Finding Your Authentic Brand

iStock_000014390301_MediumBy Tyler Sprecher, Executive Vice President, Creative & Brand Strategy

The topic of Authentic Brands seemed quite appropriate, and jumped off the page, as I reviewed the upcoming LeadingAge education session topics, particularly given my role as executive vice president, creative & brand strategy for Love & Company, and my recent experience with choosing the right boot and hat manufacturers (I settled on Justin) for my trip to Nashville. After all, who wants to be viewed as a fake cowboy, fake retirement community or fake anything else for that matter?

Authentic Brands: Aligning Story, Culture and Space, was one of the early LeadingAge educational sessions I attended shortly after arriving in Nashville. The session’s presenters were Deanna Francl, principal of Gensler, and Kim Daly Nobbs, chief marketing officer for Willow Valley Communities. These two organizations joined forces and embarked upon on a brand refresh for Willow Valley a little more than one year ago, and the presentation centered around the Willow Valley case study.

According to our presenters, many branders are focused on what’s on the surface; it’s imperative to dig deep, create organizational alignment and authentically articulate the brand promise. To accomplish this, it’s often best to partner effectively with a professional organization that can guide you through the process.

“It’s hard to do internally when it’s part of the water you are swimming in,” says Deanna Francl.

Some key probing questions to ask when working towards the creation of an authentic brand include:

  • Who do we think we are vs. who we really are (culture is internal; brand is external)?
  • Who do our constituents think we are (they see and know the inequities)?
  • What organizational and cultural assumptions of mission, vision and values must be tested?

Tip: Challenge your own personal assumptions about your organization.

“You have to market your brand to your employees.”—David F. D’Allessandro—Brand Warfare

To create (and maintain) organizational alignment, pursuers of authentic brands must:

  • Nurture and manage the culture you desire.
  • Be a learning organization rather than a knowing organization.
  • Don’t ride on success that’s no longer a reality.
  • Engage everyone in the process.
  • Enlist the CEO or other person as the brand champion.
  • Identify and eradicate brand misalignment.

Tip: Make sure that everything strengthens the brand rather than muddies it.

“The Alchemy of culture and brand are expressed in the day-to-day habits of the organization, which turn out to be self-reinforcing.”— Kim Daly Nobbs

When working to authentically articulate the brand promise, an organization must ask:

  • What makes us special?
  • What is our unique value proposition?
  • What can you claim that no one else can?

Tip: Here, it’s really important to let your passion and personality speak!

“Persistence, while also allowing the brand messaging to evolve and become increasingly more authentic to the organization’s culture and external brand, is critical.”— Deanna Francl

In the case of Willow Valley Communities, becoming a more authentic brand manifested itself or was achieved in the following ways:

  • They took “retirement” to “ageless thinking,” because retirement was not consistent with the brand.
  • They developed new spaces and products attracting younger seniors who want a “hipper” look and the ability to shape their own experience.
  • They mapped out each audience with touch points, and determined how best to communicate their story for each.
  • They moved the photography away from what the environment looks like and towards what it allows you to do and experience.

Tip: It’s not just what you provide, but the feeling you create.

The presenters shared how, over time, society has moved from an agriculture economy, where families spent pennies to make their child a birthday cake and celebrate at home, to “The Experience Economy,” where parents are willing to pay $100 to eat pizza and have an oversized rat in a costume hand a cake to their child.

In “The Experience Economy,” people are willing to pay for (and have come to expect) choreographed moments that create memories. So today, businesses must orchestrate meaningful events for their customers and those meaningful events become the memory of the brand.

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