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Brand expressions: Why your brand needs to change depending on who you are talking to

In the latest in a series of thought pieces by Steven Giannoulis, CEO and Strategy Director from branding experts, Insight Creative, designed to help business leaders and owners realise the value derived from brand thinking, Giannoulis explains why a brand's expression should change depending on the audience.

You already know your brand needs to stand for something. But must it stand for the same thing for everyone? You’ve probably already heard about ‘being brand-aligned’ or ‘true to your brand’, so you may think me contrary if I suggest that your brand expression needs to change depending on the audience you are talking to. Hear me out, it’s not as absurd as it first sounds.

You are always you, right? (Don’t give me the “I’m not me when I’m drunk” argument. It’s still you, just a less refined version!) In different situations, you act and express yourself differently. How you act with friends and family is different from what you do in the boardroom or in formal settings. None of these expressions are any less you. It’s just you tailoring how you present yourself to the situation and the audience. And so it is with brand expression.

Unless we have an actual relationship with a company, most of us know a brand through the expression they’ve chosen to present to us. We see it on their website, in their marketing activities, through the stories they push through media and through their products. If they’ve done it well, the sum of these activities shape how people talk about the brand, eventually becoming what we accept the brand stands for.

Most of us know a brand through the expression they’ve chosen to present to us.

Many of us know a company through its offerings. In the main, the corporate brand is the platform specific product brands are built on. If you’re Ford for example, your small family car brand will be very different from your high-performance sports cars. Both product brands share the core brand attributes that express what Ford stands for. Last year we worked with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare developing their ‘care by design’ brand proposition. Now, as we work with various teams on new product launches, we actively look for ways to embed that same proposition in every product brand.

Businesses that are listed or seeking new investors really need to think about their investor brand. This can sometimes manifest itself very differently from the main brand. A few years ago we were working on an investor report for SkyCity. While their public-facing brand is about being carefree, having fun and taking risks, these aren’t attributes that inspire investor confidence. We needed to use the core brand story to express considered strategy, detailed planning and carefully orchestrated implementation. The result, The City, was a multi-layered story about the business of delivering great entertainment experiences.

As consumers put more emphasis on purpose, the need to express a community brand also takes on greater significance. We work with companies like Mercury, Tamaki Regeneration Company, Fletcher Building and Sanford and given the nature of what they do, a strong environment and community brand is a must to doing business for them. But community branding isn’t just about addressing potentially negative perceptions, it’s also about genuine engagement that leads to positive brand association. Banks, insurance companies and telcos do this well.

Another brand expression gaining greater prominence is employer branding. It’s all about fostering a brand that attracts and retains the right people. Think about just how important this is for your business. If your company is (like mine) all about creative ideas, collaboration and problem solving you need to be attracting a certain kind of person. Many companies are dedicating a section of their website or their social media platforms to talk about what it’s like working there. Others are creating specific employee brand experiences, attracting the right talent and attitude straight out of tertiary institutions. Often they use existing employees to engage with like-minded prospects in a more authentic way.

Tailor your brand story and messages to each audience, never losing the core essence of what you stand for.

A defined employee value proposition helps businesses identify what sort of people they need to deliver their business and brand strategy. For existing staff it aligns brand and culture, and for potential employees it clearly spells out why they’d want to work there, allowing them to decide if the brand aligns with their own values and aspirations. We put a lot of emphasis on developing the right employee brand for our business and it’s paying off. Not only in engaging great people but also by attracting potential clients who like seeing what we value in the people who will work with them.

Before you run off to develop a full set of brand expressions, stop and think. Be clear what your overall brand stands for. Does your brand story align with your business strategy? What about your various audiences - what do you want them to think, feel and do when thinking about your brand? Now tailor your brand story and messages to each audience, never losing the core essence of what you stand for.

Remember though, no audience specific brand story is stand alone. This simple ‘line of sight’ approach allows each of your brand expressions to be a building block, supporting and reinforcing each of the other stories and ultimately building a stronger overall brand.