Branding strategies that build stronger, more productive workforces

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Although this article is about branding, we won’t be exploring the complexity of brand research, logo design, brand persona, or positioning. Instead, this article will define what a brand really is — it may not be what you think. More specifically, this article will identify the importance of branding and the benefits when executed properly.

What is branding?

If you search for a definition of branding, you might come across this one— “Branding is a way of identifying a business. It is how consumers recognize a business or organization…” and goes on to describe a logo or mark that should be used consistently on marketing materials and uniforms. Although this is technically accurate, it only deals with the surface and not the true meaning of a brand. True branding incorporates the company’s mission, vision, and values—the company’s DNA. Living these values, a true brand is a promise you make to consumers when you do business with them.

Here’s an example: You are a trustworthy person. We know this because your friends, family, and colleagues tell us so. They tell us that when you’ve said that you were going to do something, you’ve always followed through. In fact, you’ve made and kept all of your promises and because of this, you created and reinforced your personal brand reputation as someone that people could count on — so your personal brand is that you are trustworthy.

The example above is how companies should think about their company branding. Brand logos and brand names should be memorable not because of their trendy graphics, marketing, and media. Instead, brand logos and brand names should be visual cues that trigger positive emotions toward the brand promise that is strengthened through consistent and positive consumer experiences.

How to develop a strong brand

Now just like every person is different, every company is unique and its brand should be personalized for each organization’s value system. Deciding what’s most important about your company is crucial to understanding the foundation of a strong brand. Fundamental elements of a brand promise should include:

Your brand must be authentic. Think of the values as the DNA of the brand. Since a brand is a promise, your brand must clearly define what the promise is and how it relates to the core values of your company.

Your brand promise must be significant to your audience. The perception of your brand promise must deliver something unique or better than the competition.

Your brand promise should be consistent across every touch-point. Consistency builds trust and brand loyalty. 

Total commitment to your brand promise. Everyone in your organization must live the brand promise in every phase of business—attitude, communications, experience, and delivery of goods and services. 

Why are brands so important? 

Whether you’re selling a nationally-known product or a regional or local product or service, strong brands are equally important to the success of your organization. Brands are both a strategic and financial asset. Strong brands set your company apart from your competitors. They increase customer loyalty which drives up the value of your company. Continued investments lead to continued strength and value. There are many other values to strong brands, but we’re outlining key benefits that relate to industrial and manufacturing companies. 

The first group of benefits relate to the public face and reputation of strong brands. 

Brand Value 
Win more bids and gain market share with a stronger brand.
A stronger brand allows you to set higher prices for your products and services. People associate higher quality with strong brands and may pay more for a well-branded product or service based on brand experience, reputation, and association with other well-branded companies, even when two products are practically identical. Why? Because strong brands keep their promise and people like to associate with people and brands they know and trust. Brand trust and brand loyalty are key metrics in assessing and evaluating brand performance and equity. 

Brand Loyalty
Retain loyal customers.
Business owners and business development experts know that it is easier and costs less to retain a customer than gain a new one. Although all customer relationships need continued nourishment, the fact is that loyal customers require far less marketing efforts and dollars. Loyal customers possess a great deal of trust in the people and within the companies they choose to do business with. This trust is not to be taken lightly — it must be earned and nurtured throughout the relationship. When brand equity is high, loyal customers become brand advocates and can actually help build new business through brand testimonials, recommendations, and referrals. 

Brand Expression
Create long-term brand awareness and recognition.
Through years of studies and research, we have a clear understanding of the profound effects of advertising. However, creating sustained brand awareness and recognition is the process of continuous and, more importantly, consistent communications that must strategically express the brand promise. Many marketing dollars have been wasted on misguided and ineffective marketing efforts. Effective communications and marketing messages that carefully express the true company values and brand promise will gain brand awareness and recognition and strengthen the brand with consumer trust and loyalty. 

Extending Brand Services
Grow business by launching new products and services.
With an established brand and reputation, it is easier to grow your business by offering new products and services. When consumers see a trusted brand on a new concept, they instantly associate the brand promise to that new product or service. Borrowing from earned value, strong brands can capitalize on the strength of a well-established brand to build market share with far less marketing efforts. 

The overall strength of most organizations is human capital. Simply put, companies will not build a strong brand without a strong workforce. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked and misunderstood fact of all branding concepts. We’ll link the importance of branding with healthy workforces. 

Branding Attracts Talent 
Recruit the best talent.
Strong brands help companies recruit and retain the most talented, passionate, and loyal employees. When handled strategically, attracting and managing talent is based on the organization’s value system. This enables employees to understand and participate in the overall direction of the company where every employee feels as if they are part of something bigger than their current project or position. Giving employees opportunities for personal and professional growth helps to create employee engagement, loyalty, and a fulfilled workforce that understands and lives the brand promise every day. 

Branding Creates Strong Workforces
Eliminate high employee turnovers.
It is well-known that high employee turnovers cost the industrial and manufacturing market millions of dollars every year. What isn’t known, however, is the connection to (or lack of) branding. Studies show that companies with great brands have lower employee turnovers. Why? Most people are motivated by purpose and desire to make a connection to something good that is bigger than themselves. The science of human motivation shows that people genuinely want to have a lasting impact on their work—they just don’t know how. As part of your brand promise, employers must incorporate brand development into personnel on-boarding and training. Businesses who incorporate purpose-driven branding strategies create a more engaged, motivated, and happy workforce. 

Branding Ambassadors
Develop employee branding advocates to strengthen your brand.
All companies have unique work cultures. Those who get it right have curated cultures of purpose-driven and rewarded workplaces that are happy to say good things about their purpose. Every single employee is either an advocate that helps build and broadcast your brand promise or someone who tears it down with negativism and toxic attitudes. The process of developing employee advocates and branding ambassadors starts with strategic and consistent internal communications and brand awareness. Your employees, distributors, and associates play a crucial role in delivering the promise. They create and distribute products and services that deliver the brand promise. Brand ambassadors help to continuously strengthen the brand. Maintaining this effort requires continuous and, most importantly, consistent communications to the biggest group of people who have the power to strengthen your brand.

4 steps to effective, audience-focused communications

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Effective communication in the workplace is critical to driving positive results, meeting strategic goals, and creating a healthy work environment. Poor or nonexistent communications eventually become crippling to any thriving business. Disconnected and inconsistent consumer communications contribute to lost sales in retail as well as declining resources and donations for nonprofits.

The start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to review last year’s accomplishments and develop a plan for this year’s successes. Make effective communications a part of your overall business plan.

To get 2019 off to a productive start, we’re focusing on a series of posts addressing audience-focused communications, staring with an essential tool across all businesses. A communications plan is a road map for getting a message across to an audience, pinpointing who you need to get information to as well as when and how you intend to communicate it.

Here’s my 4-step plan to create an effective, audience-focused communications plan.

1. Review and define your overall communication objectives.

What do you want to achieve, when, and why? Examine what your organization stands for: its mission, values, and belief systems. Define organizational goals. Look closely at who your organization is serving. This process will help narrow and sharpen the focus for your communication initiative(s). Plans will (and should) vary widely based on specifically defined objectives for your exact purpose. Here’s a few examples:

Internal Corporate Communications— Objective: Develop a plan to better communicate the company DNA to its employees. Help personnel find meaning and purpose in their role in the company and to feel part of something that is bigger than themselves or a simple paycheck.

External Corporate Communications— Objective: Create a consistent brand voice and integrated branding materials to strengthen brand awareness, create a positive corporate culture for company, community and world, and help grow the bottom line.

Project or Corporate Initiative— Objective: Help drive a successful program. Good communication is the backbone of any successful project. Get everyone on the same page— clear, concise communications, minimizing confusion, and getting buy-in.

Non-profit Organization— Objective: Create a force to raise awareness and increase donations. Great communications both internally and externally can provide many benefits, such as helping personnel understand and adopt the mission of the organization, consistently brand the vision of the organization, and rally the donors.

Retail, Online store, Service— Objective: Launch a successful campaign. Consumers are savvy shoppers and respond to smart communications and branded materials. Marketing your goods and services with creative materials will get the results you’re looking for.

2. Identify and understand your audience[s].

Think of "audiences" as groups that you need to communicate with. Whether you need to communicate general day-to-day information, “big news" about major changes, or sales campaigns, effective communications understand and speak directly to their audiences. Know your audience by asking these questions: What do they need to know? What do they know already? What do they want to hear? What's their preferred way of receiving information? What will stop them listening to what you have to say? And how will you know that they have got the message?

Often, you may have one or more audience with different communications objectives. Clarify specific objectives for each audience. List all of your objectives (there may be several) for each audience in your plan.

3. Plan Messaging and Channels

Once you have clarified your objectives and got a full understanding of the different audiences that you need to communicate with, it's time to plan your message. We’ll break this down into two parts:

Wordsmithing and content creation— Create an outline to help define what you need to write in order to meet your objectives. From this outline, draft up copy for all aspects of the communications plan:

Spoken language— Define terms and language used to talk about the objective.

Written language— Develop the language used in basic and promotional communications.

Marketing language— Create professionally designed materials needed to carry out and promote the objective.

Media and publishing your messages—Specify how these messages will be delivered to best reach your target audience. Make a list of all possible communications channels and media options. You probably already use lots of great communications channels in your company, but think creatively and brainstorm unique ways to further reach your audience.

Depending on the communications objective[s], you may choose to hire a professional group to develop and create the actual materials needed to launch the objective. The work that you have completed to this point will be extremely valuable to that team. The deep dive into the goals and objectives of this exercise will guide the creative team to deliver targeted materials that will resinate with your audience and achieve your goals. This is how every project with a professional design or marketing team should start, but unfortunately, rarely does.

4. Test and Monitor Effectiveness

Even with analytics, company stats, and a great deal of thought, it’s easy to get it wrong. It's good to get feedback as early as possible and often through the development process to refine and focus the message. Test concepts with people from different audiences. Test to know if your target audience understand the messages, that they have "buy in," and that they are tuned in to the channels you’ll be using to publish the content.

During the lifetime of the communications objective, monitor program with timely feedback while fine-tuning current and future communication messaging and promotions. This will help steer your program towards success.

5 benefits on environmental design in the workplace

Kirk Theriot - 2019

For some years now, marketers have been writing about the importance of branding — creating brands, brand management, and re-branding almost everything and everyone. We have strategically used all types of mediums to publish or deliver our branding messages and environmental graphics are no different. Graphic design is no stranger to environmental spaces — the retail market has been capitalizing on this powerful tool since the very first merchandising space. Environmental graphics or branding continue to trend as architects, interior designers, and the corporate world take notice of the wide range of benefits beyond adding a splash of color or adding the logo to the wall. Companies are re-thinking the role of the workspace to help employees truly live their brand. From wall décor and office graphics to decorative privacy film for conference room windows, interior graphics don’t just fill space — they communicate the soul of the company and impact the way employees engage with each other and guide the public experience of an organization. The workplace is constantly changing to accommodate a shifting workforce with various expectations and working styles. This accommodation is not only a trend in some workplaces, but in many, it has become a vehicle to attract and retain the best talent. Environmental graphics work hard. 

Reinforce Brand
Environmental graphics help to brand the company. Communicating the company DNA is hard to do in a mission statement, but a wall installation can reinforce company values. Having your values prominently displayed where employees encounter them frequently can be a good way to reinforce their usage in everyday work, increase organizational awareness, and establish credibility and trust within the organization. Environmental graphics give organizations an opportunity to connect with their target audience in a very public and impactful manner. Visitors are instantly engaged with visual communications that can guide, direct, and support a positive experience with the brand before any other type of media or verbal welcome.  

Increase Productivity
Environmental graphics can help employees feel engaged, valued, and connected. Finding the right balance between privacy and openness is the key to creating a productive environment. The architecture and interior design play a large role through the layout of the building and work areas, but success also relies on the experienced graphic designer to create the perfect balance of color, shape, and messaging to achieve harmony. 

In this example, branded vinyl with right balance of translucency, transparency, and opacity was used on the glass of conference rooms and boardrooms to ensure a level of privacy and productivity. This allowed the people inside the boardrooms to work undisturbed, but also not feel excluded from what was happening outside.

Connect People to Place
Environmental graphics can promote creativity. Many companies use traditional signs, directories, charts, maps, landmarks, and architectural treatments to identify buildings, levels, offices, and public spaces. However, incorporating inspired themes into non-traditional wayfinding solutions can connect people to place in innovative and exciting ways. Experienced environmental designers understand how individuals perceive and move through spaces, are adept at organizing information to communicate graphically in order to transform a dull office into a center for inspired creativity. We live in a time when the creative economy reigns supreme and most organizations view “creativity” as the most valued currency. Companies spend billions of dollars on recruiting, training, and personnel development, but spend very little on environment. 

Improve Employee Health
Environmental graphics can help improve employee health. According to a recent Gallup poll, American adults employed full-time report working an average of 47 hours per week, nearly six days a week — that’s longer than our counterparts in the world's largest economies. With the increasing number of hours spend indoors in bland, uninspired spaces, company morale and productivity can plummet and employee health can be affected. Many companies are incorporating a sense of nature and the outdoors into their interiors through biophilic environmental design.  Biophilia deals with the innate relationship between humans and nature and the basic human need of continuously being connected to a natural environment. As it has been shown to improve employee health, biophilic design works to enhance the individual’s connection with nature in the environment in which we live and work every day. Other creative environmental design decisions can also help encourage healthy behaviors by making the stairs a more attractive option than an elevator.

Impacts the Bottom Line
Environmental graphics can serve as a powerful sales tool, making it that much easier to sell a specific vision to potential clients as they walk through a space or talk through ideas. The positive visual appeal of a space can help create a profound connection between people and place and the connection between brand and success. The ability to transform a formerly conventional or uninspiring environment into a powerful communication tool is a remarkable asset for any business or professional.