4 signs your high-growth company needs brand development

Persuading company leadership that brand is worth investing in — it’s one of the first Herculean tasks faced any high-growth tech CMO.

To those in marketing, design, or brand management — this idea is self-evident. Captain Obvious.

But when the company is dominated by a tech vision, you almost always have to make the case for brand investments.

Investing in brand = shaping how people experience your company

Perception, reputation, trust, and goodwill are notoriously difficult to quantify. Gathering all of these ideas under one label (brand) gives us a handle or shorthand to discuss and manage it.

When we talk about managing brand, we’re talking about managing meaning — people’s thoughts and feelings about you. And not just any people — but the people most critical to your success. Like employees, customers, partners, and analysts, to name a few.

Examining how people create meaning is a subject worthy of its own post, but for now let’s acknowledge this: Humans are meaning-making machines.

We can’t help but tell stories, second-guess, form opinions and thoughts — about everything. The types of experiences people have through interacting with your company and products are their primary source of meaning generation.  

Managing meaning at scale is a huge opportunity — albeit a soft one from an engineering perspective. B2C companies are well versed in it. And many B2B companies are increasingly investing in methods and systems for managing this meaning. Are you one of them?

4 Leading Indicators

When it comes to getting buy-in from leadership and encouraging them to invest in brand, we see four common friction points. The best marketing leaders are the ones who know how to surface these issues quickly and align their teams in action to avoid them.

#1. Hiring surge leads to culture conflicts

As success and growth happens, companies rapidly add headcount. If you’re thinking or hearing: “Talented people are joining us without a clear sense of why we’re here.”  or, “Are we onboarding our employees effectively with our core beliefs?” — hiring is outpacing the alignment of new people to the way your company does business.

If this condition goes unchecked, it can lead to a culture vacuum.  An absence of a widespread and relevant shared belief system, which usually starts with first principles.

Or it can lead to a culture melee, where there’s fighting around the ethos or philosophy of the company. Talented people bring their past company practices with them — some of which don’t fit within you organization. This integration can be most successful when people know how and which ideas to infuse into their new company — through an already-existing shared meaning.

#2. Feature-speak leads to one-dimensionalism

If you’re reading marketing materials and saying: “We are only talking in terms of feeds and speeds. What’s the benefit? What business problem are we solving?” — then you’re spotting a common affliction. Where describing features becomes the only messages a company communicates. You’re only showing a fraction of who you are, what you do, and why you exist.

If this issue isn’t addressed, then messaging can miss the mark. Yes, some of your customers like cold-hard-facts. But do they really respond to your monotone messaging?

Companies always need a full range of messages:

  • Use cases to show applicability
  • Customer stories for social proof
  • Linking features to addressing pain points
  • Linking features to potential gains

Packaging these points into stories takes advantage of how people make meaning.

#3. Message fragmentation leads to the wild west

When a company lacks a strong messaging core, then there’s an inconsistency in the messages communicated — through both visual and verbal messages. This may sound familiar: “We have three-dozen different messages across a range of touchpoints, and each one looks and sounds different. And our sales team is spinning up new decks for every conversation. There’s a lot of good there, but we need cohesion. And don’t even look at our channel partners.”

Fragmentation is different than performance testing messaging. We’re talking about a general gap in how people communicate your offerings and company value. This gap creates a void — or a wild, untamed place where anything goes.

#4. Spinning wheels leads to the swamp

Another clear symptom. Does your team spin their wheels needlessly trying to communicate? We define needlessly as:

  • A lack of decisiveness when shipping marketing materials
  • A churn of messaging (verbal and visual) because the communication intent isn’t clear
  • A perpetual going-back-to-the-drawing-board — as different departments work through what you’re both trying to do

Here’s one way to think about it. Are you having to work really hard to communicate basic things?

There’s a scale in sports training, you may be familiar with it. Called the Rating of Perceived Exertion, it helps people self-diagnose how easy or hard an activity is. If your team is toeing the line of hard or maximum effort, there’s something to look at. Use your judgement here. Some activities — particularly new activities — need more inefficiency to be solved. They’re based more heavily on creatively exploring options.

We’re talking about wasted effort — where high exertion yields little in return.

Take a critical look at the creation of your marketing assets, and how they are translated across geos. Do you and your team think asset creation is progressing at the right pace?

Facilitating the Work To Be Done

You need to align your leadership team. Start here.

These challenges aren’t static

It can be challenging to navigate your way through these symptoms and avoid negative states. We think of them as adaptive challenges.

Big friction points that adapt over time, with numerous stakeholders, where there’s often no clear and pure solution. Where progress is highly dependent on the people involved.

As you convince your leadership team of the pain you all want to involve, you’ll have to involve them to some degree in the solving of the problem at hand. (Or at least making progress since the work is never done.)

The only way to dive into these issues is to bring the teams together to collectively solve what’s at hand. To prototype with the people who will ultimately determine your success or failure. You’ll engage them in a learning journey where you focus on prototyping technical solutions — such as messaging architectures, positioning frameworks, brand guidelines, or sales toolkits.

Highlight the interface

Just as the API governs how your technology works with others — ask yourself how these leading indicators impact the various aspects of your business.

  • How does HR think specifically about the ideas, meaning, and goals of the employee experience?
  • How does your sales organization create meaning through the process?
  • How does your marketing team contribute — through open borders — to product development?
  • And how do leaders in every function collectively take responsibility for the perception and reputation they create — the meaning made —  in order to leverage the brand in ways that serve the higher purpose of the company?

This is all about setting up meaning to scale, in the dynamic, ever-changing environment we all find ourselves in.

Bringing teams together to work through the APIs of their groups with others — and the collective brand that’s created — that’s the ultimate goal. And there are some basic pieces of infrastructure to put in place. In other words, making it possible to manage communication, feedback, and iteration, through a system of stories, symbols, airwaves, and actions.

Let’s summarize.

Every organization faces friction points based on their growth or market environment. These leading indicators suggest states that companies want to avoid.

All of these interventions are multi-dimensional, ever-adapting challenges, which are never one-and-done. They need people and systems to manage them.

They all have something do with deep humanness, managing perception, trust, or reputation. They are a natural, tangled jumble of individual and shared perspectives.

To address the indicators, take an intentional approach to managing meaning. Specifically, mold the shape of meaning for each group of people, WITH the people. Design with, not just for. Thinking in terms of the company’s shared meaning or brand — and thinking about how that agreement interfaces with each person and each function within an organization — is the key.