Law of Contraction as a way to dominate a category by contracting the category and not expanding it.
I have been consuming branding content (old and new) since we started this class. My profits have already increased just four weeks into this class by applying the lessons learned from required reading texts Denise Yohn and Brian Solis. I used techniques from their books, specifically dealing with user experience and cultivating emotional brand connection for creating long-term business relationships. One of the ways I achieved this is by contracting my brand. Recently, I overheard my husband on the phone telling someone what I did for a living. Well, ten minutes later I realized that he really didn’t know. He just knew the things that he has heard me talking about that I do with my clients. It was a list of about 12 things. After week three’s readings (and my own refresher readings) I decided that I needed to come up with one sentence that explains my corporate identity.
“My business specializes in developing books, building brands, and providing strategy consultations.”
I had my husband repeat it with me and he said that he could definitely remember that, and that was a teachable moment for me. If the person closest to me could not clearly explain what my business does than it is reasonable to believe that I have brand confusion in my external messaging as well. So, we are fixing that, across the board.
#3-Corporate Identity requires good design but is much more than the design.
Airey (2010) lists several elements necessary to create iconic designs. The first one was one of the most important for me, “Keep it simple” (p. 22). Airey explains that good design first should be created in black and white and other colors can be applied as the secondary, not primary facet of the design. This component was confirmation for as I have spirited debates with my clients regarding logos that are complicated, busy, or have over three colors. The client normally understands my objections after a t-shirt vendor explains all of the set-up fees assessed with multiple color screen printing.
4-Non-profits need branding too.
While the literature on branding in the for-profit sector suggests a positive impact on business outcomes, many non-profit organizations neglect to engage in branding practices (Stephenson, 2013). I am currently working a church denomination organization that has been in existence for over 40 years but has no online social presence, no website, or identity marks. Additionally, they do have a way for event attendees to make donations via credit cards. I created a program for them called 5C
mission program to help advance the churches within the organizations and strengthen them technologically. The first challenge was getting them to understand why they needed an identity before we could launch the program. After four weeks, they finally understand the value associated with the identity and we just started assembling their package. Stephenson (2013) outlines a rebranding process of the YMCA community gym facilities a few years ago, and how the rebrand made each brand cohesive. My company is endeavoring to do the same thing for this church denomination entity.
5- Brand Education and buy-in are imperative for internal stakeholders.
Berger social theory discuss the challenges that can be associated with a sociological perspective that explains that reality has many layers of meaning (p. 46). Because individuals interpret reality differently, it is necessary to explain the facets of brand identity to members of an organization. Successful companies have buy-in from internal stakeholders and those individuals serve as brand ambassadors. In my line of work, I am painstakingly creating client education packages to explain what a corporate identity package is and why it is the necessary first step to building a sustainable business (in terms of publicity and identity). The process moves faster and more efficiently when brand developers are not in conflict with corporate executives and staffers who impede the progress of brand development with their personal preferences or constant questions or objectives. Internal alignment and integration is a key to brand success (Yohn, 2014, p. 35).
6- Great brands don’t follow trends (Yohn, 2014).
The secret to growth “[is to] take a proactive approach to anticipating cultural movements, instead of a reactive approach to chasing transitory trends” (p. 80). Coaching a big trend right now and I enlisted the help of a business coach that has helped me in many wonderful ways, the only thing that I am currently evaluated is if I am ready to take the plunge as a “business coach.” I was ready to make the transition and then I contracted my brand and my business increased almost instantly. I am weighing my options and believe that instead of having a coaching program that I advertise on social media or fill through warm leads, I want to offer coaching programs to live audiences after speaking engagements. I believe that carefully crafting my story and connecting with the audience will facilitate the emotional connection needed to create a long-lasting relationship, unlike the cold advertising method of running Facebook Ads. My story, connection and ability to create an actionable program ad to the personal platform that I am already creating.
7- Powerful brands should strive to own “one” word (Ries & Ries, p. 22).
The Ries’ describe the power that comes with owning “one” word. “You know your brand owns the category name when people use your brand name generically (p. 24):
• Xerox copies
• Scotch Tape
• Reynolds wrap
These items gained this position by being first in their category and establishing it. I am currently crafting a user experience with our “books & brand” agency that could one day put it in this type of category.
8- Great brands understand “Generation C” (Solis, 2013).
Brian Solis introduced his readers to a new group that comprised of all generations that are connected by technology and are considered to be a group empowered by “connectivity” and shared user experiences. This concept was so revolutionary that I have added to my church seminars because understanding this group is even more important for churches and non-profits with the shifts in membership and church attendance ( I incorporated this into my 5C Program above).
9- Great personal brand identities are fueled by tribes.
Seth Godin (2008) explains the impact of creating movements, not just organizations driven by profit. Reading this book created a paradigm shift for me as it relates to telling my story and building my personal brand. I am a speaker for a conference next weekend, and the conference hosts contacted me and told me that my posts had gotten greater traction than his. For me, the key has been connecting with my tribe, owning my story, and sharing it.
10- Great brands understand that a brand is more than a promise, it is a promise delivered. (Yohn, 2014).
One of the best practices that I ever incorporated into my business is the art of firing clients and creating boundaries that increase productivity. I have learned that every client is not worth the money and I have learned that clients that pay late or disappear for months at a time cannot be the foundation of my business. I cannot deliver a promise to those clients because they refuse to work within the guidelines of our agreement. Now more than ever, I am creating procedures that increase our brand promise and value.
Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We need you to lead us. Hudson, New York: Penguin Group.
Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2002). The dynamics of organizational identity.
Human Relations, 55(8), 989-1018. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/231444712?accountid=38688
Ihlen, Ø., Fredriksson, M., & Ruler, B. V. (2009). Public relations and social theory: key figures and concepts. New York: Routledge.
Pérez, A., & del Bosque, I. R. (2014). Organizational and corporate identity revisited: Toward a comprehensive understanding of identity in business. Corporate Reputation Review, 17(1), 3-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/crr.2013.22
Riles, A & L. (2002). The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Solis, B. (2013). What’s the Future of Business? Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Stephenson, A. (2013). Organizational identity and the rebranding of the YMCA. Sociological Viewpoints, 29(1), 101-119. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1500943796?accountid=38688
Yohn, D.L. (2014). What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.