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Branding is war – confront the enemy (hint: it's not always who you think)

Because the pace of branding is slow compared to that of marketing, you might think that branding is a leisurely activity. Nothing can be further from the truth. Branding is an urgent, strategic activity driven by the fact that every organization faces three enemies:
  • Itself
  • Its parent organization, if there is one
  • Its competitors

Let me explain.

  • First, every organization is at war with itself. Ask two people and you will get at least three different opinions about what the identity of the company is or should be relative to competitors, what the tagline is, what the name is, and what the strategy should be (well, sometimes; not everybody cares about this.) This is particularly true if the organization is divided into separate lines of business, as most companies are: then you can expect fairly consistent disagreement along party lines. So when you brand, you take sides in a battle that has a fairly lengthy history and can be expected to go on for a while.
  • Second, every organization is at war with its parent brand, if there is one. This is because, unless it is extraordinarily strategic-minded, the parent tends to have a sort of identity conflict and to want to take credit for the achievements of the child brand, or at the very least is conflicted about setting the child brand free to mark its achievements on its own. See http://blumenthalonbranding.blogspot.com/2007/08/parent-brand-and-baby-brand.html.
  • Third, every organization is at war with its competitors, which is obvious. What is not so obvious is who those competitors are. You may think that you have a monopoly, but when you talk to your external stakeholders (primarily, customers) find out that they have you confused with someone else. That “someone else” is your competitor and your enemy, even if you actually do not compete.

When you brand, brand as though an enemy were at your back. What does that mean? It means

  • Treating the whole initiative with a sense of urgency;
  • Rallying people around the brand as though it were a cause; and
  • Bringing people along to the brand, not assuming that they are automatically on the “right side.”

It also means listening carefully to internal and external feedback: find out who your enemies are, learn what sides have been drawn and who stands where, and determine how best you are going to navigate the politics.

Finally, it means branding with a sense of passion about what you are doing: If this is a war, you want to end up on the winning team. And that means standing with the group which promotes the right brand image throughout the organization, successfully, overcoming all (or most) of those who resist.

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