A Branded Way With Words: Field Notes From the Former VP of Brand Management at Thomson Reuters
Which would you rather do? Ingest enzymes and nutrients to create energy or…enjoy a meal? They’re the same thing. Here’s another one: Allow someone to apply pressure to your scapulars with their hands on arms stretched concavely around you at close proximity or…get a hug? These are extreme examples to be certain, but they nonetheless illustrate that the words we choose can impact how we feel about any given activity.
The words chosen to manage a brand are no different.
People will follow a particular path either because they’re told to or because they want to. We all know which garners the better results. The right words help you inspire your organization to assume a shared responsibility for your brand. When they see brand not as something they have to do but something they should, can, and want to do, dramatic increases in brand strength, employee engagement, and profitability will result.
Words That Matter
So what are these words that transform lemmings into leaders? They’re hardly magic incantations but here are some that may make a difference in your organization.
Brand Building not Compliant. We have all had colleagues who wrinkle up their faces in disapproval as if they had just smelled something sour only to declare that work was not “brand compliant.” Perhaps, yes, improvement is needed, but it’s not as if we are grading sirloin for human consumption. It’s important to step back and think about why compliance matters. We have rules for how our brands come to life for one reason and one reason only: to build the brand. Focus on the end state of the work, not its current flaws. Get your colleagues to focus on potential.
Colleague not Client. Speaking of colleagues, many organizations have in-house agencies which have fully adopted the agency model, structure, and vocabulary. That’s not always healthy. It varies from company to company and from one corporate culture to another, but it can set up a counterproductive dynamic. “The client is always right mentality” is ingrained into our psyche, creating a dynamic that can put the decision-making role in the hands of someone less qualified to make it. Granted, the same thing happens every day in the traditional agency/client relationship, but internal agencies can avoid it with the right positioning.
Protector not Police. How many times have you walked into a room to hear someone announce, “Uh oh! It’s the brand police!” Meant in jest most times, it nonetheless damages the long-term act of brand building. It’s true that the police are the good guys (99% of the time) but with the visual metaphors of fines, guns, handcuffs, and incarceration the title doesn’t do much to reinforce the “we’re all in this together” esprit de corps. Instead, use a synonym for police that does not have those negative connotations: something like a protector.
Stewardship not Governance. Similarly, the whole idea of governance can suggest a police-state atmosphere. If someone is governing, that suggests someone is obeying. Obeying is not thinking. Stewardship reinforces the notion that the brand is everyone’s responsibility, a responsibility that requires thought, passion, and commitment.
Education not Training. Nowadays we need training on how to use our new smartphones, televisions, or even refrigerators. Training focuses on the “how.” Education focuses on the “why” and the “how.” By providing brand education to your colleagues, you give them the tools to thoughtfully make decisions about the brand, not simply do as their told.
On-Brand and On-Guide. True, there are times when you simply do want people to do as their told, for example when it comes to details like white space, placement, and hex values. But sometimes people have to make decisions on their own. That’s where the idea of on-brand and on-guide come into play. This situation is not either/or. When something is on-guide, when it follows specifications and rules to the letter of the law, it will be on-brand by design. However, every once in a while something can be off-guide, yet on-brand. Here’s just one example: Thread does not come in PMS or CMYK. Company t-shirts are likely to be a slightly off version of your corporate color. Does that make them off-brand? No. Getting them as close as possible will still make them on-brand.
Everything is a journey. That includes getting employees new and old to connect with a brand (especially true in the context of a merger or acquisition). The key to moving them down the road from apathy to ardor is positioning the brand as an opportunity, not a burden. Words carefully chosen for your organization can help you do just that.
Douglas Spencer saw the Thomson Reuters brand through the $17 billion global merger of Thomson and Reuters. Today Douglas is President of Spencer Brenneman Strategic Branding.