Consult before you brand

Instead of adding to the clutter of advertising, it is better to invest in meaningful, productive relationships with the community of people in and around the organisation who care deeply about a brand, according to Chris Grams in his book The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Ad-free brands are built by empowering the people who know and love the brand the most to “be” the brand.

The author is the former Senior Director, Brand Communications + Design at Red Hat, and the open source software community philosophy permeates his thinking. Red Hat has become a remarkably successful company through its professional open-source business model. Most businesses and other organisations have completely different business models, but there is still much that can be learned from Red Hat’s branding strategy.

Some key principles behind a successful ad-free brand positioning project:

  • Cast your net as wide as possible
  • The best ideas should win
  • The people who care the most make the decision
  • Value diversity
  • Begin your positioning roll-out on day 1
  • The size of the project should be proportional to the value of the brand

The book goes on to describe in detail how to conduct brand positioning research for an ad-free brand, how to design brand positioning, how to do an internal roll-out of brand positioning, how to do an external roll-out, and how to approach continuing engagement. The appendix provides numerous sample documents including surveys, discussion questions and a checklist, as well as a brand report card template.

Should you throw out your old branding practices and adopt the new practices advocated by the author? That depends on who feels that they “own” your brand and how passionate they are. This book makes a convincing case that there is much to be gained and little to be lost by increasing the level of consultation before making branding decisions, and it is therefore useful reading for brand managers and marketers.

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