Building an Unstoppable Brand
“It takes multiple years to build a good reputation and only a few minutes to ruin it.”
“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
I’ve spent my professional life helping brands of all stripes and sizes navigate change in order to grow. Whether nonprofit or for-profit, boutique brand or large corporation, I’m in regular conversation with senior leaders who are passionately pursuing healthy growth and are unsettled by their current barriers.
Twelve years and hundreds of rebrands later, I have come to realize that the single most important driver of success in any brand strategy is its intentional alignment and integration with organizational culture. When brand and culture work together, audience loyalty grows, talent acquisition and retention improves, operational efficiency increases, and sideways energy and drama are reduced.
There is an enormous amount of confusion as to what a brand is. Simply put, your brand is your promise to those you want to reach and engage. It tells them what they can expect from you, and if you can offer them value. It communicates how you’ll make them feel, and if they can trust you.
I view every brand through the framework of five pillars:
- Culture: Who you are. (The vision, ethos, clarity, and health of your people.)
- Story: What you say. (The internal and external messaging.)
- Service: What you do. (The products and services that help you deliver on your mission.)
- Experience: How you feel. (The digital and physical touchpoints that engage your audience.)
- Identity: How you look. (The logo, colors, imagery, and graphics that communicate your brand.)
These five pillars work together to provide a framework for successful and sustainable brands in any vertical or industry.
A Marquee Culture
Peter Drucker has been credited with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What many leaders fail to realize is that an unhealthy culture doesn’t stop with strategy, and will quickly eat the rest of your brand alive from the inside out. I’ve yet to see a brand fail because of its logo, but have seen many brands suffer “near-death” experiences because of their culture.
We’ve also been privileged to help multiple organizations rebuild their organizational culture into an unstoppable force that propels them forward with unbridled focus and passion. We’ve seen organizations transform their disengaged workforce into passionate brand advocates that multiply their donor base. They have elevated their fundraising, and implemented their mission with even greater clarity and effectiveness.
Our brand strategy work always includes culture.
For this reason, our brand strategy work always includes culture. It doesn’t matter if the culture is friendly or competitive, nurturing or analytical, provocative or cautious. When culture and brand are driven by the same purpose and values they can weave together into a single guiding force. Together they help gain ground in the competitive battle for donors, customers, and talented employees.
In our recent book Culture Built My Brand, (Amplify Publishing, 2021) my business partner and I provide six layers to help you better understand practical ways to be intentional in shaping your organizational culture.
- Principles - Distilling your brand values into actionable behaviors.
- Architecture - Ensuring your organizational structure and systems serve your brand.
- Rituals - Creating new experiences that energize your people.
- Lore - Discovering the sticky stories that can shape culture.
- Vocabulary - Articulating new “words that create worlds.”
- Artifacts - Designing the physical look and feel of your brand.
The Growing Digital Noise
The average person saw roughly 1000 ads per day in 1970. In 2017, that number jumped to 10,000. As we enter 2023, all indicators suggest that the noise created by digital advertising will only increase (e.g. - YouTube made $28.8 billion in ad revenue in 2021).
While it may be tempting to think that the answers your brand needs are found in slick digital marketing campaigns, the truth is that those very campaigns can accelerate failure if they make a promise that the rest of your brand fails to deliver on.
Successful brands in 2023 will need to cut through the growing digital noise by developing innovative strategies that capture attention and compel engagement. They must also build trust with their audience. The brands we remember not only grab our attention, they deliver a consistent and holistic experience that goes far beyond just another digital marketing strategy, and this begins and ends with the leaders who shape organizational culture.
Ted Vaughn is the author of Culture Built My Brand (Amplify Publishing, 2021) and co-founder of Historic Agency, a strategy, innovation, marketing, and organizational culture consultancy that specializes in faith based nonprofits. With more than 27 years of experience in executive leadership, brand strategy, organizational health, and human-centered design thinking, Ted has spent the majority of his career serving a wide variety churches as well as for-profit and nonprofit brands.