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David Brouitt, Creative Director at Ramp Communications, Talks About the Essential, Often Forgotten, Branding Fundamentals

Whether this is your first or 51st year in business, brands big and small, young and old, must all abide by the fundamentals of marketing communications.

In an ideal scenario, a cohesive brand will produce each piece of collateral as yet another thread in one overarching narrative. But all too often, stories become murkier over time. Shifts in leadership, changing marketplaces, and new ways to market to consumers, all act together to cloud the original vision that sparked the creation of the company in the first place. Essentially, you can lose sight of why your brand does what it does.

Get back to basics and be clear on your purpose, with these tips and tricks from David Brouitt, Creative Director at Ramp Communications in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

1. Core Values, Core Values, Core Values!

“Almost all of our work [at Ramp] is in the not-for-profit sector, so these clients typically know who they are, what they stand for, and what business they’re in,” says David, adding, “But sometimes they don’t.”

According to David, getting down to core values involves digging below the surface of what your company does.

“An example might be a food bank that thinks they are in the business of simply distributing food,” he says. “Sure that’s what they do, but if they see themselves as being in the business of supplying energy to the population, so individuals can have a better chance at working or enhancing their education, suddenly they are in the business of creating a brighter future for a city.”

If you’d like to do a ‘gut check’ to see if your core values are actually being expressed, David says that it’s often helpful to ask, “What business are we in?” to a number of different individuals (as well as yourself!) at your company.

“It’s interesting that you can ask people who belong to different departments and work in different roles, and get different answers,” he says. “But you’ll start to see these core value ‘benchmarks’ reveal themselves throughout the organization.”

For instance, if your business has outlined that ‘growth’ is a core value, you may find that each department and role supplies an answer that contains an element of growth – such as increasing market share, reaching wider audiences, or meeting aggressive sales targets.

Doing this investigative work can help you determine:

  • What your real core values are, as evidenced by what people in the organization feel is important.
  • What your core values should be, based on the fact that people are already living them out.
  • Whether or not the core values that your company has said are important, are actually being brought to life in everyday actions.

“It’s hard work and can take time, and you need to include all relevant stakeholders, but once you have them in place it actually makes it easier to make all your business decisions,” David says, adding, “Including how you speak to your audience through advertising, promotions, philanthropic work, and social media.”

2. Your Brand Should Talk to the Audience, Not to Itself

“This is basic, but often, organizations are so inward-looking that they end up talking to themselves, making assumptions about what the audience knows about the company,” David says.

The fact that your brand is not the hero (your audience is), should help guide how you communicate.

Try to avoid dominating the external conversation with statements that use jargon, industry-insider assumptions, or worst of all, talk about what ‘we’ are doing.

Doing the above is akin to being the person in a crowded room who goes from person to person, telling them about all of the wonderful things that you’ve been up to and how you’re changing the world.

You may be wonderful, and you may be having an incredible impact on the world, but there is a time and place to make announcements – which is generally at times when your company has made breakthrough strides… And this isn’t something that happens every day.

Audiences connect with brands that understand their problems, day-to-day lives and aspirations. Using language that reaches them on their level and contains information that helps them navigate difficulty or reach new heights, will always connect in a more powerful way. This ultimately makes your company more memorable.

“I believe that now, more than ever, the only way you’ll connect is by being true to who you are as an organization, and by being transparent in how you conduct business,” David adds.

3. Great Brands Engage With Their Audience

“This isn’t news or an original thought,” David says. “But since the advent of social media, they’re going to be talking about you anyway, so you might as well be at the table.”

According to David, engagement is more than simply ensuring you’re responding to comments and questions on social media or blog posts. The manner in which you respond should also be on brand with your core values.

Is your brand fun, playful and cheeky? If so, are your responses to negative commentary by meeting the heckler head on, with a comedian’s flare? Or if your brand is diplomatic and professional, are your responses polite and to the letter of your policies and procedures?

The key is consistency across all channels.

4. Your Brand’s Core Values Should Inform its Look, Tone and Voice

“After you do the work of figuring out what you stand for, make sure you articulate that in your brand guidelines. Execute your core values at every single touchpoint,” David specifies.

A cohesive experience with your brand should be captured in your brand guidelines, which should include a description of your brand voice attributes, instructions on how that voice comes alive (e.g. punctuation, verbs that are approved and subject areas that are off-limits), among other things – like editorial and design style guidelines, colors, fonts and more.

“As an example,” says David, “If you run an amusement park, you’re in business to create a good time for people. This might mean that the tone of your brand is manifested through informal, relaxed language. At the same time, you may also be authoritative on subjects pertaining to your specific space. Your color palette in your brand guidelines might be bright and energetic.”

Get More Branding Tips and Tricks on the Sound Stories Podcast

Listen in as David Brouitt and Voices.com’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie Ciccarelli drill down into the topic of core values, including what to do if you discover that your brand values are not being lived out… Or how you can navigate the tricky business of owning up to brand values that are less than positive (e.g. think burger businesses!).

Listen in or subscribe to the Sound Stories Podcast in iTunes today.

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