Brand Theory vs. Brand Practice

There are two ways to go about building a brand: I call them brand theory vs. brand practice.


Sometimes you might read brand books and articles and get grand ideas about how you are going to build your brand. You might proceed as I have advocated in this article: (

  • "It starts with brand assessment, that is, finding out how your key stakeholders see you versus how you see yourself…
  • Next comes brand strategy. Based on research inside and outside the agency, you articulate the vision, core values, common culture, positioning and other key attributes…
  • Third are brand communication guidelines: How do you want your graphics, Web site, press materials, recruitment documents and other materials to look? The goal is to arrive at a consistent identity that allows for some variation to keep things interesting. You want to reinforce the vision, mission, values and culture in all you say and do.
  • Fourth is a brand launch. You'll need a change implementation program to prepare your employees and customers for a shift in the way you communicate about yourself."

Or you might follow guidelines of the kind set forth in BrandSimple, where author Allen Adamson advocates a five step process as follows:

  • Step one: Establish your brand idea
  • Step two: Capture the essence of your idea
  • Step three: Get your employees engaged in the idea
  • Step four: Consider your brand's name
  • Step five: Create branding signals beyond the name


But other times you might not have the luxury of following an elegant pre-defined process. Sometimes, because you don't have full buy-in from the organization, you have to do things piecemeal, working from the ground up, going step by step without going according to a grand plan. You may not even have the luxury of market research to define your target. Then what do you do?

Ideally, the first step is to establish a unified infrastructure within the organization to manage the brand function. Normally this includes a chief branding officer (someone designated to manage the brand) and a brand council that brings together subject matter experts from frontline functions to determine how best to present the organization to the outside world.

But the above may not happen—there may not be sufficient understanding of branding within the organization to devote those kind of resources to it. You may need to start by deciding on a unified look for the brand as well as a tagline first. Again, you may not have the luxury of doing research to arrive at what this will look like, but you can use instinct to arrive at something that "looks right."

Next you can host small group familiarity media tours – targeting key media players – educating them regarding the new brand.

Following that you can do any of the following:

  • Create a living story for the brand—an enactment via the website or video of characters who tell the audience what the brand is about in a dramatized, fictionalized way
  • Redesign the website!
  • Make sure that people answer the phone with the new brand name and tagline
  • Deliver a vision/mission/values poster to all offices and have it posted prominently (and have a pocket card to go with it to be distributed to all employees)
  • Purchase giveaways, such as T-shirts, caps, and tote bags, as well as postcards which portray the brand
  • Create a coffee table book that tells the story of the brand in a lasting format
  • Develop a brand reference handbook for employees that describes what the company is all about and how to communicate on behalf of it
  • Hold meetings with employees to discuss other ways that they can be encouraged to reinforce the brand
  • Purchase advertising, once you get a sense that you are on the right track

It's not a perfect approach, working from the ground up, but it's better than nothing. And it may lead to a grander brand plan, in the end. All roads can lead to brand awareness and business results.