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Your Identity Is Not Your Brand

Philip Durbrow, Marshall Strategy
As identity strategists, we work all the time with corporate and nonprofit leaders who come to us seeking the benefits of identity work: improved loyalty and preference, increased sales, an energized workforce and so on. But one of the biggest misperceptions is around the idea of identity itself. Most people confuse it with branding, when in fact your identity is different from your brand in key ways.

A brand is a promise. When someone sees the brand they should know what they’re going to get. Branding is doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the brand promise is fulfilled. That’s what branding is about. But branding is often aimed at specific target audiences: people who want whiter whites or brighter brights. Brands are what I call outer driven. They’re driven by trying to please people out there.

Identity to us is a bigger idea. It’s about the essence of who you are. You might have several brands that make various promises and are aimed at different people. But your identity should be inner driven.

Identity and Authenticity
The power in identity comes from being who you want to be, not who others want you to be.

Your identity shouldn’t be constructed the way some politicians run campaigns—running around the country doing various focus groups to find out what people care about and then giving speeches tailored to very precise groups. That’s all outer driven.

The most powerful identities come from thinking about who you are, what you care about, what matters most to you, what you want to accomplish and why people should care that you exist.

The Six Elements of Identity
As you undertake identity work it’s important to understand what identity is not. It’s not your vision. Your vision is how you see the future. It’s not your mission. Your mission is what role you want to play in that future. It’s not your goals. Your goals are what you want to accomplish. It’s not your logo (your logo identifies you, but it’s not your identity). It’s not a short-term initiative—that’s a tactic. And it’s not a marketing responsibility, it’s a CEO’s responsibility to deliver on your unique sense of self.

So those are the things we think identity is not. But what is identity?

  1. It is the essence of your organization
  2. It is your organization’s sense of self
  3. It is what the organization stands for, is committed to
  4. It is what the organization cares about, its driving force
  5. It is what you want to be, not what others want you to be
  6. It is why your organization matters

You can go on the web and easily find a number of how-tos that promise you can create an identity in five easy steps (give or take). But the reality is that determining your identity is a matter of deep exploration. It requires you to see yourself from new angles, think about possibilities, understand where your industry will be in the future. It’s hard work, but it’s the key to motivating your employees and changing the way your customers, shareholders and competitors think about you.

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What the Republican Party Really Needs – Neither a “Rebrand” nor a “Facelift”

What-the-Republican-Party-Really-Needs

What the Republican Party Really Needs

When the term “rebrand” is referred to as a “facelift”, (as it often is) it is a disservice to the work of brand strategists. Anyone who believes a facelift is going to fundamentally change how people see them is generally wrong. The same holds true for companies. When an organization decides to “tweak” its image, rather than address the fundamentals of its business, the resulting reactions range from ambivalence to cynicism to outright fury.

A facelift is a cosmetic procedure performed to change an appearance. When a “rebrand” is approached in the same way, it is about appearances, not reality. If the new appearance does nothing to change the reality of the organization behind it, the exercise is shallow and wasteful. In a recent Fast Company article* advising the Republican Party on “rebranding” themselves to win more support, the author suggests many ways the GOP could alter its appearance to be more appealing to voters.

We agree that the Republican Party will continue to lose momentum and credibility (as the 2012 election showed) until it can come to some consensus internally. But this article frames this problem from the outside, in, rather than the inside, out. It suggests that the party must change to please voters, rather than clarify and affirm what its members really believe in. This is a recipe for short term success and long term failure, because the party will just continue to tack its way from election to election. Clarity on who you are (and not just who others want you to be) is a requirement if your brand image is to be credible, sustainable, and ultimately, successful.

Identity and image are the yin and the yang of your organization’s brand. Your brand identity is who you are. It’s your purpose, what you care about, and why people should be glad you exist. Your brand image is how you are perceived by your critical audiences.  If these elements are out of balance, they need correcting. Many great organizations suffer because their images do not reflect the true value of their identity, and many so-so (or worse) organizations spend mightily to gloss over who they really are, setting themselves up for failure in the process.

Of course, politics is a challenging context –most politicians will try to be whoever voters want them to be in order to get elected. The drawbacks to this philosophy are clear today and represented by the lowest approval rating for congress in history. Consider this, Republican Party – if you worry only about how you appear on the outside, your insides will continue to eat away at you. Find your true identity, and your image will follow.

* http://www.fastcompany.com/3005471/rebranding-gop-can-marketing-facelift-overhaul-republican-party

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With No Apparent Brand Strategy for this Election, Is “Hope” a Failed Brand Promise?

With the election looming, and Obama and Romney neck and neck in the polls, each is trying to maintain momentum in his base and influence the undecided voters out there – especially in swing states. But something critical has been missing.  Throughout this drawn-out campaign, both candidates have lacked a single clear idea that voters can rally behind, a true brand strategy. Instead, it’s been an election season filled with attacks, memes and rhetoric, like Romney’s “binders full of women,” but no emotional core.

In a recent blog post, “The Election in a Word,” Daniel Pink talks about how in the final days before the election, both campaigns are trying to keep a single, simple idea in voters’ minds. With Obama, “Forward” is appearing in almost every speech, photo or sound bite, and with Romney it’s the platitude “Believe in America.” Both are hollow, because it seems as though they’re being forced on voters, and because they seem to be more about de-positioning the other candidate than delivering an idea for the future.

2012 Election Brand Strategy

2012 Election Brand Strategy

The rules for political communication have changed drastically. In the past, campaigns like Reagan’s “Morning in America” could frame a candidate emotionally instead of rationally, and broadcast this emotion through television advertising, essentially the only game in town. Contrast that with Obama’s message of “Hope” from the 2008 election. Shepard Fairey’s iconic “hope” image didn’t come from brand experts and political strategists, but from the groundswell of political dissatisfaction with the status quo. It spread virally across the social media landscape in part because the Obama campaign so deftly took advantage of the message of “hope,” and in part because people connected with it. It was a clear idea, and it spread because it connected emotionally.

In today’s world, it’s no longer effective to simply craft a positioning and stay on message – you need to connect with voters emotionally, so that they’ll spread your message for you.

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Naming Systems that Enhance Your Brand

What makes some brand naming systems stronger than others, and what’s the benefit of a system when naming your products and services?

Because your company will likely establish multiple products or services over its lifetime, it’s important to think about the system your product names create so your products will reinforce your brand promise.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. How does the new product deliver your brand promise?
2. How does each product deliver uniquely?

Contact us to learn more: Contact Us

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