Before You Rebrand, Find Your Red Thread
In all the years that Tamsen has done branding and messaging strategy, the one thing that always been true is that no one is ever happy with the result of a branding or rebranding exercise. The reason for that is that we tend to confuse a brand with what creates it.
When we do a rebranding, we’re ultimately trying pass off the complete ownership of who we are to somebody else. The problem with that is that nobody is as much of an expert in who we are as we are. The only way to make such an effort successful is to find a way to blend your expertise in your own self with a branding company’s expertise in what the market looks like, what messages are effective, and what effective brands look like.
We work with others on branding because it’s really hard because it’s hard to step outside of ourselves and look back in. This where the Red Thread process is meant to help because it gets you step outside of your perspective with objective questions about what creates your brand in the first place. What are the Goals, Problems, and Ideas that are behind everything that you do?
When you step back, you realize something very important: the brand isn’t the baseline of an organization— it’s the manifestation of something else: the Red Thread. It’s the manifestation of why you do what you do, the way that you do it. Figure that out, and the rest will take care of itself.
Have you ever been through a brand development exercise or a re-brand that hasn’t gone quite the way you or your organization hoped? I think that’s because we tend to confuse a brand with what creates it. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
There’s one thing I’ve noticed in all the years that I’ve done branding and messaging strategy, and it’s this: that despite all the change, one thing has remained true, no one is happy. No one is happy, fully happy, with the result of a branding effort, or if they are it’s really, really rare. And the reason why, in my opinion, that happens is something that brings me and reminds me of something I learned back in my days as a Weight Watchers leader.
Now that may be surprising, but for 15 years in addition to my full-time job I worked for Weight Watchers. I had lost a bunch of weight, I wanted to help other people do that, and so for a number of years I was the person at the front of the meeting room helping anywhere from 15 to 150 people learn how to lose weight using, at that time, the Weight Watchers program. Now, I’m not here to endorse Weight Watchers, though I’m a big fan. I’m here to tell you a lesson that we were taught, and I think that lesson is the root of why so often we’re not happy with our brand, whatever it might be. What we were taught was that we as leaders were experts in the program, but our members, the people trying to lose weight, were experts in themselves, and we could never be as expert in them as they were.
Now they could be as expert as we were about Weight Watchers but they were always gonna be more expert about them, and this I think is where most branding efforts go wrong, is that for one reason or another, and always good reasons I think, we try to pass off to somebody else the complete ownership of what it is that we are, and that’s never gonna work, because, well, nobody’s as expert in us as we are. It’s why every organization that I’ve ever been in that has gone through a re-brand that went through an outside company was never happy with it, and it’s why when I was at those companies that were doing the brand for the organizations we were always frustrated too, because once this beautiful brand got into the organization they started to do stuff with it, they started to change it and make it their own. Why? Because they were the experts.
Now, what was important to understand is that each of us, just like the Weight Watchers and the leaders and the members had their expertise, that happens too, and that’s why when you’re trying to find a brand or a message, it’s important to make sure you’re using a process that blends that expertise, yours and your own self or your organization, with the expertise of someone who understands what the market looks like, what a brand that’s effective looks like, what a story or message that’s effective looks like. It’s only when you put those two together that you really get what you’re looking for.
And why is that? Why do you need both, can’t you just do it yourself? Well yeah, I think it is possible to do it yourself, except it’s really hard, and I think a lot of times that’s why we go out to other people. I like to use the metaphor of the fact that a computer can’t see its own code. We can see the manifestation of the code, just like we can see what our desktop looks like, for instance, but each thing on the desktop, each way that our computer works, is tied to a specific command back in its code. And as people, as organizations, we’re the same way. The things that we do, what it looks like, how we do it, why we do what we do and the way that we do it, those things on our collective desktop, are all tied back to code, to how we are structured and the meaning that our organization creates day to day.
But, just like a computer, it’s really hard to see it. It’s hard to step outside of ourselves and look back in. But that’s where, honestly, that’s where the Red Thread process is meant to help, because what it does is it helps get you to step outside of your perspective, to open the control window into how you operate, so that you can ask objective questions. Not about what your brand is and what you think it should be, but what is it that creates it in the first place?
What are the Goals that you want to solve, either for yourself or for the world or for your clients and customers? What are the Problems as you see them? What are the Ideas that give those problems meaning? What are the Ideas that guide why you do what you do? What are the things that you produce, what are the services that you offer? What are the competencies that you’ve built over time? And what does that translate to that people can use to help get them to their Goals?
When we can step back and look at each of those individual pieces, we realize something very important, and I think another reason why the branding exercises can sometimes go wrong, is that the brand isn’t the baseline, it isn’t the deepest level of an organization. It’s the manifestation of something else. It’s the manifestation of the Red Thread. It’s the manifestation of why you do what you do the way that you do it.
So this is good news, if you can go back and figure out by yourself or with somebody else what you do, why you do it that way, and how, you find your Red Thread. Then you’ve got the core that helps you understand what the brand is that naturally manifests from that. Not aspirationally, but what is the incredibly strong, differentiated brand that’s based on who you already are and what you already do. From there, then you can figure out well what is the message that we want to put forward through that brand? And again, it will come back to your Red Thread, why you do what you do the way that you do it. And it can even help guide what products, what services you offer, and in what way.
So the next time you’re trying to figure out, “Well what should my brand be?” Go find your Red Thread first, and the brand will come immediately after. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and if you need an extra set of eyes on that Red Thread, contact me at tamsenwebster.com/contact.