Some people think of a brand as a company’s logo or tagline. Others think of a brand as the image an organization wishes to project. Professional marketers often define branding as having to do with the perception a company or an organization holds in the minds of an audience (or audiences—which can include consumers, reviewers, donors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders).
Every interaction a person has with a brand either reinforces their perception of what it stands for, or detracts from it. This Brand Experience (BE) determines how people think and feel about a company or an organization.
For some companies, the Brand Experience their customers have may be out alignment with what the company would like it to be.
Depending on the age of a company, there’s a very good chance things have changed since it was first established. Plus, it is highly likely marketing materials have been developed by different people with different objectives both inside and outside the company. These factors lead to what we call “brand entropy”—the gradual erosion of focus, clarity, and continuity.
What can companies and organizations do to combat marketing entropy? First, conduct an audit to identify disparities in orientation and execution. An audit will help to determine the nature and extent of any erosion which exists. Then, a decision can be made what to do next. The options are: 1) do nothing; 2) initiate a brand refresh; 3) initiate a rebrand; or 4) terminate the brand. In this and subsequent posts, we will look at what each of these options entail.
To begin, let’s imagine a couple of scenarios from the pretend town of Maplewood.
Scenario One: The Maplewood Syrup Company is a family business which has been sugaring and bottling maple syrup for years. Bob and Sue, members of the current generation, want to expand the operation to include other maple based products, including maple mustard and maple chutney. To reflect this change, and to more accurately represent current reality, they undertake a brand refresh. Wanting to retain the goodwill of a loyal customer base, they don’t want to change too much. The name, “Maplewood Fine Foods” is introduced with a logo that looks very similar to the original. As part of this effort, they also update their website, packaging, and merchandising materials.
Scenario Two: Times are tough and many residents of Maplewood are experiencing financial hardship. As a result, the homeless population is growing at an alarming rate. You decide to do something about it.
Given the cold winter climate of Maplewood, you determine a shelter would help your community the most. You fulfill all legal requirements and develop a marketing plan. the new non-profit is introduced to the community with the tagline, “The Maplewood Shelter—Housing for All.” Your logo features a warm, inviting house with a maple leaf in the background. Soon, you have a good board of directors, a great staff, and the shelter is busy.
Fast forward five years. A lot has changed. In fact, you can hardly even call it a shelter any more. The majority of the “shelter’s” visitors are there for vocational training. Over the years it became apparent that many of Maplewood’s residents were struggling because they lacked modern skills. Instead of just offering a warm bed, you started providing daytime classes. You partnered with local companies that needed skilled workers. With their help, you were able to provide a curriculum that achieved a 70% employment rate after completion. One day, preparing a request for donations mailing, you glance at your business card. You read your organization’s name and tagline, “The Maplewood Shelter: Housing for All,” and it registers how different this is from current reality. You think to yourself, “How can I be asking for donations when people may not fully understand what we’re doing here? We’re so much more than a shelter now.”
Along the branding spectrum, Maplewood Shelter would qualify as a candidate for a rebrand. As the organization has adapted to trends and the needs of the community, its brand hasn’t kept up. Sure, things at Maplewood are going well, but imagine how much better things could be with a higher level of clarity and alignment.