Brand Meaning…Who Cares. You need to care deeply.

How Important is Brand Meaning

By Tom Dougherty

Have you ever played that game, “Telephone?” You know that game where you sit in a circle and the first person whispers something to the second, the second to third and so on until it is back around to the first person again. It starts out simple enough, whispering, “The dog wears red pajamas,” that eventually comes around as, “I jog and eat bananas.”

The funny thing is that so many companies today rely on this sort of idea to get their message and meaning out to the masses. Viral marketing, guerrilla tactics, meaningless advertising, and social networks have become the flavor of the day in an attempt to persuade and connect.

Don’t Make it Up

Failure happens when brand meaning is defined as a category benefit
Brand meaning is the key to importance

As if that isn’t bad enough, the worst part is that this all begins internally – that first person in the telephone game, so to speak. If you have ever been that first person in the game, there is a period of time where you actually have to think of something to whisper into the next person’s ear. Do you think about something witty or something that can easily be remembered? Or do you take the tactic of trying to throw people off and think of something difficult to remember or hard to say? Really, you never know what you are going to say until it is your turn, and only then do you make it up.

This is exactly what is happening with a great many companies today. Employees are being tasked in their daily roles, duties, and responsibilities of “making something up.” They do it as they talk to customers, they do it as they talk to each other, and they do it as they create external communications. They are all making something up to whisper to the person next to them. They make it up because they have not been told what to say.

It is remarkable how many companies, even hugely successful ones, have not defined who they are in a way that employees can understand and convey. Like the game of “telephone,” many organizations tend to leave it up to the employee to make something up when it is their turn to tell someone about the company.

Talk is Cheap

Sure, most employees can talk about the company. They will often tell you that they have the best or easiest or most convenient or, even worse, some generic description of the category.
However, most of the stuff they would say could also be said by any number of their competitors. It is our experience that many employees will quickly admit, without probing, that there is not a lot of difference between what they do and what their competitors do. Most employees talk about what the company DOES not what it MEANS. And generally, there is little to no consistency from one person to the next.

Meaning is not some marketing-speak. Sure, it helps in marketing but its value runs a lot deeper than that. Creating and, more importantly, maintaining meaning should be central in everything each and every employee says and does.

One Voice

It does not matter if you have a company of 50 or 5,000. Imagine if every person in the organization all said the same thing – instead of 5,000 meanings, your customers, current and potential, get one.

Brand meaning is a funny thing. We as humans strive for it. We look for it in everything we do, see, read, and hear. When meaning is not clear, we tend to make it up. So, in essence, consumers become the final person in that telephone game. There is no one standing in the middle of the circle with a sign that says, “The dog wears red pajamas.”

Manage Brand Meaning and Creating a Brand Culture

brand meaning is an art form
A harmony between emotional and rational needs

The worst thing a company can do is allow its employees to make meaning up. Consciously, an organization may not actually choose to allow this but, by not explicitly providing meaning, that is exactly what they are doing – allowing their employees to make it up.

This is where brand comes in. Brand is a device used to build meaning. No, it is not a simply a name or logo or clever ad tag line. Those are, in fact, executions of brand but are not THE BRAND.

Brand is about those a company wishes to influence. It is an aspirational goal or value that target audiences share. It goes beyond simple product benefits or attributes and is a way to emotionally connect with customers and prospects. It should represent a highly emotionally intense position that is not claimed by a competitor and that should be defended vigorously. This emotional connection can only start with those responsible for building it – the employees. They are the brand culture.

The first step in implementing a brand is starting internally. Brand should be a rallying cry for everything a company does – externally or internally. It must be the fabric that binds all aspects of an organization together from HR to R&D to customer service. Employees should be able to say what the brand is about and how it specifically affects what they do.

Therefore, instead of 5,000 meanings there is one: a single cohesive and compelling reason why what you do or make is different and better than your competitors – the sign in the middle of the circle that says, “The dog wears red pajamas.”

(Read about elements of the brand process here)

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