Create, sustain, evolve: engaging your organization to keep your brand healthy and relevant

by Roger Sametz or

Number seven in a seven-part series, ‘Branding in the age of social’

You know you’ve been successful in building your brand when it’s clear that your constituents have taken ownership of it: when your logo is on their t-shirts, when applicants for your MBA program use your main messages in their essays, when outside bloggers clearly have understood your vision, when fan groups form around a key offering, when something as simple as a color evokes what you’re about….

In other words, when people find that their personal brands are enhanced by connection to yours.

Achieving this happy state of affairs requires working through the process we’ve outlined in earlier articles in this series: conducting research, understanding your constituents, evolving a brand foundation, developing a messaging framework and visual system, and then implementing an action plan to get the word out.

But even if you’re about to launch your new website, and new brochures that support your new presence at a trade show are rolling off the presses, you’re not there yet. You have to engage your organization first.

Only by involving those around you in the rollout and ongoing delivery of your brand—only by encouraging your colleagues whose business cards don’t say “marketing” to take ownership of your brand system—will you be able to:

be confident that all those who communicate, formally and informally, on behalf of the enterprise are helping to build the desired brand meaning “out there”—making it easier, quicker (and cheaper) for your constituents to learn and internalize your brand;

achieve an enthusiastic level of voluntary buy-in that not only propels creative, brand-building communications and behavior, but also decreases the need for “brand police;”

not be beholden (forever) to outside consultants, because you’ll be able to achieve a good level of self-sufficiency;

have the shared thinking and context needed to evaluate brand progress—and make adjustments needed going forward to drive continuing success.

What to do…

Anoint a champion / cheerleader

Having a C-suite leader is critical for rolling out and building engagement around your brand. He or she needs to communicate why and how your brand system is strategically important to the company’s success, that it’s a valuable asset to be carefully managed, that it’s a priority for him or her, and, yes, that everyone needs to do his or her part to bring it alive. Your colleagues need to know, from the top, that your new brand system is not cake icing—it’s the ingredient that makes the cake rise.

Create truly useful documentation

People who commission, evaluate, and make communications (including outside consultants) need to know the strategy behind your brand system as well as the tactics for implementing it. Good documentation ensures that the “why” turns into actual “whats” and “hows.” It can be made available as a book, a pdf, or, via an intra- or extranet site (even a wiki!). Connect theory to practice through examples that people can relate to. Make un-breakable logos and print and digital templates available electronically.

Having a C-suite leader is critical for rolling out and building engagement around your brand. He or she needs to communicate why and how your brand system is strategically important to the company’s success.

Rollout big—and then small

This is your opportunity to build enthusiasm, transfer knowledge, and create buy-in. Start wide: hijack the agenda of an all-company meeting (whether people are present in reality or virtually). After the C-level introduction and endorsement, present the big-picture view of the brand system: from research, to brand strategy and positioning, to verbal and visual expression, and finally, a plan to reach constituents—along with highlights from the documentation. Show how it will be easier and more satisfying to communicate and behave “in brand.” (All the while a brand elf has made the rounds distributing new business cards and branded mugs!)

Follow up this wide intro with group or departmental meetings (with documentation in hand)

The goal of these meetings is to work with people to help them integrate new brand thinking into what they have to do, whether it’s preparing a brochure for a trade show, answering the phone differently, or planning a sales strategy for solution selling. There is always some resistance to change, so hear their concerns—and be sure to get back to them with practical responses that help them both do their jobs and build the brand.

Monitor and govern. Convene a cross-functional brand group (if you haven’t earlier in the process)

Distributing ownership, monitoring, and governance further encourages buy-in and ensures the brand project isn’t thought of as the product of one department—it’s everyone’s responsibility. Together, evolve a system for reviewing materials before input is too late, for coaching those who need it, and for rewarding best practices. Mounting superior efforts on an intranet, for instance, encourages the right kind of competition between groups. Everyone wants a gold star.

More and more, individuals communicate via tweets, blogs, and participation in online communities. Give people the tools they need to represent you to best advantage.

Establish appropriate policies for personal expression

Today, only some communications are centrally controlled from HQ. Much, if not most, is done by decentralized groups. More and more, individuals communicate via tweets, blogs, and participation in online communities. Give people the tools they need to represent you to best advantage. Set up “reasonable” boundaries for personal expression, in line with your company’s culture. Being heavy-handed is likely to backfire (as ESPN learned not long ago).

Keep tabs on progress—internally and externally

Is the brand taking hold internally? What additional tools are needed? What needs to be tweaked? Externally, results come in different dimensions: some are tangible and immediate (you sold more software agreements and quarterly revenues are up). Some results are less tangible: you’re starting to be mentioned more in the blogs your customers follow, a result that should lead to more tangible results. Some indicators are proxies for your brand taking hold: more people apply to work with you and there is more interest from potential partners.


The best homework, process, decisions, and rollout only get you started. Continuing research is needed to see what’s working and what isn’t. And it’s likely that your constituents’ needs and expectations will change over time, as will the environments within which you operate. A strong brand system—one based on shared thinking and approaches, not rules—will have the ability to evolve as needs dictate, without breaking. If your brand has been internalized by your colleagues, the time you’ve invested in coming up with clear notions of your value and position—and their visual and verbal expression—will pay you additional dividends: shared thinking will help all of you to make smart decisions as each new challenge comes your way. Remember: brand-building is a process, not an event.

Branding in the age of social: a seven-part series

Your constituents have new expectations. They want to (actually!) interact with your organization. Beyond wanting to know what they want to know—when they want to know it—they want to know (and feel) how your organization and its brand align with their personal brands and values.

Achieving that alignment has always been critical to effective brand-building—and to increasing participation, advocacy, and support. But it’s not enough to design a new logo, snappy tagline, brochures, and website. (It never was.)

Brand-building in this social age—social branding—goes beyond social, or even digital, media. At the core, it’s about achieving resonance between you and your constituents’ expectations and values—through communications, offerings, and behavior.

In this article series, we outline the seven elements of the social branding process, and show how you can maximize the connection between you and your constituents—and between your constituents and their trusted friends and peers—to increase social capital.