How To Avoid Branding Misconceptions

Your company’s success ultimately rides on the back of key stakeholders consistently choosing you compared to your competitors—top talent prospects choosing to work for you, key customers choosing to stay loyal to you, opinion leaders choosing to recommend you in the good times and to give you the benefit of the doubt in the bad.

This day-in and day-out struggle for preference is waged under the banner of the corporate brand. And if you can rise above a vanilla brand to one that is truly differentiated, you’re more than twice as likely (60% more, in fact) to carry the day.

CEB research has identified four misconceptions about the corporate brand, which, if addressed, can help you get more of the right people choosing you in the right ways.

1. Thank goodness our brand is unique. That’s awesome, and we sincerely hope that’s the case. However, odds are high that you’re over-estimating your uniqueness. CEBresearch shows that 70% of communicators view their corporate brand as truly differentiating them from competitors. But that same research shows the average stakeholder only perceives 20% of companies as having a truly distinct brand. A couple of things play into this.

First, we know our brand inside and out, and so we are aware of critical nuances that others perhaps are not. “But our people really do care more about our customers.” If only we lived in a more nuanced world.

Second, we tend to build our brand around reputational attributes. This is a problem because reputational attributes were never intended to be differentiators—they are meant to be the essentials that any good company should deliver on if they want people to be willing to do business with them.

Things like great service, financial responsibility, trustworthiness, and—yes—innovation. If your key competitors weren’t also doing all of these things really well, they wouldn’t be your key competitors. So when you build your brand around being trustworthy, it’s no wonder you’re not quite perceived as the diamond in a pile of coal.

Bear in mind, too, that in time unique brand attributes may migrate to the reputation pile. You may once have been riding high on being green, for instance, as a differentiator—but now that may be something that everyone just expects.

A truly differentiated brand is one built around attributes that your key stakeholders care deeply about, which you can deliver on at a high level while your competitors clearly cannot.

2. Branding is largely the art of perception. If our end goal is to inflect perception, we’re selling ourselves short. Not only is perception a beast to measure in any meaningful way, but it’s completely useless as an end game. More impactful branding efforts begin by considering the ultimate business outcomes we want—outcomes that are always the result of real people doing real things. This leads us to adopt messaging strategies targeting behavior change—not just people’s perceptions.

3. We want everyone to like us. This is not essential in branding—it’s not even desirable. If you’re successful in getting certain stakeholders to strongly prefer you, others will likely not prefer you just as strongly. You won’t be too startled to discover that research shows you can get a whole lot more mileage out of even a small loyal band of stakeholders actively supporting you than out of an army of people sitting around thinking vaguely warm thoughts about you and doing nothing.

4. Our employees care about our brand. If by “our employees,” you mean “roughly a tenth of the people who work for us,” then yes. They do. These are the same people who were born caring about everything, and your company is just one more thing on their unending list of things to be jazzed about in life. We love them and are grateful for them.

But what about the other 90%? They don’t care. Unless we somehow make the brand relevant to helping them do their jobs better day to day. If something about living the brand makes their job easier and generally improves the quality of their work lives, then we have some traction.

Why do we care about getting traction with employees? Because—given the networked nature of how everyone communicates these days—our employees are our biggest potential source of advocacy externally. They are probably our biggest resource for, among other things, building our corporate brand. So let’s get them on board—or at least on the same page, since an awkward branding gap will invariably catch up to us. PRN


Dorian Cundick
Dorian Cundick

Dorian Cundick is an executive advisor at CEB. Follow her on Twitter, @CEB_News.