Brand Strategy Isn’t So Simple After All

By Alex Bornoff

I have never been one for self-help books, guides to better business, how-to-build a brand instruction manuals, or how-to literature of any kind. Ironic perhaps given my profession as a brand strategist, but then perhaps not.

If I do find my way through the pages of such literature, I struggle with how over simplified everything becomes. As if, all I need to do is check the boxes and I win.

But intuitively I know the boxes themselves are not that simple.

Those boxes crave opening, unpacking, and dissecting, before their contents translate to actionable learnings. But that level of detail is often missing from these resources and so I am often left unsatisfied.

I had one such experience recently re-reading Landor’s Agility Paradox, a report into what makes for successful brands in an era where disruption is the norm. It’s one-part investigative reporting, mining through data attempting to understand the characteristics of successful brands in a modern era. And, one-part instructional manual, giving brand managers a synthesized list of recommendations for how they can set their brands up for success in today’s business landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, this by no means is intended to discredit the valuable work Landor has done. The analysis is insightful and there is a lot to learn, if not empirically validate what one may sense intuitively.

Yet, I struggle when the work is distilled down into six neat little attributes that so long as a company complies, success is abound. These attributes include adaptive, open, global, principled, responsible, and multichannel – six little boxes to check before a brand can feel confident it will thrive in a new world order.

But each of those attributes can dramatically change the course of business for any brand. And I would argue (even at the expense of jumping into the “hands off” advice pool) that the art to succeeding at any of them starts with a core dimension the Agility Paradox does not address – the internal brand.

Building a brand that succeeds at all six attributes the Agility Paradox identifies, is by no means simple, especially if the brand was never designed to include them in the first place, of which there are many.

Brand reinvention is hard, rigorous work and along with vision, leadership commitment, and resources, transformations that enable brands to meet these modern standards require the unwavering dedication of those in the business. And getting employees to commit, means getting them to believe in the promise of the brand (before any consumer or shareholder) to ensure success, loyalty, and longevity.

Too many times I’ve seen great brand vision and strategy fall by the wayside because employee buy-in was so deeply de-prioritized. Building employee trust, advocacy and alignment to the brand, is what puts in motion the brand’s ability to succeed externally.  It forces the business to think about process, structure, and evaluate vision against reality so as to uncover what’s needed to close the gaps.

The workforce is a brand’s greatest, loudest, most impactful asset and advocate. It’s a critical dimension to lean into and take seriously as employees can also be a brand’s greatest roadblock if they don’t believe in it. Arming the workforce is arming the brand with the firepower it needs to rise above the noise and standout above the rest.

Building brands is an inside out effort. It’s how authenticity is established and brand reverberation is felt far beyond the efforts of any single campaign. Consumers drive vision but employees drive success of its execution. Over look that and all good recommendations will remain boxes unchecked. Build into it, and you may find yourself asking the “how” question far less.