There’s no such thing as not having a brand. You have one, even as you read this.
Branding is a vague and distasteful term. Particularly in the ecotourism and heritage sectors: nobody really wants to think of your cherished resource as a brand. So I’d like to establish what I mean by branding from the start: it isn’t your logo; it isn’t the look and feel of your brochure or web site. Those things, while important, are the last and least important aspects of your brand.
Your brand is quite simply your public’s impression of you. There is really no other definition. Your brand is what your public thinks and feels about you. Branding, therefore, is the exercise of trying to consciously make a good impression—one that fully represents who you are at your best.
There’s no such thing as not having a brand. Rest assured you have one, even as you read this. As soon as your organization appears in the public sphere, in print, online or in person, you are making some kind of impression. You may not have given much thought to your visual appeal; you may not yet have a common look and feel to your products; you may simply be improvising everything as you go… but you still have a brand. It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
Some time ago, I wrote about organizational values, and their role in ensuring the integrity of your brand. My logic is simple: once you know who you are and what is truly important to you, creating your public persona is relatively simple. Your brand is simply an external manifestation of who you are and how you do what you do.
Some organizations spend a tremendous amount of money on branding, and sometimes they fail spectacularly. One of the greatest errors any organization can make is in trying to present themselves as something they’re not (otherwise known as putting lipstick on a pig.) Where your brand is in conflict with your organizational values and culture, your brand will falter and your true values will shine through, sooner or later.
Let’s say that you decide that being passionate and committed are pillars of your brand. Those are strong, evocative words, and look great in your promotional copy. But if, in reality, your organizational values tend toward being cautious and compromising, sooner or later your brand will fail. Sooner or later your organization will publicly compromise on a high-profile issue, your vaunted passion and commitment will very publicly go out the window, and your integrity will be called into question. Likewise organizations that fancy themselves open and accountable; if in reality their boards and staff conduct their business under a veil of paranoid secrecy, it won’t take long for the community (or the local media) to discover the discrepancy. Never forget that brand equals reputation.
Choose your brand carefully. You’re going to be living with it, intimately, for a fair while (because organizations that are chronically rebranding send a fairly strong message to their community that they don’t know who they are… or perhaps they do, and aren’t proud of it.)
Branding is fun, creative work up front. It can be challenging, though, to live the brand and ensure that it permeates every aspect of your organization.
The foundations of a brand are its attributes, its personality, and its benefits. We’ll start with attributes, and in a future article we’ll move into the other two qualities.
Brand attributes are a brief list of the things that you really want your public to know about you—the things that set you apart from other organizations. Your brand attributes should recall your mission statement, expanding on it to emphasize all of the things that make you unique.
“We protect the wetlands of southwestern Alberta. We have qualified staff and passionate volunteers. We inspire our community to make stewardship part of their daily lives. We do cutting-edge research and present high-quality, engaging educational programs. We are a national leader in wetland conservation.”
“We conserve and present the homestead of Wilson Jones, and we illustrate late-nineteenth-century prairie life for our community. We create interactive, dynamic experiences for all of our visitors. Our staff are knowledgable and passionate, and our award-winning visitor experience is renowned for its authenticity.”
OK, it’s your turn. What are your organizational attributes? What defines you and sets you apart from everyone else in your field? Try to come up with three to six things. Share them in the comments, if you like, or message them to me and I will give you comments if I can.