Brand alignment asks the all-important question: do your employees and customers understand your brand?
You may think you know the answer to this question, but if your business is struggling with attracting top talent or closing important deals, you may have a brand alignment problem.
That’s because brand alignment isn’t just another marketing buzzword. It’s critical to the success of every business, despite the fact that many business leaders fail to fully understand its importance.
In what follows, we’ll take a close look at all things brand alignment, including what it is, why it’s important, and how you can leverage it for the success of your business.
- What Is Brand Alignment?
- Why Is Brand Alignment Important?
- Signs You Have a Brand Alignment Issue
- How To Align Your Brand
- The Takeaway
You’ll come away with a complete understand of why aligning your brand internally and externally is essential for business growth.
What is Brand Alignment?
Brand alignment is a state where both internal and external stakeholders understand a brand’s purpose and promise.
If your brand is aligned internally, each of your executives, employees, and partners has a clear understanding of why your brand exists and the promise it makes to customers.
If your brand is aligned externally, your customers understand your brand’s purpose and promise, and believe it’s making good on those claims.
Why is Brand Alignment Important?
Brand alignment is a metric of how consistent and cohesive a brand is—from the inside out. Few things are more important than consistency when it comes to branding. The benefits of an aligned brand don’t end with consistency, though.
Build Customer Trust
The consistency that comes from a well-aligned brand makes it recognizable and reliable to its customers. And nothing is more integral to customer trust than reliability.
A well-aligned brand delivers a recognizable brand experience and reliably makes good on its brand promise. The customer trust that is built in the process leads to the ultimate asset: brand loyalty.
Increase Employee Engagement
All brand alignment starts from within. When your employees understand your brand’s purpose and promise, they’re more likely to be engaged—both internally and externally.
Internal employee engagement results in improved company culture and overall morale. External employee engagement results in a better customer experience.
Improve Marketing and Sales Results
AA well-aligned brand means more efficient efforts in both marketing and sales. That’s because true brand alignment entails understanding your brand’s ideal customer.
Well-aligned brands also see more leads become sales, because their sales staff knows how to speak about the brand in consistent, compelling ways. Brand alignment, then, has a measurable impact on a business’s bottom line.
Protect Your Brand Assets
As we always say, your brand is your business’s most valuable asset. And like any business asset, your brand needs to be protected.
Brand alignment ensures your brand is well maintained in an optimal state. It protects against inconsistencies that erode customer trust and decrease employee engagement.
Signs You Have a Brand Alignment Issues
So, how do you know if your brand is misaligned? The indicators aren’t always obvious, but there are a few telltale signs it’s time to regroup and realign your branding efforts.
Your Customers are Confused
Often the most immediate sign of brand misalignment is when your customers don’t understand your offerings or how you’re different than your competitors.
It’s one thing to understand your brand’s purpose and promise, it’s quite another to effectively communicate these things to your customers.
Confusing or inscrutable brands lead to a loss in customer confidence, which leads to customers opting for a more intelligible competitor.
You’re Struggling to Attract and Retain Top Talent
Having trouble finding the best talent for an open position? Struggling with unusually high turnover rates? The reason might very well be a lack of brand alignment.
Internal brand alignment starts with effective employer branding. Business that haven’t invested in building and maintaining a strong internal brand usually have employees who don’t understand the brand’s purpose and promise.
When your employees don’t understand your brand’s purpose and promise, it undermines your company culture, which has a detrimental impact on both retention and hiring.
You’re Seeing Poor Marketing and Sales Performances
If your KPIs and sales revenue are flagging, the cause can often be traced back to a misaligned brand.
As we’ve seen, brand alignment is ultimately a metric of customer trust. When it comes to marketing, customers are simply less willing to engage with a brand that is confusing or inconsistent.
On the sales front, misaligned brands have sales teams who don’t truly understand their brand benefits and key differentiators. This leads to unconvincing sales presentations and, ultimately, lost sales.
You Have Inconsistent Brand Touchpoints
An inconsistent experience across brand touchpoints is one of the surest signs your brand is misaligned.
As we’ve already mentioned, consistency is at the heart of brand alignment. If you were to conduct a brand audit on your brand’s many touchpoints, would you find a cohesive system with recognizable similarities, or a scattershot collection of unrelated design and messaging?
If the answer is the latter, you likely have a brand alignment issue.
How to Align Your Brand
So how do you reach this enviable state of brand alignment? It doesn’t happen overnight, but these 6 important steps will get you on your way.
1. Conduct Internal and External Brand Research
Like any good branding initiative, brand alignment should start with brand research. It’s important to understand where your brand is misaligned—both internally and externally—so you can know where to make corrections.
As mentioned above, the best place to start is with a brand audit, which will provide an objective assessment of the relative consistency of your brand assets.
Thorough brand research also includes quantitative and qualitative research initiatives with both internal and external stakeholders to understand where misalignments exist. Qualitative research includes one-on-one interviews and focus groups, while quantitative research includes things like surveys.
2. Adjust Your Brand Positioning
With the insights from your brand research in hand, you can get to the business of adjusting your brand positioning.
In positioning your brand, you define the unique place it occupies in the minds of those you serve. How are you different than your competitors? Are you a luxury brand or a budget brand? Are you provocative or conservative? Indulgent or practical?
Each of these qualities exists as a spectrum in your customer’s mind. Where your brand exists on the various spectra that are relevant to your brand category is how it is positioned.
3. Create Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines are essentially the constitution for your brand. A single document available to employees and partners alike, well-defined brand guidelines prescribe with precision how your brand should be represented in every possible medium.
Brand guidelines are your manual for the consistency that is integral to brand alignment. They allow you to solidify brand differentiation, brand personality, and visual identity, giving your customers a uniform entity with which to identify.
4. Establish Internal Brand Alignment
Internal alignment is all about ensuring that internal stakeholders are intimately familiar with your purpose, promise, and brand guidelines. That means executives, partners, and, most importantly, employees.
Your employees are the most important ambassadors of your brand. Because of this, it’s essential to go the extra mile to ensure your employees understand your brand, inside and out. This begins with effective leadership but is most clearly articulated through brand training.
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.”
5. Establish External Brand Alignment
Your brand comprises countless touchpoints; brand alignment is about ensuring the brand experience at each of those touchpoints is consistent and compelling.
When it comes to messaging, each instance of your brand’s communication should be in accordance with a larger, unifying narrative born from purpose and promise.
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.”
When it comes to your visual identity, projecting a uniform brand experience with elements like logo usage, colors, layout, and photography plants seeds of recognition and trust in those you serve.
6. Monitor and Maintain Brand Alignment
Perhaps the most important element to brand alignment is brand management. 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 involving both monitoring and maintenance.
When it comes to external brand alignment, maintenance begins with brand metrics. Brand metrics give you a benchmark by which to measure your brand’s performance. They allow you to identify where alignment needs correcting.
It’s also important to stay on top of marketing initiatives to make sure they’re effectively conveying your brand story. Continually optimizing these efforts will only enhance their impact.
Internally, regularly updated guidelines, internal communications, and ongoing trainings are the best way to ensure that all internal stakeholders remain up to date on any subtle shifts in brand strategy.
Further analysis of the above-mentioned Gallup 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.”
Brand alignment is no accident. It’s the direct result of a well-planned and even better executed strategy.
By taking important steps like building a strong employer brand, developing clearly articulated brand guidelines, and ensuring consistent brand communication born from purpose and promise, you can be certain your brand is aligned with internal and external stakeholders alike.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated with additional insights.