The Inside Out Approach to Branding
Susie Ippolito & Lea Skrinjar
What is the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe you consider the word brand to be a noun, maybe even a proper noun, and the word conjures thoughts of something iconic, a covetable product that is easily recognized around the globe. Perhaps an image of a logo or two pass through your mind. Or, maybe you consider brand to be a verb. To you, a brand has action. To brand something is to make an indelible mark upon it. This mark is intended to identify ownership. Make your mark.
A successful brand is a consistent representation of an infinite process that allows for evolutions into iterations that stand the test of time. When the term brand is considered in this way, it holds true to the root of its meaning and becomes an indelible mark on the minds of its market.
And that is where the real work begins. As a brand achieves icon status it becomes responsible to its customer base and reliant on their perception to define, shape, and sustain the brand. Customer perceptions of a brand quickly take shape as customer expectations. It then becomes the job of the brand to fulfil these expectations in a way that is in line with the mark it first made while being mindful of the brand’s current context and future goals.
A brand is a composite of strategy and creativity. Common perception is that a brand is the product or the service or, worse, the “influencer” behind it. In this approach, a brand identity rests too heavily on the creative and tends to neglect the science of strategy. An alternative perception is that a successful brand can be created in a paint-by-numbers insert-your-logo-here formulaic approach. This can work. And it has. But the mark of this type of brand rarely becomes indelible.
A tenacious brand has an active dialogue with its customers. It becomes curious about their experience and will notice how the customer plays a valuable role in brand development. The brand will internalize this information and allow it to shape the brand’s evolution. This method requires a new perspective on branding. It is an inside out approach that allows creativity and strategy to inform one another. It encourages and requires a solution based, forward thinking, open minded, interdepartmental brainstorming of ideas.
When a brand is in its early stages of development, its identity comes from the character, vision, and goals of the creator(s). This identity drives brand perception until a customer base begins to form. At this point, the brand begins to be defined by customer perceptions and expectations. A brand that is striving for long term success will take advantage of this shift and begin to actively engage with its customers to learn more about them.
It is necessary for a brand in development to gain intimate knowledge of its market. It is not enough to find out what the target market likes, or where they shop, or how old they are. In order to ensure success, a brand must uncover their target market’s motivation to spend money on a particular item. It is often not for the most obvious reasons. Many brands fail when they base their development on assumptions and unconstructive feedback like: It’s good! We like it! Or the omnipresent: It’s Amazing! This feedback is ego building, not brand building.
An inside out approach to branding encourages a company wide creative curiosity about customers. This, in turn, encourages a dialogue that creates conversational surveys that evoke useful, in depth feedback. The brand then has an opportunity to translate this information into branded language, imagery and content that speaks to customer expectations. Through this method, a brand is able to achieve optimal control over the way it is perceived while allowing for flexibility to respond to customer desires.
A brand that is immersed in its own language will seamlessly communicate consistency and quality from the inside out. When CEOs, salespeople, administrative support, and customer service representatives are all fluent in a brand’s language the brand’s perception is consistent, cohesive, and stays within the control of the brand.
A brand is not defined by a well articulated elevator pitch or by an ideal Instagram. It is defined by what is said about it. Language is the thread that is woven through a brand and creates the connections between creativity, strategy and the customer. This language is created through conversational connections with the customer. It requires more listening than speaking on the part of the brand. And it requires being open to applying new ideas — whether they originated inside or outside the brand.
That is how a brand makes an indelible mark on our culture and positions itself to withstand the tests of time.