We talk a lot about brand authenticity around here. Some might say too much. But there’s no getting around the fact that successful brands are authentic brands. If you want clear-as-day evidence of this truth, look no further than brand alignment.
You’ve probably heard the term thrown around, but what do we mean when we talk about brand alignment. Alignment, put most simply, is a state where both internal and external stakeholders understand a brand’s purpose and act accordingly.
If your brand is aligned internally, each of your executives, employees, and partners has a clear understanding of why your brand exists in terms of the promise it makes to customers. If your brand is aligned externally, your customers understand the claims your brand is making, and believe it’s making good on those claims.
In this sense, brand alignment is the very definition of brand authenticity. Authentic brands understand themselves at the deepest level and act in accordance with that understanding. Their brand promise is genuine and their actions seek to make good on that promise. They’re able to foster meaningful and lasting relationships with their customers because, well, customers aren’t stupid.
Customers can tell if a brand’s message is authentic or not. And not only are customers more likely to trust an authentic brand, they’re more likely to identify with it. Brand authenticity fosters customer trust and customer trust begets customer loyalty. And loyalty is the ultimate sign of brand alignment.
So how do you reach this enviable state of brand alignment? It doesn’t happen overnight, but these 4 critical steps will get you on your way.
1. Create Well-Defined Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines are basically the constitution for your brand. A single document that can be provided to employees and partners alike, well-defined guidelines prescribe with precision how your brand should be represented in every possible medium.
Logos, colors, typefaces, spatial proportions, voice, and more are meticulously described to ensure consistency whenever and wherever your brand is expressed. And when it comes to brand alignment, it’s all about consistency.
Inconsistent branding is one of the surest ways to send red flags to your customers. When a brand’s communication is inconsistent, its customers can’t tell if it’s authentic or not. Inconsistency denotes carelessness and unprofessionalism, and plants a powerful seed of doubt in the minds of audiences.
By contrast, consistency reinforces your key messaging, bolsters your industry authority, and drives your customers’ loyalty. Being consistent doesn’t mean that all of your communications are identical—only that standards are in place for a coherent representation of your brand across channels. You don’t have to sacrifice the dynamism of your content to allow for consistent branding.
Brand guidelines are your manual for consistency. They allow you to solidify brand differentiation, brand personality, and visual identity, giving your customers a uniform entity with which to identify. Clearly articulated and universally agreed upon, brand guidelines are your road map to alignment.
2. Align Internally
Internal alignment is all about ensuring that everyone on the provider side of the brand/customer relationship is intimately familiar with your purpose, promise, and guidelines. That means executives, partners, and, most importantly, employees.
Your employees are the most important ambassadors of your brand. They’re the frontline in your ongoing exchange with customers. Because of this, it’s essential to go the extra mile to ensure your employees understand your brand’s core values. This begins with effective leadership, but is most clearly articulated through brand training.
Employees need a straightforward explanation of your mission, vision, values, and purpose. But more than that, they need to understand the indispensable role they play in the manifestation of these principles and why that role matters. Beyond training, it’s just as important to establish an organizational culture that is itself aligned with the core tenets of your brand.
A study by Gallup found that “Companies are having a hard time communicating the core of their brand identity down to the front line. And if their employees don’t know the brand promise, they certainly won’t deliver on it.”
By creating a work environment inspired by brand alignment, those who operate within that environment are much more likely to embrace attitudes and behaviors that are aligned.
Ask yourself: Do my employees feel appreciated? Are they invested in the success of the brand? And, most importantly, do they feel like an integral part of the brand story? Your brand is only truly aligned if the answers to these questions is “yes.”
3. Align Externally
External brand alignment boils down to you making absolutely certain your customers know what your brand is about. Your brand strategy will consist of countless touchpoints. It’s your job to ensure that the message delivered at each of those touchpoints is consistent and compelling.
The design level is where your brand guidelines will be most useful. Projecting a uniform brand experience when it comes to elements such as logo usage, brand architecture, layout, and photography plants the seed of recognition in those you serve.
At a deeper level, each instance of your brand’s communication must be in accordance with a larger, unifying narrative. The story you weave across channels must reinforce your brand promise if you expect it to compel your audience to act.
Customers are more likely to act when they feel connected to a brand, so it’s imperative you take advantage of every opportunity to foster that connection. Telling a story that not only resonates with your audience, but includes them as an integral part of the narrative is how that connection is made. Your audience is aligned when it identifies with your purpose. And to identify with your purpose, they must feel invested in your story.
Gallup found that “that the more consumers can accurately verbalize the principal characteristics of the brand promise of some well-known American brands, the greater the share of their business they give those brands.”
Further analysis of the study reveals that “creating brand alignment is powerful and meaningful in a way that traditional methods of attracting and retaining customers—like marketing and advertising—are not… When consumers are aligned with a brand, they give it twice as much share of wallet as those who are not aligned with that same brand.”
4. Maintain Your Alignment!
Perhaps the most important element to brand alignment is maintenance. Brand alignment is not a one-off event. You can’t hope to position your brand, roll it out, and expect it to remain strong of its own volition. Alignment is an ongoing effort. It’s something you have to remain vigilant about, lest your initial efforts go to waste. Maintenance is the key, and maintenance begins with brand metrics.
Metrics give you a benchmark by which to measure your brand’s performance. They allow you to identify where alignment needs correcting. Internally, updated guidelines and ongoing training ensure that stakeholders are abreast of subtle shifts in brand strategy. Externally, it’s important to stay on top of marketing initiatives to make certain they’re effectively conveying your brand story. Continued optimization of these efforts will only enhance their impact.
Brand alignment is no accident. It’s the direct result of a well-planned and even better executed strategy. By establishing clearly articulated brand guidelines, accounting for both internal and external brand alignment, and taking the time to maintain the initiatives you put in place, you can be certain that your brand’s purpose and promise are fully realized by employees and customers alike. And that’s the mark of true brand authenticity.