In all my years defining and developing brands for organisations spanning many sectors, there is always one universal truth – perception is rarely reality.

The process of defining and developing brands can take time, as it’s a culmination of positive experiences and delivered promises that form an emotional bond between a company and a customer – but it’s surprising how much less time it takes to find out whether you have a brand or not. This process involves taking the basic building blocks of a brand (vision, mission, proposition, positioning and values) and triangulating whether they are defined, understood, believed and evidenced through talking to the very people who own and deliver the brand experience to customers – employees.

I once took a framed company poster (from a boardroom) that proudly exhibited the vision and values of the company that, according the CEO, informed the culture and spirit of the business. I proceeded to walk the office corridors to check for myself whether perception was indeed reality. Having convinced reception not to call security (as I assured them I would be returning the company property to its rightful place), I got them all to read the words behind the glass. And that’s all they were… just words. I would like to say that the sentiment changed the more departments and functions I talked to in the business, but the sentiment behind the words did not resonate. They did not represent the culture, let alone a sense of ownership or pride.

Thereafter, once this ‘moment of truth’ was shared at board and exec level, there was a point of self-realisation. They had a company logo – tick. They had a visual identity that ensured consistent application across all communication channels – tick. But, they did not have an employer brand, let alone one that built loyalty with customers. The extent of this disconnect widened as I worked my way up through the tiers of management to the top of the org chart. Managers had a different vision to the Board. Each function within the business had a different interpretation of the value proposition being taken to market, and why they were unique and different to competitors.

There was, I’m pleased to say, a happy outcome, as they used this insight to invest the time and budget in defining their centre of excellence. They took the entire business on a journey of self-discovery, education, awareness and ownership that now drives excellent customer experience – one that’s building loyalty and reputation. It all started with that ‘moment of truth’ – that perception was not reality.

I’m often contacted by businesses who want to evolve or redesign their company identity, and they’re obviously keen to understand the process and what an agency needs to fulfil this brief: Where do we start? How much will it cost? How long will it typically take?

I respond by wanting to know more about their business:

  1. What is your proposition? This tells me what an organisation is selling and why a customer would buy.
  2. What is your positioning? This tells me why an organisation is unique and different from its competitors.
  3. Why do you think your current identity no longer reflects your business? This will tell me the space they’re moving from and into?
  4. What are your values? This tells me why I would choose, trust and stay loyal to the organisation?
  5. What sort of internal culture do you have? This will tell me about the employees’ scope of influence and ownership of the brand experience?
  6. What brand experience do you deliver? This tells me how they connect with customers and the sort of customer relationships they have.

These answers inform how the organisation needs to communicate, how it wants to be seen, and how it wants to be heard. All logical questions, questions that I’m always given confident and comprehensive answers to, until the ‘moment of truth’ when I ask one final question: In regards to the answers you’ve given to questions 4, 5 and 6, how can you evidence that these are true?

Now, as you can imagine, this final question prompts all sorts of answers and a lot of debate. For me, this question has resulted in long-term partnerships with some fantastic brands. That’s because it’s the beginning of a journey to establish a brand that builds loyalty and trust, both internally and externally. It’s the most honest question you can ask yourself to find out whether you have a brand or not.

So, if you’re looking for your own ‘moment of truth’, good luck in championing this question in your organisation, and, if you’re brave enough, borrowing the framed values in the Boardroom…