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In a great article on City AM early last year, Luke Graham talked of a subject that I have been ranting about for years – authenticity. I have tended to use a different word – consistency – but the meaning and the message is the same – lack of consistency – inauthenticity – is the enemy of any brand.
By “consistent” I mean consistency not only between the individual messages your words and actions convey to those taking note but between what you say and what you do – your “brand promise” and its delivery. There’s no place in the digital economy for a brand that doesn’t “walk the talk”.
In this brave new world, insincerity can’t be hidden or disguised. You are either the real deal or you’ll fail. Gone are the days when a business could hope to get away with just telling the world what they want to hear or being chameleon-like and trying to be everybody’s friend.
Today’s audience has done its research – we are in the information age after all – and they know you better then you know yourself before you even connect. They are also cynical. The perpetual cries of “wolf” have delivered a generation whose default is the assumption you are lying, so don’t even go there!
It’s an uphill struggle to establish trust with today’s audiences, which is why brands that have managed to do so are so valuable. In fact, the value of any business these days is in its brand community.
Brands are communities of people with shared values and beliefs. Its members may not align on every aspect of life, but they have common ground and it is that which brings you and them together. Your band is your meeting point and because it’s a place where every community member feels safe and secure all kinds of things happen there. That’s the key to the value of brands and organisations that have recognised this are the winners in today’s brave new digital world.
Your brand community will survive and prosper as long as you are true to the values and beliefs that brought you together in the first place. You’ll enjoy the trust of your members, which itself is the key of the door to success and provided you don’t abuse that trust the world will continue to be your oyster.
It’s not difficult. If you are genuine you’ll engage with your community and grow to understand more about them, their lives, their needs and wants. The digital age provides every brand with an infinite capacity for one-to-one engagement, which means there is no excuse for not being there, with the right solution to their problems or answer to their needs, when members need you. This is how product innovation works in the digital economy.
Your empathy will be rewarded with ever-deeper relationships that pay off in ever-more meaningful ways, but you’ll do well to remember that before the trust came scepticism and the road back is far shorter and quicker than the one you followed to build your brand in the first place. The business world is littered with the corpses of businesses and brands that betrayed the trust or failed to walk the talk. There are no half-measures here, you are either the real deal or a dead duck!
So, what can you do to help you achieve the consistency you need? The starting point has to be to define your brand. I do this with a vehicle I call a “brand model”. This is a document that defines your brand using twelve essential coordinates.
My clients and I usually build their brand models using a series of workshops, although there is another route I use occasionally when workshops aren’t practical. These sessions are defined and incorporate tools I have evolved specifically for the purpose. The outcome is a document designed to dictate not only the way you look as a brand or business, but the way you operate on every level from the most granular to the broadest aspects.
In the era of digital transformation, this is an invaluable tool. A lack of focus is the fundamental reason for the incredibly high number of transformations failures we are witnessing at the moment that result in most cases in the demise of the business concerned.
Your brand model is the key to maintaining focus and therefore not only does it equip you to run a business in the digital economy it is the only way any business that hasn’t already started their transformation will bring theirs home successfully, efficiently, faster, at minimum cost and with the least pain.
What’s more, the process of developing a brand model will reveal weaknesses in your current business model. It would be unusual if it didn’t heighten your awareness of new business opportunities and will drive innovation, which, as we all know, is essential to survival in the digital world.
Most of all though, a brand model provides the focus you need to maintain efficiency at every level and in every area of your business.
My advice to any business that doesn’t have its brand defined in this way is to invest in a brand model without delay. I’m happy to advise anyone who would like to get in touch. I’m easily reached through my website or LinkedIn, so don’t hold back – it might be your first step to a whole new world of opportunity.
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