Brand means business. Or it should.

Brand means business. Or it should.

First published in Medium.

A brand is not just a company’s ads. 

Brand is the way people experience a company. It’s the moment they call the support centre, the annoying feedback email they get after purchase, it’s the sound of the car door closing, the company’s approach to paternity cover. But, too often, ‘brand’ is dismissed as ‘marketing fluff’. It’s seen as just a prettily designed side note to the business strategy, rather than an essential approach for guiding decisions. To fully unlock growth, we need to redress the relationship between brand business, experience and marketing.

Marketeers have long known that companies which successfully balance short term sales advertising with longer term brand activity perform better. Masses of research using IPA data has taught us that. Yet, short term sales retain their alluring glow — one which still leads many brands to stray into quicksand.

This is because the challenges around ‘brand’ go deeper than simply re-briefing the media agency to spend more marketing dollars on advertising your brand. To unlock long term growth we need to re-establish the role of ‘brand’ in two ways:

1. The role of brand in supporting long term business objectives

2. The role of brand across all moments people engage with the business — outside of just marketing

The role of brand in supporting long term business objectives

‘Long term’ marketing is often associated with ‘brand building’, or what Jenni Romaniuk called marketing’s biggest ‘own goal’. It sounds wishy washy, self important and — crucially — requires the finance director to care about ‘brand’. Unlikely. Not because they are incapable of doing so, but because we as marketers have weakened its relevance.

The challenge is that ‘brand’ and ‘business’ are disconnected.

  • Part of it is a language thing. Take, for example, ‘Brand guidelines’ — some simply focus on logo guidelines, many barely go beyond visual and verbal design. The result? Brand is associated with logo and colour palette, rather than the bigger picture that sits behind it: a strategy to guide decision making in line with a business’ objectives.
  • Part of it may be structural: Brand is often the CMO’s responsibility. But, as a consultant, it’s always worrying when I’m asked to do a brand positioning without speaking to the CEO or other C suite leads across the business. We need to ask what impact the brand positioning will have on the company’s products, experiences, new innovations and hiring policies? Not just on how we use it in marketing.
  • Part of it comes down to what we can show works. Measuring short term marketing metrics is far cheaper and easier to untangle. How do we measure what impact new products or renewed enthusiasm internally are having on long term business objectives?

A recent paper from James Hurman in Warc’s ‘Rethinking brand for the rise of digital commerce’ argued that ‘brand building’ should really be seen as ‘future demand generation’. An essential reframing which anchors ‘brand’ to business growth.

And this needs to be the shift. Because, fundamentally, ‘brand’ needs to support long-term business objectives.

This is where having a purpose led brand can sometimes make life easier, because your ‘why’ — or the core of your brand — is inherent within your business objectives. Take Patagonia, Lush, or Toni’s Chocolonely — for companies such as these, the difference between brand purpose and business objective is chicken and egg. But most businesses aren’t really purpose led. They’re shareholder led. They may have purpose led ambitions, but when push comes to shove, decisions will come down to the bottom line.

To have any power in ‘the room where it happens’, to quote Aaron Burr, we need to create brands designed to help meet business goals. In other words, brands that help the business grow.

Take Lowell — one of Engine’s clients — as an example.

Lowell are a debt collection agency with a difference. In an industry with an understandably poor reputation, Lowell stand out because of the empathy and dignity with which they treat customers. But when we started working with them in 2019 they were struggling to build the kind of trust they deserved. By tapping into the power of brand we helped shift Lowell from a company built around negative debt, to one framed around financial freedom. And, in doing so, we helped supercharge their growth in business terms.

To unpack the example further…

Lowell’s business idea: to make credit work better for everyone, benefitting the end customer as much as Lowell.

Lowell’s brand strategy: to help people rebuild their financial health.

Why it works:

  • The brand and business strategy are pulling in the same direction. Both are looking to help people manage their debt in an empathetic, sustainable way.
  • The brand strategy is additive. It helps Lowell look beyond ‘debt’ and explore the bigger picture of financial health — seeing debt in the context of people’s lives and all the emotion that comes with that. It opens the door for new ways to support customers across their finance experience — from better managing their debts today to better managing their finances in the future.
  • And, crucially, it helps to guide decision making across the rest of the business, from product strategy to experience strategy, as well as marketing strategy. Unifying the customer experience across all of the brand’s touchpoints. This has enabled Lowell to really support its customers. From offering budget calculators to setting up partnerships with companies like Snoop; from providing credit score trackers to building in ‘breathing spaces’ during the app journey — moments where customers can take a moment if it starts to feel overwhelming.

The proof is in the pudding. A 59% increase in Trustpilot rating, alongside a 22% increase in revenue.

The role of brand across all moments people engage with the business

The scale of the success of our work with clients like Lowell can only be achieved when we get proactive about using brand strategy for what it was made for: guiding what we do and how we do it.

Put simply, a brand is the way people experience a company. From call centre conversations, to order confirmation emails, from how well (or not) the product lid opens (Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference soup I’m looking at you) to how you reward colleagues. It reaches far, far beyond what goes on TikTok or the telly.

We should be excited by the opportunities our brand strategies open up outside of marketing: what new products does this mean we should create? What new conversations can we have internally? How could this make us stand out as an employer?

Businesses who get this right reap the rewards:

Sounds great, right?

To reestablish the role of brand and unlock its power across all parts of the company, we need to get better at asking four key questions:

1. Which customers will deliver business growth in the future? Most brands don’t have infinite budgets so need to make some calls about where to place their bets. However, all too often audience segmentations are ‘now’ focused, not future focused.

2. What jobs will these customers genuinely need help with?

3. What is our brand’s unique role in this mix?

4. What is the measurement framework we need to show the impact of our brand on the business outcomes, and which of these measures should be reported alongside business KPIs?

To really deliver business growth, ‘brand’ needs to mean ‘business’. But that connection has been lost — and is especially easy to overlook when the pandemic has forced us into fighting for the here and now. We need to start rebuilding it.

Engine’s Growth and Innovation strategy process is designed to help find this sweet spot of brand and business growth opportunities. If you’d like to chat more, get in touch with me on LinkedIn, or by dropping me an email at becca.dyson@enginegroup.com