Being Understood Beats Smooth Talk

Chapter 17

This is the second of 5 posts that will explore the dimensions of “Identity as Brand. This week, we will explore how “Recognition—the expression of identity and the way it is received,” is a key aspect of brand.

telosity_RecognitionThe emails went back and forth between the senior executives and the brand advisors. “We need a catchier phrase,” lamented one. “All the other units have one,” complained another. It seemed like a strategic problem, but in fact, the business was wrestling with its identity. Sure, they had an idea from a communications strategy, but, like an ill-fitting suit, it hung un-worn, conspicuously uninhabited by the very leaders who most needed to live out the brand.

Ten years ago, and perhaps even five, this conundrum didn’t much matter. A global business could have adopted a brand position of its choosing, found a brilliant copywriter to capture its essence in a catchy turn-of-phrase and then launch the campaign. Off they’d go, willing themselves to a new brand position through determination and marketing spend.  But that was then.

We’ve already advanced the idea that a company’s identity is expressed by its brand, an identity that must be granted by others as a social license.  But now we must examine how that identity as brand is recognized.

It is easy to think that clever language or a compelling image will suffice. Consider a food company weighing a very creative new image for their packaging. The new plastic package presents an earthy image of well-being, which is great…except… The CEO is concerned that despite its positives and the allure of the image itself, it does not ring true within the company.  And if it doesn’t resound inside, customers will react the same way.

Social media has revealed, in very real terms, the complex web of relationships that form the context of our personal narratives. And today, the modern ideal of rugged individualism is being challenged by the competing thought that we all must rely on others.  The brand you think you created was, in fact, bestowed on you by others.

Functioning in a bestowed brand environment involves the gradual, ongoing, co-discovery of identity— Recognition, in other words. This is the effect of being in relationship, where others both reflect back the truth of an identity and take part in its continued revelation. The term “brand recognition” is already in use, and it refers to the reach and understanding of basic concepts about a brand. It is, essentially, a statistic suggesting notoriety. That no longer makes sense.  Brands today needs to focus on truly reflecting company identity—which, as it is recognized by those outside, will become even more fully revealed. [TWEET THAT!]

A more practical way to explore the kind of recognition we are talking about is to ask a few questions of a brand.  These are the four primary ways that a brand is recognized and tested:

  1. Consistency of character—Does our company actually demonstrate the ideas and even ideals that are implied by its name and professed identity?
  2. Familiarity—Brands rarely represent new ideas, of which there are precious few. The same characters keep appearing.  Why? Archetypes matter. We recognize them and we identify with them. They give us handholds of familiarity in the face of a confusing present and unknown future. Brands are no different and the familiarity is comforting.
  3. Embodiment—The whole movement towards employee engagement for brand activation is an essential response to the basic human expectation to discover tangible versions of a brand idea. Analog or digital media may help to communicate a concept, but it is not fully believed until we can see it in flesh and blood—of the human sort!
  4. Contribution—Does your company make a difference in the world? Recognition of identity as brand grows as a company is associated with positive impact.

A company may claim to have an authentic identity but what it really seeks with all of those claims of authenticity is the recognition and agreement of others.  That is something that can only be granted. Integrity—authenticity judged true—can only be bestowed by others. Brands with integrity are not reliant on catchy phrases or powerful images, although they often show such marketing creativity. Rather, brands with integrity express their identity through consistency of character, familiarity, embodiment and contribution. [TWEET THAT!]

What companies do you see that have been bestowed the mantle of integrity through authentic expression of their identity as brand? What are they doing right?

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