A strong brand: What does it take?

Sep 09, 2016

Familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation – to achieve these things you must be consistent.

Disney is the world’s most powerful brand. The Brand Finance Global 500 report also ranked Lego and Ferrari on the No. 1 spot in recent years. Though it is a pretty tall order for an AEC firm to set our sights on this position, there is a lot these big companies can teach us about strengthening our brands.

First, what is brand? There are many definitions, but, I like this simple version: “Brand” is what your target audience thinks of when they hear or see your brand name.

When I hear the name Disney, or see its logo, I automatically associate it with a certain level of quality and experience. Other entertainment companies might do the same, but the image I get with Disney is simply different than, say, Warner Brothers.

Lego brings back early memories of constructing things with my kids, and Ferrari makes me think of taking sharp corners at high speeds in absolute luxury. OK, I’ve never owned a Ferrari, but hey, a guy can dream.

The point is, these are all instant and good feelings that I get when I come across these brand names. Each of these companies works hard to instill a certain response from us because they understand the value it adds to their business and bottom line.

A 2015 study by Brand Finance showed that highly branded businesses and those with strong brands can outperform the market. So, how do we strengthen our brands? A good place to start is by looking at the categories that Brand Finance uses to assess a company’s brand strength: familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation.

This list makes it apparent to me that we need to take a holistic view of our business in order to optimize our brands. Assuming our leaders and staff are aligned, and the vision and strategic plan for our companies is clear (alignment and clarity are critical first steps and a whole separate topic), we can view this with an inside-outside approach.

Inside, we must work at creating a thriving work environment for our staff and ensuring they have what they need to serve our clients well, which is what builds a positive corporate reputation. Familiarity and loyalty are the outside results we get when we make a concentrated effort to promote and market, and consistently do a good job.

In order to create a thriving work environment, it is important to provide employees with opportunities to grow and develop professionally, in addition to the tools and technologies to do their best work. This is an investment that we are happy to make because we’ve seen how it helps them stay focused on what they do best. As a result, our people are happy and our clients often get more than they expect. Furthermore, if our people are satisfied in their jobs and passionate about where we are headed as a company, they will proudly represent the image and culture we desire at Westwood, which helps us retain (build loyalty with) existing employees and clients, and attract new ones.

So, now that we have everything running smoothly on the inside and we are successfully demonstrating the value to our clients, we have to increase awareness of our name (familiarity) in our marketplace to add value to our bottom line.

A wise man once said to me: “Investing in a consistent brand and marketing is the best use of your money if you want to grow.” Mark Zweig was right – and consistency is a key word here; consistent brand and marketing requires attention to frequency, positioning, and the image you want to portray.

One ad or blog post likely won’t establish familiarity. And, if it is placed somewhere irrelevant to your target market, the effort will be even less effective. Worse yet, if your brand is out there in lots of places, but it is inconsistent in how it looks and the message it sends, it can do more damage than good. Brand image is especially challenging to manage in a highly-diversified business, but I can say from experience that it is possible.

Whether we market through face-to-face or email communications, traditional or social media, or promoting the company on trucks and shirts – we focus on sending the right consistent message. In an industry that is constantly changing, it will never be perfect, but having taken that holistic approach, we’ve created a foundation that supports our brand from the inside-out. Westwood even has a function dedicated to brand communications to help keep us on track.

We may not ever be “the world’s most powerful brand,” but when Westwood’s target audience comes across our name, it is my hope that they automatically associate it with a high level of quality and experience. I’d like to know that our logo, or the simple mention of the word, Westwood, instills a certain response in our clients that brings them instant and positive feelings about working with us.

Paul Greenhagen is president and CEO of Westwood Professional Services. Contact him at paul.greenhagen@westwoodps.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.