It is fascinating to see how people identify themselves to the world on Twitter, via their use of images and ever-changing Twitter “handles.” That self-identification evolves based on what is happening in a person’s life, their work or around news events they follow. Their personal brands are fluid, not cast in stone and entirely based on their self-perceptions and how they choose to represent themselves at a given point in time.
Brands have less flexibility because they are a perception in the mind of the customer.So while a brand may put out an image of who it wants to be seen as, outside factors will reflect audience perceptions of possibly differing images and values.
When Brand Values Generate Cultural Conflict
Consider the current negative media coverage of Havas Chicago, where many employees feel brand values do not represent everyone employed there, but only the leaders and their besties. Employees shared thoughts on their “toxic culture,” how the work does not live up to the arrogance of their leaders, and examples of uncomfortable choices that included exotic dancers at their Halloween party, loud hip-hop music and in-agency TVs blasting Vice programming featuring drug use and strippers. The creative director, Jason Peterson, left the agency in November after eight years, including one as co-chairman, by “mutual agreement” with Paris-based parent company Havas Group.
When agency leaders have a vision of who they are, but other audiences (especially employees) disagree with that vision, it’s time for leaders to take a hard look in the agency mirror. Examine your brand and values, and work with the entire agency to bring those back into alignment. If your internal branding efforts fail, you can’t expect to have any control over external branding.
How does your agency announce who you are?
Building a brand image depends on consistency and ensuring the values you claim are reflected in your leadership, actions, employees and work. How do you manage your self-expression? Are you constantly—and consistently—reinforcing your stated values, positioning and offerings? Do you waffle a bit, or neglect to self-promote? How often do you audit audience perceptions? What do clients think of your agency, and does that agree with who you feel you are? Having confidence in your positioning and values makes the job of brand-building much easier, and helps promote a culture where supporting those values becomes instinctive.
Here are ten ways to build and reinforce the brand position you believe your agency holds in the marketplace.
- Respect that everyone at the agency has a voice in setting brand values. Leaders must recognize that they are not their brand; nor can they force the agency to become something key audiences disagree with. If you don’t share values in common, your brand will rot at the foundations.
- Have and share reasoned opinions. Agency leaders can be the “voice of the brand” by writing about marketing and the work you do, commenting on industry news, and sharing items you feel clients and prospects will find valuable, with your own insights attached.
- Express your personality. Remember to represent your agency brand first, and use your personal brands to support the agency brand. Be true to both, and brand perceptions will solidify around those truths.
- Have a little fun. Be thoughtful, smart, and yes, funny. Keep your humor focused on your expertise—marketing, branding, agency life, current pop culture—and away from divisive topics. The best humor is universal.
- Discuss personal interests. Don’t be afraid to share personal reflections. Expressing deeper feelings helps clients and prospects—and even your employees—get to know you better. Intimacy can lead to stronger bonds with all of your network connections and build authenticity.
- Be passionate. Talk about causes that you embrace. Share stories you find inspiring. Support clients and employees in their causes. Talk about work you love and heroes you admire.
- Share your work—and how you measure results. Passion for what you do and how you build client business success should be a big part of your brand.
- Praise clients and build relationships. Be your clients’ biggest public cheerleader; but be their wise counsel, even critic, in private. It’s your job to bring out their best side.
- Reach out to prospects. Extend your brand passion to key prospects by sharing content, conducting brief social media interactions, and reaching out with news and insights. Always look for ways to connect and make your brand stand out.
- Discuss niche topics and industry news. Know your core competencies and use them to build your brand and be seen as an expert. Be known for what you think and say as well as for effective, great creative work.
- Let employees promote the agency, too. Employees are often the agency’s best, most passionate advocates. Give them opportunities to share and promote.
Every agency needs to make a choice about how to publicly express their brand. But that choice must be based in reality. People can be anything on Twitter. A brand does not enjoy that luxury. Recognize that the agency brand can be guided by leaders’ business and cultural goals, but never solely by leader ego or personal perspectives. Set values that are true to your collective selves, and build a brand around that reality.
See also: How Real Are Your Agency Values?