BRAND THE UNBREAKABLE FRAME

missyhackthomas

UnbreakableFrame

BRAND:

THE

UNBREAKABLE

FRAME

BY RYAN SCHULZ


STORIES ARE GREAT

TOOLS THAT ALLOW

PEOPLE TO CONNECT

WITH AND ASSIGN VALUE

TO A MESSAGE OR IDEA.

They have the power to influence behavior,

inspire action and persuade perspectives.

Telling stories about the brands we market

is at the core of what we do as impactful

communicators. We spend most of our time

trying to protect the frame that others attempt

to put around our organizations.

We believe there are three levers of identity

that people use when describing most

B2B and professional services organizations:

relationships, reputation and

intellectual property.

Failing to adequately frame the conversation

around your brand surrenders your story to

the competition and other stakeholders that

try and frame it for you. The story becomes

disjointed. Experiences that your audiences

have with your brand, on or offline, greatly

influence how others perceive you. However,

these messages don’t always consistently

reflect your organization’s true essence.

IN SHORT: It creates an unclear and

complicated mess.

It takes a well-articulated and differentiated

brand to frame the conversation around these

three levers, and an even stronger one to do

that when you’re not in the room to speak

for it.

2


SO THE INEVITABLE QUESTION THAT IS ON YOUR MIND IS:

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?


WHY ISN’T

MY BRAND

WORKING

FOR ME?


We believe it is largely because of a

misunderstanding around positioning and

value propositions. When positioning isn’t

clear, organizations typically have a broken

view of their competitive or comparative

set. And in our experience, marketers have

too narrow a view of their value proposition,

resulting in brands with very similar core

messages (see such bland terms as

trustworthy, client-focused, results-driven

or collaborative). These core messages

simply do not serve to differentiate.

A truly differentiated

brand is an

unbreakable

frame built from

the consistent use

of identity and

character across

all communications

channels.

It is a lens through which all of your

communications flow, and it gives context to

who you are as an organization. We’d like to

take an in-depth look into how to construct

this unbreakable frame and highlight the

importance of digital-first thinking within

your marketing efforts. In doing so, we will

further explore how true brand differentiation

is key to telling the compelling story your

organization needs.

3


TABLE OF CONTENTS

SECTION I

5 | Defining Brand & True Differentiation

6 | An Authentic Point of View

7 | The Brand Plan Pyramid

SECTION II

8 | A New Standard for Brand Engagement

9 | Thinking Digitally

10 | The Self-Directed Buyer

11 | Marketing Technology for Brand Marketers

SECTION III

12 | Define Your Direction: IBM

14 | Find Engaging Visuals: CBRE

15 | Express Your Organizational Character Through Social Media: Gartner

SIDEBARS

8 | The Rise of the CXO

11 | A New Generation of Decision Makers

13 | 5 Signs You Need a Brand Refresh

CONCLUSION

17 | Conclusion

4


DEFINING BRAND &

TRUE DIFFERENTIATION

SECTION I

Many executives think of their brand as being limited to a logo, tagline or

color palette. Although these elements are important, they are actually just

components of your brand; verbal and visual signifiers for your organization.

They are representations of your brand; cues to help audiences remember

their experiences with you. They are not, however, your brand.

A more holistic way of thinking

about Brand is as the “sticky glue”

that connects business strategy and

customer/client experiences. Brand

stickiness emanates from a clear

understanding of what story is at

the heart of your organization.

That story is your Brand Essence:

an intangible feeling one gets in

the presence of your brand.

This is defined and reinforced

by what makes you different,

memorable and unique.

Collaborative. Responsive.

Client-focused. Innovative. Far from

being memorable or unique, these

are some of the most commonly

used go-to-market messages for

B2B and professional services

organizations. Nearly identical value

propositions like these create a

dangerous “sea of sameness.”

Besides being uninteresting, this

environment also puts undue

pressure and emphasis on the

professionals of these seemingly

identical organizations to be the

differentiators themselves.

As marketers, we must dig deeper.

We need to find a point of view

that is authentic to the character

of our organization and unique to

our competitive set and vertical.

Without this, it’s impossible to

separate from the pack and present

your clients and customers with a

brand experience that is more than

just your snappy color palette or

slick logo.

BRAND ESSENCE:

an intangible feeling one gets

in the presence of your brand.

5


SECTION I

AN AUTHENTIC POINT

OF VIEW

True differentiation, and understanding what that means, is key to client

identification, loyalty and a proper flow of brand equity. So how do you find

that unique point of view that is interesting and differentiated enough to define

your brand in a productive way? We find it helpful to continue thinking in terms

of frameworks.

The segment for whom the

positioning is focused on.

The category of services in

the competitive set.

What the brand delivers to

the market that is credible,

differentiated and relevant.

Activities, technologies and

capabilities that prove the

brand is capable of delivering.

Target Audience

Frame of Reference

Key Benefit

Reasons to Believe

For

who are looking for

there is ,

the

because only

is .

This positioning framework can

help evaluate the language your

organization uses to describe its

point of view. Overly common

descriptors like collaboration or

innovation can be understood in

this framework as the “reasons to

believe” in your organization. They

help prove your brand is capable of

delivering.

Here, the key benefit of your

organization is your differentiator;

what you bring to the market that is

unique, ownable and interesting.

6


THE BRAND PLAN PYRAMID

SECTION I

Starting with a strongly differentiated brand essence and purpose and working

downward, we find this diagram helpful when understanding and prioritizing

the key components of your Brand Plan.

1

DEFINE A PLATFORM

BRAND

IDEA

BRAND PERSONA

2

MAKE A PLAN

BRAND STRATEGY

COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY

3

EXECUTE THE STRATEGY

TACTICS

4

CREATE THE EXPERIENCE

OVERALL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

1 Your Essence and Purpose

define why you do what you do,

and what makes you inherently

you. This is what requires true

differentiation. Your Brand

Persona is what your company

is doing and saying about what

they do. These building blocks

uncover true Corporate Character

and help set the stage for the

meat of your Brand Plan.

2 Next, we have Brand

Strategy. This is about bringing

your persona to life in order

to achieve a set of goals

or specified outcome. Your

Communications Strategy covers

what you want to say, and how

your company should say it.

These are fundamental to ensure

you are aligning Brand building

blocks with the capabilities, goals

and needs of your company.

3 The logistics and the

requirements to execute

the strategy are your Tactics.

There is often great pressure

put on marketing departments

to think tactically; and to

make matters worse, most

organizations are really good

at doing so. The result is that

they often jump straight to this

step. Without understanding

how your brand is defined at

every stage of the pyramid, the

resulting tactics will often feel

as though they are coming from

many different brands instead of

one. It’s important to ensure your

Brand Idea, Brand Persona, Brand

Strategy and Communications

Strategy are all building upon

each other and working to inform

your overall tactics.

4 The only thing that really

matters is the experience your

clients and customers have

with your brand. If there is

misalignment between who

think you are and the way your

clients are feeling, your brand

will only crumble. Allow everyone

within your organization to tell

a different story, and you’ve

just made matters much worse.

Proper flow of brand equity relies

on a central narrative that is

played out across every single

touchpoint.

7


SECTION II

A NEW STANDARD FOR

BRAND ENGAGEMENT

Expectations on B2B brands have shifted.

THE RISE

OF THE CXO

The way we engage with

our clients, customers and

employees has completely

evolved. During the last 50 years,

we’ve transitioned from purely

face-to-face brand engagement

that occurred in brick-andmortar

storefronts, to

customer experiences that

now occur exclusively online.

Today, all business is digital—

even if you still operate out of

brick-and-mortar headquarters.

This digital shift often removes

something very important from

the equation: you.

This evolution has also taken

peer-to-peer communication

about your brand to another

level. Digital may make it

easier for you to share your

brand stories, but it also forces

you to relinquish a lot of control

as to how your stories are being

shared and who exactly is on

the receiving end. If you aren’t

putting messages out there

that are deeply rooted in the

character of your organization—

your brand essence—it will be

done for you. You can, however,

guide these conversations and

constantly work to protect the

frame around your organization

by sharing authentic and

consistent stories that highlight

your brand essence in an

unforgettable way.

Delivering best-in-class, seamless

online experiences is the new standard

that has been set by customers.

This shift has not only created the

Self-Directed Buyer but a new executive

position for some companies as well:

Chief Experience Officers (CXO). These

executives are charged with ensuring

the customer experience is not only

at the forefront of brand strategy, but

carried out across every customer

interaction before, during and after

conversion.

For companies without a CXO, the

responsibilities of ensuring positive

customer experiences throughout brand

engagement fall on a variety of brand

marketing roles.

8


THINKING DIGITALLY

SECTION II

When it comes to utilizing digital, many organizations take a process-driven

approach to brand planning and inevitably lump this tactic alongside all

the others.

This process will prove

severely lacking, as digital is the

medium through which all your

communications flow. Applying a

digital lens upfront helps dictate the

intent behind your different tactics,

whether online or off. It also makes

examining audience behaviors much

easier and data-rich. Knowing where

your customers are active online,

and how they want to engage and

consume information, all contributes

to a well-informed brand strategy.

THE NEW “FACE-TO-FACE”

In today’s connected

communications environment,

digital is the medium through

which all your communications

should flow.

SEAMLESS

MARKETING

CONTEXTUAL

MARKETING

PRINT

BRAND

PLATFORM

DIGITALLY

CENTERED BRAND

&

COMMUNICATIONS

STRATEGY

CAMPAIGN

EVENTS

INTERNAL

PARTNERSHIPS

PITCHES/PROPOSALS

9


SECTION II

THE SELF-DIRECTED BUYER

Modern buyers have all the information they need about you literally at their

fingertips. Better informed, connected and more skeptical than ever before,

they crawl the Internet looking at your digital footprint. They explore and

solicit comments and reviews written about you on every platform. A little

freaky, right?

The Corporate Executive Board

acknowledges this shift. They found

recently that the average B2B buyer

is 57% through their purchase

decision before engaging any

representative of your organization. 1

Today’s self-directed buyer will

experience the character of your

organization long before you even

step in the door (assuming there’s

one there to begin with). If you aren’t

putting direct messages out there

about your brand—or if your brand

isn’t differentiated enough to stand

on its own—the modern buyer is

more than happy to build their own

story for you based on everything

else they’ve read or heard.

THE AVERAGE B2B BUYER

is 57% through their purchase

decision before engaging

any representative of your

organization.

A strong brand and communications

strategy executed across all of your

channels, online or off, allows you

to communicate with the self-directed

buyer in a way that exemplifies

your brand story and essence

while also meeting their information

consumption needs.

10 1

https://salesandmarketing.com/content/mapping-buyer%E2%80%99s-journey


MARKETING TECHNOLOGY

FOR BRAND MARKETERS

SECTION II

Dictating and controlling this brand and

communications strategy is no small task.

From demonstrating ROI and securing budget

to attracting top talent and training employees,

the demands on brand marketers are high in

all areas of business. There’s little time to listen

to your audiences and, therefore, limited room

for agility or adaptation. What’s more, many

B2B and professional services organizations

lack the internal infrastructure needed to

measure and monitor client experiences and

gather feedback.

A NEW

GENERATION OF

DECISION MAKERS

Besides consumer brands’ influence

on customer expectations, business

marketers must now take into account

the motivations, behaviors and buying

habits of digital natives and, more

specifically, millennials. A term loosely

applied to those born after 1980, digital

natives are the next generation of

decision makers who are entering the

C-suite, launching startups and buying

professional services.

Fortunately for all of us, the

advancements in marketing

technology have helped to

overcome this hurdle. Although

challenges can vary across

industry or market, digital is an

empowering tool that allows

marketers to break down

organizational silos, listen

intelligently, respond quickly

and adjust plans in a nimble

way. This ultimately results in

a unified experience for the

customer by effectively closing

the feedback loop.

each group’s unique needs and

expectations. In turn, they will

uncover and understand the

data at their fingertips, applying

insights and finding the

alignment between their

audience(s), business strategy

and industry opportunities.

Millennials’ growing role in the

workforce and marketplace is not a

ground-breaking discussion; however,

it’s important to note this group’s

relevance in how brand continues to

evolve. Knowingly or not, this group is

demanding more out of B2B brands—

they desire to work for, and with,

companies that feel authentic and

real. The sea of sameness won’t cut it

with these folks. As the B2B industry

becomes increasingly commoditized,

establishing a strong brand is

paramount to achieving differentiation,

which is key to building true customer

loyalty, regardless of generation.

The role of the Brand Marketer in

this situation is to clearly identify

audience sets and understand

11


SECTION III

DEFINE YOUR DIRECTION

You may have come to the conclusion that your brand could use a bit of a

facelift. As you begin considering how to tackle your brand strategy, you

might find these suggestions helpful to refresh your brand and strengthen the

framework that exists there. Included in this section are also some examples

of B2B organizations who have done an impressive job demonstrating great

brand work.

The value in creating engaging and

consistent guidelines for your brand

cannot be understated. Having a

resource for internal and external

audiences that explains how your

brand should be represented

cross-channel can create a

heightened level of consistency

and, therefore, have a lasting impact

on your audiences. Clearly defined

and documented brand guidelines

can also help solve an internal

lack of clarity around your brand’s

purpose, positioning and persona.

Defining your organizational

character for the world, as well

as your colleague sitting across

from your office, can go a long

way in terms of brand recognition

and protecting the framework of

your brand.

HOW IBM DID IT

It’s nearly impossible to talk about

great B2B brands without talking

about IBM. Here’s a firm that has

evolved many times over the

years, from selling cheese cutters,

to punch card machines, to

computer mainframes and servers,

to finally, today, selling the ability to

deal with data. All the while, the firm

has maintained its brand, sometimes

with an iron fist. You can’t help but

be impressed by the organization’s

discipline. IBM has almost 400,000

employees in 170 countries. Its

marketing department is global

and involves people from different

cultures with great distances

between them. And yet, go to

any one of the firm’s social channels,

and you will see a great amount

of discipline in everything from the

use of the logo and photography,

to the voice and tone of the

writing and the subjects covered.

It’s impressive.

12


DEFINE YOUR DIRECTION

(CONT.)

SECTION III

SO, HOW HAS IBM

DONE THIS?

It didn’t happen magically, and it

didn’t happen overnight. The firm,

for a long time now, has invested

in tools that make its marketers

more empowered by giving them

targets that they can hit over and

over again. When thinking of

successful brand guidelines, there

really is no better example in the

B2B market than IBM. IBM has

photography guidelines, design

guidelines, voice and tone

guidelines, brand guidelines and

video guidelines. It has also built

a cadre of tools that explain to its

enormous marketing team how

to use those guidelines and

create compelling (and consistent)

marketing materials over and over

again. More than that, they market

those tools to the people who

need them the most. Consider

how far a little guidance and

documentation at your

organization could go knowing

how impactful this was, and

continues to be, for IBM.

5 SIGNS YOU NEED A BRAND REFRESH

1

2

3

4

5

Your organization’s visual identity and/or digital experience

is dated or neglected, making it difficult for customers to

differentiate and create a personal connection with you.

Your marketing and communications strategy isn’t

clearly developed or aligned with core audiences.

There’s a severe distance between your business

strategy and audience needs.

Internally, there’s a lack of clarity around your brand’s

purpose, positioning and persona; organizational

character is missing.

You’ve experienced significant changes in capabilities

and/or growth and your brand hasn’t kept up.

13


SECTION III

FIND ENGAGING VISUALS

Expressing your brand with engaging visuals across your digital experience can

really help refresh your brand. Whether on social, your website or promotional

materials, expressing your brand story through impactful imagery helps tell the

story of your brand in an impactful (read: sticky) way. Visuals that are stale and

outdated make it difficult for audiences to connect to your organization.

HOW CBRE DID IT

CBRE is a great example of the

power of good, brand consistent

imagery. As king of the real estate

market, the firm realized a few years

ago that its brand story revolved

around owning big real estate in

major metropolitan areas. What’s a

great way to showcase real estate in

an engaging way? Photography.

And where’s a better place to

engage your audience with

photography than the ever-popular

Instagram? This tool has allowed

for great brand recognition for B2C

and B2B firms alike, and CBRE is

no exception. CBRE doesn’t always

shoot its own photos, but it is

so consistent in the kinds of

photography that it chooses, it

doesn’t matter if the organization

shot the images itself or not. Taking

its passion for photography one step

further, CBRE even sponsored an

urban photography contest.

This same approach can work

for other professional services

organizations. For example, say that

you are a global law firm with offices

in cities around the world. Why not

pick a style of photography that suits

your brand, and take photos of all

of the cities you are in? Better than

that, make it about your clients.

Take pictures of all of the cities

that you do work in around the

world. Now you are telling a human,

global, client-centered story

without ever uttering even one

of those words that lead you back

to that sea of sameness.

14


EXPRESS YOUR

ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTER

THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA

SECTION III

A well-differentiated brand is no good without the power to express it

cross-channel. One very effective method of doing so is through social media.

In many ways, social media is the language of the web.

Everything needs to be shareable

and postable. Doing so exhibits

that you are alive and active. It

shows that you have real people

who work for you and your real

company. It may not be right for

every communications challenge,

but it can be especially helpful

when it comes to specific

goals like recruiting, promoting

CSR initiatives, internal

communications, character

building, thought leadership

or news and alerts. It also gives

you a chance to make bits of

your brand shareable.

places. Highlight your insights

in sharable posts; spread them

around the web like proverbial

breadcrumbs leading back to

the mother-load of content and

thought leadership.

A short (but important) warning

when it comes to social: prepare

to be disciplined or prepare to

be diluted. Social media was built

for sharing. Don’t put big heavy

pieces of thought leadership

here. That’s what your blog(s) are

for. Social media is a great way to

drive people to those more robust

1515


SECTION III

EXPRESS YOUR

ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTER

THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA

HOW GARTNER DID IT

Gartner, an information research and

technology company, does a great

job of promoting its brand while

driving traffic and giving attention to

the firm’s robust thought leadership

at the same time. In this case,

Gartner has a very similar social

media strategy for all of its channels.

It curates news from sources it knows

will resonate with its audiences and

reinforce the brands of the different

sources (Forbes, Inc. etc.). Gartner

also uses social to drive traffic to its

thought leadership and to spread its

insights around the web.

Gartner has created a very specific

and consistent look and feel for

these social nuggets. Each one

follows a similar design aesthetic and

employs a similar photography style.

The headlines are catchy and easy to

read at a glance (more likely to grab

you while you are scrolling), and the

way that they are written reinforces

the brand positioning of the firm.

The result is a series of graphics

that are worthy, most of the time, of

being shared. Each item either links

or displays a link back to a blog or a

thought leadership piece. Social isn’t

making its world harder and more

complicated. Social has become a

content engagement engine for

the organization; an engine that it

can measure, that tells a very rich

brand story.

16


CONCLUSION

BRAND is no longer simply a way to

sell a product; it is an overall message,

encouraging personal relationships

between the business and the customer.

Success today largely depends on

communicating that message with a

connected and coordinated marketing

approach, led by digital. A well-defined,

digitally-centered brand informs business

and marketing strategy, and sets the stage for

improved performance across all touch points,

online or off. The evolution of technology has

raised expectations for B2B and professional

services brands, and continuing to evolve with

that process will be what sets you apart from

the rest.

One of the most important takeaways here is the

value of being different, unique and differentiated.

And why is this so crucial? It makes customers pay

more attention to you, making it easier for them

to pick you out of this sea of sameness. This is

innovation with a different slant or idea that

connects directly to you. A plotline for your

organization, even your pricing structure can have

a better rationale with a clearly defined brand story.

As a result, we’re left with a powerful framework

of context—communicated through digital—that is

impactful and resonates with your key audiences,

asserting why you exist and how you can help.

151717


CONCLUSION

FIND ENGAGING VISUALS

With a keen sense of storytelling and more than a decade of brand work

to his name, Ryan Schulz is One North’s Director, Brand. He helps clients

clearly identify, define and embrace their brand essence, purpose and value

proposition. His goal is to advise clients so that they can communicate with

their own clients more effectively. Previously, Ryan served as Vice President

of Marketing and Communications for Vosges Haut-Chocolat and also as

Director of Brand and Communications Strategy at VSA Partners.

Ryan can be reached at rschulz@onenorth.com.

If you like what you’ve read here

and are interested in engaging

in a conversation with One North

to develop and/or harness a

brand for your organization,

contact Dawn Michalak at

dmichalak@onenorth.com or

+1 312.873.6889.

18


ABOUT

One North is a digital agency dedicated to

delivering compelling customer experiences for

B2B organizations. One North has partnered with

hundreds of businesses to produce digital solutions

aimed at strengthening their most valuable asset:

their relationships. From brand planning, digital

strategy and creative services, to front and back-end

development and technology support, One North’s

team of 85+ innovative minds work collaboratively to

create digital experiences that intelligently connect

business strategy and marketing activities.

For more information, visit www.onenorth.com.

onenorth.com/ideas

@OneNorth

company/one-north-interactive

OneNorthInteractive

19

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