By Eileen Sutton published July 16, 2010 Est Read Time: 2 min

Are you Brand Building Out of Order? A Cautionary Tale

As a content marketer, you want to dive in and start work immediately. You know it’s best to lock in a brand position but you wonder: is this so important?

Consider: would you build a skyscraper with no blueprint or do a heart by-pass with no diagnosis?

Here’s the story of one Chicago-based private-equity firm with whom I worked that I’ll call Gaga Capital. They learned the hard way what can happen when the work is done out of order.

Their Problem: No Compelling Story

Gaga Capital had been in business for 15 years, but their marketing efforts were off course. They had a solid track record, yet no compelling corporate story. As a result, principals weren’t closing deals as the industry became more commoditized.

They had to slow down. Discover what they stood for. Get serious about branding.

Mistake #1: Isolated market research

Gaga hired a market research firm to look at competitors and talk to Gaga staff about internal brand perceptions. Good first steps. But, the research firm was not hired to develop a strategic positioning. They offered a few casual ideas; i.e., Gaga should lead with being “women owned,” which is unique in financial services. However, without a positioning--what the brand stood for relative to core attributes–this clever suggestion for helping Gaga stand out was neither strategic nor relevant.

Mistake #2: Design before positioning

Gaga then hired a design firm to create the look and feel for a new website. Again, they were branding out of order because design must follow strategy. Positioning should give birth to verbal content, which should then give birth to visuals and design. Designing without a strategic blueprint is like building a bicycle without knowing the age, height, sex, and bank account of the potential rider.

The designers created clichéd business images–skylines and conferences tables, standard for many financial web sites–and the first drafts were lackluster.

Changing course: Starting with strategy

Gaga realized there was something missing. They hired a qualified brand-positioning firm, and the work started over. While some of the initial research findings were used, the new branding firm again interviewed principals to unearth Gaga’s real story.

The branding firm rooted Gaga’s competitive value in its unusual corporate history, and how it nurtured relationships with portfolio companies.

The right next steps

With the new positioning in place, Gaga scrapped all design efforts and approached their branding effort in a logical order:

  1. The branding firm developed verbal content, messaging, and a tag line.
  2. With strategy and content in place, designers chose a visual theme for the site.
  3. Designers created a new logo to express Gaga’s true attributes.
  4. A press release focused on Gaga’s new identity.
  5. The firm wrote a capabilities brochure.

If Gaga had started with a positioning statement, the natural branding sequence would have saved them countless dollars and months of work.

As a content marketer, what problems have you encountered when branding “out of order”? Share them in the comments!

Author: Eileen Sutton

Sutton Creative's principal, Eileen Sutton, is a writer and brand consultant who helps the world’s leading financial firms clarify their story, improve materials, and pursue business better. She relies on holistic principles to help firms get out from under their numbers and speak in a human cadence across integrated channels. Part of a creative ecosystem, she also teams with award-winning Willoughby Partners, Dreisbach Design & T3 Publishing.

Other posts by Eileen Sutton

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