Written By: Sarah G. Schmidt, Design & Development
A quick Google of “how do you know if you are on-brand?” and you will get a plethora of companies selling you services ranging from surveys to full on marketing support. It’s a bit daunting. Because it’s not a simple question, people (and businesses) are quick to suggest you need extensive professional support, and offer you a laundry list of possible solutions.
The challenge is listening to the right person. In my experience, the right person is you. As a marketing/ communications/ brand representative for your organization, you likely have a lot of the answers already; you just have to dig deep to reveal them.
When I’m working through a problem or a decision that’s hard for me, I go looking for help. I don’t go looking for the exact answer. Rather, I go for help for how to FIND the answer. For my particular learning style, I find case studies to be very helpful. They work for me because I can see marketing communications best practice applied to a real-life situation. That helps me wrap my head around the challenge. It being real makes it more relatable to me somehow.
Here are a few historical examples from huge brands that might help you to distinguish if a decision is “on brand” or not:
- A classic example of ‘new is not always better’: Starting in the 1970s Coca-Cola was feeling pressure from new soda competitors. They came up with a new formula to try to attract new customers. It seemed simple enough. The resulting problem was that its existing customers were put off by the new formula. The “new” Coca-Cola was promptly pulled and the original formula returned. It was a couple hard – but avoidable – lessons to learn: be sure you know what your customers want and do not mess with a good thing.
- In the early 2000’s the hard-core biker company Harley-Davidson decided to try a couple new products in an effort to grow their business. The good idea was going into footwear. The utilitarian yet stylish biker boots they produced exemplified the company’s core pursuit of, “fulfilling dreams of personal freedom.” Biker boots are a pretty rough-and-tough style of shoe and footwear is essential to riding. This product expansion made sense. The bad decision was to try selling Harley-Davidson cake-icing kits. Huh? People who spend time making personalized cakes are likely not the same people as those planning biker expeditions, right? When you look at it from afar it’s a bit baffling how they thought that a wholesome activity like cake baking was aligned with their existing brand. The takeaway? New and existing products should always align with your brand and target demographics.
- Sometimes marketing success can be measured in accuracy rather than catchiness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) buckled down on Campbell’s Soup’s misleading tagline in the 1980s. The phrase “Soup is Good Food” was too tall of a tale due to the brand’s high sodium content. The current tagline, “Mmm! Mmm! Good!” is still an attractive description of the soup without lying to the customer. Being truthful about a product is critical to creating brand authenticity.
Speaking of authenticity, it is actually quite simple: deliver what you say you are going to deliver. Be who you say you are. The same is true for brands: stay true.
When looking at your own organization, a great place for guidance is your mission, vision, and values. Your decisions – new products, services, everything – should be a living extension of who you are (values), what you do (your mission) and what you’re trying to achieve (your vision). If they don’t, maybe it’s time to take a closer look.
Take a peek at the Organizational Assessment Tool Resource Bank and check out the marketing resources.