What Is a Brand?

Some people think brands come only in bright shiny packages, but you know that isn’t so. Others think a brand is a snappy logo and a tagline, but that’s not true, either. A brand—a good one at least—is a name that stands for something unique and desirable. It’s what you want people to buy or accept, and if that “what” has a name, it’s a brand. From cupcakes to combines–or flashlights to fire apparatus–no matter what your business, you have a brand to sell, and if you’re in a business that sells a product or a service to other businesses or public safety entities, creating a powerful brand image has never been more important or desirable than it is today.

Perhaps your company does little or no advertising. Does that mean your brand cannot become famous? Of course not.  It can become top of mind in your industry because what you are, what you do, and how you and your associates do it in your interactions with others every day give off a message, perhaps subconsciously, that sets your brand apart from any other product or service in the category. This is especially true in industries such as law enforcement and the fire service, where identity is paramount.

A definition of a brand is simply this: 

          A brand is an expectation of performance.

That expectation can either be good, or not so good, and it almost always stems from a core identity that’s based on one thing in particular. That one thing is what your product, service, or company delivers, provides, or—let’s hope your brand doesn’t fall into this category—what it doesn’t deliver to customers that they would like to have. For brands that do not fall short, it’s what the brand does best—what makes it stand out. It’s that “something” that creates a preference. How to put your finger on what that is, or what it can and ought to be, is what this blog will explain

          A lasting commitment to a particular ideal or advantage will lead to a clear claim to fame that will set your brand apart from the competition and lead to an increased market share.

That claim to fame can become your brand’s identity. If your brand is also the name of your organization, such as, for example, “First Arriving,” it is what you do as a company that appeals most to customers. In our case, it’s that we help our customers get out in front of their competitors and stay there—because that’s where they want to be. It also makes us recognizable as a company specializing in service to public safety providers and related businesses and organizations.

If your brand is a product, that “one thing” will be a sustainable advantage—real or perceived. It is amazing, though, how many marketers drift away from a clear-cut advantage in their zeal to stake out something new. To prevent this from happening, your one thing must be ingrained into your corporate culture. Identity springs from shared core beliefs and perceived competencies.

To establish a clear-cut advantage, you may have to fine-tune what you do and how you do it. For a B2B brand in particular, this may require a cultural shift to be embraced and fostered both by leadership and by staffers down the line. Systems might need to be retooled in order to deliver consistently on the corporate promise. If and when you and your associates focus the organization to deliver consistently on what you do best, you will be building an impenetrable wall around unsurpassed value. A clear sense of identity will develop among you and your colleagues that will guide you to success in a much bigger way than would ever be possible with clever marketing and advertising tactics alone. Your shared identity will literally guide how you do business, and when that happens, success inevitably will follow. 

Before you read another word, however, do this. Stroll down your company’s hallways and ask those you see to give you a single word that defines the business the two of you are in. You’ll be fascinated by what you hear. 

And what you don’t hear.

But take heart. Even if the words are all over the map, a core identity does exist. All organizations have one—it’s just that sometimes what a company stands for has been forgotten. Over time it has simply receded into the collective unconscious.

Identifying, bringing to the surface, and embracing the core identity is a way to center everything a company does so that what you stand for is meaningful and real. It helps your staff focus on a common purpose so that they continue to do the things that got the company from A to Z and made it successful in the first place. As authors of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote: 

          Contrary to popular wisdom, the proper first response to a changing world is not to ask, “How should we change?” Rather, it’s to ask, “What do we stand for and why do we exist?” This should never change. Then change everything else.

Seeking The Company's Core

A true identity is based on bedrock values established—either purposefully, or by accident—by the founder or founders and carried forward through the years by employees. In some companies these beliefs are recognized clearly, while at others it is just the way things are. Either way, the great companies—what Collins and Porras called “visionary companies”—have strong core beliefs and stick by them. These beliefs shape what the company is and what it delivers—from product quality to the particular leadership stance the company must take in order to dominate its market category. When regenerated, founding values instill pride and sure-footed confidence at all levels. Basic beliefs and shared values provide muscle strength in the corporate body.

How do you uncover what they are? When First Arriving conducts identity studies, we often find that managers are surprised that a powerful belief system has endured despite the passage of time, growth, mergers, or acquisitions. Because core belief spawns identity, we advise those leaders to move quickly to reinforce it through training, communications, repetition, incentives, ratings and reward.

Why is that important?

A core identity is the glue, the unity, and the refrain that threads through the organization as well as through a series of sub-steps in a total selling process. Frequently a strong core identity can be summed up by a single word. It might be necessary to add a word or two to clarify the meaning, but the fewer words the better so that people can easily remember what the company does best, where it is going, and why. For example, at First Arriving that word is, “Success.” And when we add a word, it’s “Client Success.” That’s what puts and keeps our clients out in front.

A core identity evolves from core values over time, which is one reason a company’s leaders may not be able to define or easily put their finger on it. But customers will know—although, perhaps, subconsciously. Once it has been drawn out into the light, identified, tested, and adopted, all actions going forward ought to flow from that fixed point of reference. This will include acquisitions, operational initiatives, new hires, new products and line extensions, marketing, advertising, and even a succession of tag lines through the years. With a core identity in place to guide these strategies, the path forward is clear.