A few months ago, a client thanked me for facilitating a brand visioning exercise, saying, “I always thought that branding an organization was just a matter of choosing and then putting on a new coat.” I was pleased he had grasped the fundamentals of what we were trying to do, that branding is a matter of reflecting what’s at the heart of an organization, not simply selecting something from a rack of stylish options. After all, your brand is about authenticity. Branding requires you to discern what is true about your organization, why that matters to your audience, and how to communicate those truths in the things you say and do. And yet, it is about the coat, too…

Most of us pay at least some attention to the clothes we wear. In general we want them to reflect something about the kinds of people we are, our character, values and personality. Sometimes we want them to say specific things about ourselves: Look at me and know that I am a professional, a cowboy, a vampire…. Stacy and Clinton from TLC’s What Not to Wear tell us that many people get it wrong. So wrong. Instead of creative and trendy, they appear flaky and dated; instead of vibrant and youthful we get tarty and will you pu-lease grow up. The truth is, some people do not care what they wear or how they dress, some dress to project qualities they admire but do not possess, and yet others reflect characteristics quite different from what they intend.

It’s not a lot different from the way many organizations treat their brands:
• some don’t think about their brand or place any value in branding
• some have chosen brand values they admire but cannot emulate – ever
• some know what their brand values are, but communicate them with little insight

The problem these organizations face is bigger than simply being raided by the fashion police. Rather than Stacy and Clinton, they have to stand up to the scrutiny of their (gasp) audience!

If you don’t take care of branding your organization, your audience will brand it for you. And your brand may be “the dis-organization that doesn’t care.”

If you simply choose a set of admirable brand values, your audience will spot the fake. Your brand may become “the organization that can’t really be trusted.”

If you know your brand values, but mis-communicate them, your audience will be confused. Your brand will be “the organization that…I’m sorry, which one are you again?”

Brand articulation is hard work. It requires structure, honesty, deep insight, passion and creativity. And that’s just the start. But the rewards can be immediate and, over time, powerful. I hope to share some of those with you, as well as how we get there and what branding processes and models look like, over the course of the next few months. Or years; it’s a big subject.

Speaking of coats, as we subtly segue to us, have a listen to what that old bluegrass master Ralph Stanley had to say about them:

Two coats were before me, an old and a new…
I’ll tell you the best thing I ever did do,
I put off the old coat and put on the new.

If you’re unsure about the coat you’re wearing, you know who to call…
—Al Aasman


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