Stop Branding!

September 2014, by Merlin Gerhard Kwan, Creative Director, Awaken Group

In every established industry, competition is intensifying. Companies must differentiate themselves in ways that create higher value for their products. As business leaders, you may think that creating a strong brand is key.

So what, exactly, is a brand?

Some business leaders think of a brand only in terms of logos, messages and marketing activities that are easy to change. Some want to change what you think about them, rather than actually change anything.

The traditional brand designer focuses their branding efforts on creating a beautiful image to serve as the “face” of a company – a look and message for the business to wear, as if some kind of new outfit.

During my 10 years in brand building, I have frequently asked myself, is this really the true face of this organization or would a “mask” describe it more accurately?

Let me compare your brand to a real person such as myself. Like a real person, your brand carries an image—a brand image. But how do you design the right image? I can’t design my own image; my image follows me like a shadow based on everything I do and say. If I am famous, the image may even precede me. In order to be authentic and successful in the long run, my image can only be the image of who I truly am and who I am going to be. My personality, values, strengths, language, style, and the value I create for people around me contribute to my image. The same applies to your brand.

I dislike the term “branding” as it derives from the practice of stamping cows with a hot stamp so as to identify its owner. What your organization needs in order to succeed is more than the visual recognition of its products. The real value is in truly defining yourself and committing to your identity. You can then develop a strategy to communicate your identity and brand more effectively.

Great organizations have leaders who leverage the brand as a management tool to fuel, align, and guide all activities both externally and internally towards the same direction; thus, elevating the brand from an external-facing message function to a strategic tool for managing the business and their priorities based on their greater purpose.

Leaders can use their brand like a compass to direct their core operations, shape their culture, and design their products. This brand-equals-business approach has proven to be far more effective than simply “branding.” It makes full use of what your brand can do for your organization. It brings your brand to life and like any living human, your brand never exhausts its purpose and relevance in this world.

How can you build an authentic brand based on who you aspire to be?

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