Open creation in branding

Who builds a brand? Is it the brand manager, his advertising agency, clients who talk positively about the brand? All of the above, one might say. But then we are missing out on the most important group of brand builders: the rich community of employees representing the brand on a daily basis. No matter what any advertising campaign shouts out to the world, it’s the people within the organization who make or break the brand. They are the brand. Whether it’s in product development, human resources, communication, finance, customer service or any other discipline, passionate employees, driven by a shared purpose, ensure the best brand experience. So, why are they then so often not part of the brand creation process? "Our people are our most important asset.” "Our people are crucial. They make the difference." We all seem to agree that "our people" make or break the brand. Yet in most companies, visions, missions, brand positioning, rebranding and visual identity development are created by a select group of people on top management level, without input from the work floor. Afterwards, we expect ‘our people’ to enthusiastically embrace the new strategy and do everything they can to make the desired changes. If they understand what is intended, that is. Result: the new strategy feels imposed by the board and nothing changes. Besides the housestyle maybe. Or the new slogan.

A missed opportunity. For such symbolic signals of change can have a positive impact, provided they have been established in a more democratic way. We can vote for Idols, chat with politicians, start a movement on Facebook and make any topic trending on Twitter. But collectively influencing the strategy of the organizations we work for is highly unusual. And unwanted! A while ago, a managing director told me: "I do not want to ask my people what they think. Then I have to listen to them and am obliged to do something with their input!". Yet, exactly that is necessary, if companies want to survive in this age of transparency, social media, soul searching and a future generation of employees who are not impressed by traditional hierarchical relationships.

Necessary and possible. Social technology allows us to engage in dialogue with all employees at once (whether they are a hundred or ten thousand) and to jointly discover their meaningful purpose. A shared mission that steers behavior and is represented by the brand. It starts with being interested in who ‘our people’ actually are. Ask for their input, find out what drives them, why they go to work every day, what they love about it, and how they would love it even more. You would be surprised how much human emotive capital is right there, waiting to inspire the creation of an appealing brand. And, while they are involved, why not feed them back the choices made during the process? So that those can be thought over, discussed, challenged, adjusted, improved and put into action? By the time the new or refreshed brand is ready to reach the outside world, the inside world is ready and able. And motivated! It is their brand after all. They created it. Together.

At BR-ND, we believe that all employees are as important for the company and its brand image as the CEO. As they are expected to be the brand, why not involve them all in the brand creation process? Decisions made by the leadership team should not be 'set in stone', they should leave room for feedback by the collective. Let them inspire it, question it, be critical, adapt it. A new strategy should not be a top-down directive, but a bottom-up process in which everyone takes part. Invented here. Not only internally, but externally as well: partners, suppliers, customers and the general public. Because, let's face it, the public debate about your brand takes place anyway.

Let’s open up. Take the strategy development process away from behind the closed doors of the boardroom. Stop the secretive creation of positioning statements. Use social tools to start the dialogue. With our InMotion platform, BR-ND is ready for it. Are you? Be brave and democratize strategy. Make ‘our people’ the biggest fans!

BR-ND InMotion has been developed together with Josien Pieters MSc. You can read her full scientific report on open brand innovation here.