by Omar Kasim
My friend Ryan and I were on our way down to the lake when we started talking about a fall semester marketing strategy for his scooter company, MopedU. He had mentioned that he wanted to get involved with the University of Arkansas and start a recycling initiative with them. “Companies like Fayettechill do recycling programs and get a lot of publicity because of it, why can’t we?” he asked.
I disagreed. The what (the recycling program) and the how (working with the University) was there, but the why was absent. Even though it worked for Fayettechill, a recycling project would not work for MopedU. The reason: the concept of Brand Alignment.
Let’s first establish what a brand is. Yes, it’s the label on a product that identifies who made it or where it is from – but brand is much more than that. Brand is your company’s identity. It’s what your audience thinks of when they see your logo or hear your company’s name. It’s the feeling your customers have when they’re using your product or service. Certainly, you can run a business without putting much thought into brand. If you’re considering scaling, however, it’s important that you identify your company’s purpose (the why) and make decisions that align with company values.
Imagine your brand is a book
Think of a brand as a novel with a front cover, summary in the back and story in the middle. With an aesthetically-appealing illustration on the front, people will be enticed to pick up the book and read the back. If the summary is captivating enough, it will prompt a sale.
If the story in between does not match what’s on the cover, however, the reader will become confused and disinterested. You don’t want that. You want the reader to buy into the story and willingly suspend disbelief. In order to accomplish that, the cover (mark and name), summary (company’s stated core values), and the story (company decisions) have to make sense.
Brand alignment occurs when the company makes decisions that align with the company’s core values and purpose. It’s the reason why Apple will never produce a low-end product and why Shake Shack is focused on quality over growth.
Companies that recognize the importance of brand alignment understand that building a viable company is not about selling a single book, but having the audience buy into a story worth telling. The audience for your brand extends beyond your customers, too; it includes vendors, employees, and people who may not be a customer but have been exposed to your brand. So how do we accomplish brand alignment?
Step 1: Establish core values
Core values are the moral code of your business. They are the purpose of why your business exists and what is important to you. The key is they must be authentic. These will be the foundation of your brand. Similar to building a house, the cost of fixing a foundation later is much more costly than doing it right the first go around.
Check out Whole Foods for a great example of core values. For existing businesses that did not establish set core values originally, the best way to discover what they are is by talking with your audience. Ask loyal customers and employees what it is they like about the business and what is important to them. Eventually, you will accumulate a list of values that exemplify what your business stands for.
Step 2: Turn values to culture
Although company culture is a subject that deserves its own post, culture goes hand-in-hand with brand alignment – so it’s important that we briefly touch on it. In order for the company’s core values to spread, it’s important that the team believes in them as strongly as the entrepreneur. After all, decisions within a business are not made singularly by one person.
During the hiring process, there should be a period where core values are explicitly stated. Training should also contain a lesson about company values. Spending time on the front end to develop team members will pay its dividends in a variety of ways in the future (namely, employee retention). In summary, by breathing core values into your company’s culture, your team will live your core values.
Step 3: Why before what
The most prominent culprit of brand misalignment is a misdirection in thought process. More often than not, companies decide what they’re going to do and then figure out how they’re going to do it. There’s two flaws in this decision-making process: the absence of why and the direction of the sequence. It’s very easy to look at another business with a successful strategy and think: “well it worked for them; if we do the same thing, it will work for us, too.”
While this may work in some instances, it is not a viable long-term strategy. You can imitate what a competitor is doing, you may even be able to imitate how, but not the why. Brands that are aligned do not think in terms of what and how first, then retroactively figure out a why that makes sense. They consider their company ethos and ask themselves: “does this align with our company values?”
It is simply not enough to write core values on the company website; core values should be the root of why any project is started or any decision is made. From here, we look at how we can accomplish our purpose and then with what resources. I will say this is easier said than done. It takes strong leadership, a consistent emphasis on training, and discipline to keep a brand aligned. But it’s dividends are well worth it.
End Result: an aligned brand
By maintaining a strong commitment to core values, companies will see a rise in loyal customers, a great work culture, better employee retention and overall stronger brand equity. Inevitably, there will be choices that are questionable when it comes to alignment, but may be extremely profitable. Of course, the goal of any business is to make a profit. But profit is not what drives a company forward –passion is. And if you want your customers and your employees to become and stay passionate about your brand, alignment and authenticity is a must. Do the right things, the right way, at the right time and success will follow.
Omar Kasim is an Arkansas restaurateur and 2015 Walton College of Business graduate. Upon graduation, Omar made a wild decision to forego law school and dive right into the restaurant world with the goal of igniting Fayetteville’s culinary scene – with no experience whatsoever. Determined to succeed, Omar’s first concept, Con Quesos, won numerous accolades in less than a year. His latest venture, Juice Palm, is an organic juice bar and has already received recognition among local publications for its commitment to providing health-conscious and flavorful options to the area.
In addition to his own ventures, Omar has assisted in opening numerous restaurants around Northwest Arkansas and has used his story as a platform to motivate and empower students at various universities, high schools and aspiring entrepreneurs across the state. In addition to speaking events, Omar will be teaching an upper-level entrepreneurship class at the Walton College in the Fall of 2018.