Your organization’s brand is its reputation, essence and core. It’s not just a logo creation exercise or marketing’s purview from an ad perspective. It’s everything your company is, offers and stands for, inside and out.
Clients are sometimes surprised that when we work on a brand strategy process together, the key component is not just a marketing workshop, but a cross-functional workshop. “What can our engineers/CFO/HR leader contribute to a brand conversation? They don’t really understand marketing.”
Doesn’t matter. They represent a view of the customer or product that serves as an ingredient to crafting the brand story. I’ve had some of the best brand epiphanies come from someone in the room that the marketing lead didn’t think belonged there: The curmudgeon who thinks marketing is a waste of money, or the pre-sales consultant who is not quite sure why they are involved in this effort.
Here’s the thing: All of these functions are necessary to live out whatever “brand” that marketing cranks out. In fact, they ARE the brand. (Tweet this!)
Their interactions with customers and partners create a brand perception. They need to have a voice in how it’s represented but more importantly, contribute to the conversation in non-marketing speak. That’s how you get to the “real stuff,” to the way people ACTUALLY talk that is not in the press boilerplate.
When I worked in enterprise technology marketing, my favorite people were the sales engineers. They knew exactly what the product was capable of, keeping us honest in our claims, and they could rattle off use cases and benefits by memory. They dealt with customers and prospects every day. They knew the struggles with adoption and implementation beyond the sale.
All of these are key ingredients to the brand story.
So who needs to be in the room when crafting or revamping your story, values, approach and personality – or even having input into naming? Well, first of all, let’s not get crazy. You can’t build a brand strategy by committee. It becomes a Frankensteined shell of its former self with no real teeth or differentiation, because you’re trying to “please everyone” and so you end up with more bland jargon that customers don’t care about. But you can consider various viewpoints and have that represented in the final product so there is end-to-end buy-in.
Ideally, who needs to be at the brand party?
Head of marketing: Obviously. They know about lead generation and customer attraction principles, pipeline building and the prospect journey/buying cycle. But more importantly they are on the hook for execution. And clearly, many branding projects are spearheaded by marketing. I have yet for a VP of Product to give me a call about how to rebrand the company (although he or she might be the bug in the CMO’s ear!)
One or two other key marketing roles: We want to avoid making this a marketing-only exercise. Choose one or two other key marketing roles (perhaps head of comms or lead gen) to be a voice in the conversation.
Head of product or engineering: They know the ins and outs of how the product works and what it delivers. They have spent time prioritizing features to address customers scenarios. They often work with sales when requests come in or things go wrong.
CEO: Yes, the CEO needs to make time to be part of this process. A strong brand is modeled from the top down, even if it’s defined from the bottom up in some cases. If the CEO is not part of the process and bought in to why this is necessary and how it will help the company accelerate growth, you’re dead in the water. Also, my best conversations about the larger company vision, values and market-changing impact happen when the CEO is in the room and everyone is inspired to think bigger.
Head of people or HR: Call this Chief People Officer or simple SVP of Human Resources. Time and again, I’m shocked when clients are loathe to involve HR on a brand strategy project. HR is responsible for how the company brand is perceived by prospective employees and what it takes to attract them. They are sharing the brand story every day. And they are tasked with bringing in the right talent who will make the best brand ambassadors. How can they do that if they’re not part of the process? Your people are your greatest brand assets, and therefore those responsible for finding them need to be in lock-step with the brand strategy so a consistent story is told.
CFO/COO: What? Yes. Your brand does not stop at customers’ or prospects’ doors. All of your internal policies and processes need to embody the brand promise. A brand starts from the inside out if it is to be genuine, believable and consistent. These policies extend to every vendor interaction with your company: they have their own networks to which they either talk you up, or talk you down. The brand needs to be lived out internally and with key external audiences just as much as your prospects. I’ve seen way too many Silicon Valley companies deny this fact – and while they may claim agility, speed or innovation to their customer base, their vendors are living a painful nightmare of outdated processes, lack of support, or late payments. And vendors talk. To prospective customers. You see where I’m going with this.
Head of partnerships or alliances: See above. Partners are part of the eco-system and just as much brand ambassadors as your employees. How does the brand story impact them? The perspective that partner and alliance folks can bring to the brand story is invaluable.
Head of sales and top salesperson: Brand story shaping is a vanity exercise unless it ultimately drives sales. And who knows what customers and prospects are saying better than your sales leads? They are talking to prospects in the consideration phase. What they need, want, struggle with, or aspire to be should all be factored into the brand story. And you need to know how customers and prospects talk – it’s not what we want to say, it’s how THEY articulate the problem that will most resonate. Otherwise, how do you empathize with and attract those people? I love when we can have the head of sales involved, but also the top salesperson.
Head of customer care or customer success: In the trenches, with customers every day. They know their pains, wins and how they are using the product long after the sale. They have a great perspective on which benefits we should lead with – often ones that have been overlooked in past messaging.
These leaders serve as representatives and solicit input from their teams, so that we avoid an unproductive brand workshop of 35 people.
Benefits to a cross-functional brand strategy effort
Yes, it’s hard to get all these people to fill out pre-work. Yes, it’s hard to find a time when they can all get in the same place for 5 hours. But a few amazing things happen when all these various perspectives are at the brand party:
- Cross-functional leadership stops what they are doing and really thinks about the core issues. A brand conversation unearths so many things. I’ve seen disconnects over everything from future company direction, to what the product can actually do, to who we are targeting. You’d think they worked for different companies. When you’re all running on your own tracks, how can you presume to get anywhere together faster? This project is a forcing mechanism to hash our conversations that we are often too busy to have. Crucial roadblocks get discovered that have nothing to do with branding – and solutions to those issues can come out of these conversations because we’re finally talking about the big stuff that is often written off as “Well, of course everyone knows this.”
- You increase buy-in and adoption company wide. When others know their functional area was represented, they feel better about the output. Those present can explain the process to their teams and specifically address what role their team plays in living out the brand strategy in their daily work.
- Employees reignite and reengage: Taking time to step away from the daily grind reminds people why they joined the organization in the first place. The energy in the room is palatable as we discuss bigger issues, including why folks are passionate about the offerings and what they hope to achieve for customers. It’s inspiring. It’s morale-building. And that buzz lasts long after the branding project is over, especially as the company brings the brand story to life visually, verbally and experientially.