At venturethree we use the word brand instead of branding.
You could see this distinction as mere semantics, but for us it goes right to the core of our philosophy, capabilities, and how we imagine new value for our clients and the world.
To illustrate why, take a Financial Times report on Sequoia Capital’s structural changes and repositioning. In the article the head of a prominent sovereign wealth fund is quoted as posing a perhaps surprising and searching question - ‘who do they want to be; what’s their brand?’
This question has surprisingly little to do with marketing, advertising, or external perception, all of which are so often conflated with brand. Instead it represents a more fundamental concern with the company’s strategic direction, inner-workings, culture, and aims. In short, what is this company about and why? Brand has never been more needed, or indeed more vital. For venture capitalists and sovereign wealth funds now too, it seems.
When fully realised, brand is the beating heart of any great company. It creates a sense of shared meaning and provides the platform for an organisation to move forwards with conviction, confidence, and purpose. It animates the system, structure, and story.
If you want your brand to be understood on the outside, it first has to resonate and take root on the inside. It has to create your culture, inspire your people and teams, and unify them around an inspirational vision of the future.
Lead with brand
Most organisations are full of great individuals and teams, trying to do great things. But when the framework that brand provides is missing, much of this effort and impetus collides in on itself. Projects pull in different directions.
Strategic aims get lost and convoluted on their journey throughout the organisation. People lack alignment and direction. Product development doesn’t speak to marketing. It’s a recipe for head-scratching confusion at best, and chaos at worst.
However, if executive teams and founders commit to answering, cascading, and embodying who the company is, why it exists, how it creates value, what it does do and doesn’t do, how it does things and so on, then the conditions for building exceptional cultures and companies prevail.
With brand at the core, organisations are galvanised by the unstoppable momentum that its clarity and cut-through brings. The effect is magnetic, pointing everyone in the same direction.
People are liberated to pursue actions that drive their organisation forwards and act as a multiplier to those of their colleagues. Something is ‘on-brand’ not because of how it looks or sounds, but because of what it means and does. The impact it has, not just the image it projects.
Brand is a superpower
Counter to conventional wisdom then, brand starts inside. If you haven’t done the hard work to align and empower your people behind a compelling and coherent set of imperatives, your impact and growth will stumble. And you can’t possibly expect consumers and other stakeholders to come along for the journey too.
It won’t matter what you market and advertise or what your logo looks like, because the essential meaning behind these things will be absent. Quite simply, you won’t have created a brand, you’ll have done some branding, some social media, or some advertising.
With a clear sense of the brand however, organisations transform their capacity for talent attraction, market disruption, innovation, and yes, amazing marketing. It serves not only in good times, but difficult times too.
We’ve seen this time and again in our work with ambitious leaders. We’ve partnered with Sky to help them transform from a distrusted utility to Europe’s leading entertainment company over many years, projects, and relationships.
Sky knows itself. It believes in challenging the status quo. It believes in relentlessly reinventing entertainment and technology. It believes in better for customers and the planet.
This fundamental philosophy has helped it grow from TV and broadband, to mobile, content creation, sustainability leadership, smart tech, and even insurance, with over 30000 colleagues now living, breathing, and driving the brand forwards.
In our work with global agriculture technology leader UPL, we put the power of brand at the heart of their merger with Arysta to create a culture-forward, purpose-led organisation. Brand was not simply the wrapper for the new business, but the catalyst for invention and imagination.
We developed values, behaviours, rituals, and rhythms to reinforce this vision in every single moment and touchpoint, so that the new UPL was powered by its culture. And critically this gave leaders and teams the clarity and conviction to push the business forwards in a unified and focused manner.
Brand rallies people
When brand is used to imagine what an organisation can be and compel its people towards that future, amazing things happen.
So, start by answering the big questions and provide your people with the beliefs, stories and principles through which to act.
Make brand everyone’s business and elevate it above marketing as the most powerful driver for everything in the organisation.
Use it to align aims, objectives, functions, and agendas. Use it to fill people with a sense of freedom and as a filter for what not to do. Use it as a force for good.
But most of all find simple, big powerful ideas that transcend cliches, categories and norms to unite people behind an exciting and invigorating agenda.